In more than a decade of offensive mediocrity, one of the few bright spots on offense has been tight end Chris Cooley. Cooley has endeared himself to the Redskins fanbase at a time when the offense more or less consisted of three people; him, wide receiver and running back Clinton Portis. Those three constituted the Redskins "Big 3" throughout Joe Gibbs second tier, and Cooley seperated himself as one of the NFL's most productive tight ends.
However, that was then, and this is now. Since suffering a knee injury in 2009, Cooley's appeared in in 20 games out of a possible 39 games, and despite having a relatively productive 2010 season, he still was nagged by knee injuries. And whenever Cooley has missed time, Fred Davis has stepped forward and distinguished himself as a potential starting tight end.
Last yeah, Davis finally exploded onto the scene, and likely would've ranked right below New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had he not been suspended the final four games of the season. Now, as Cooley struggles to come back from his knee injury, Cooley is facing more competition at his position than he's had to since the Redskins drafted him in the third round in 2004.
In addition to teammate Fred Davis, the Redskins have second year player Niles Paul, who is converting to tight end from wide receiver. Paul proved a viable blocker in the run game in 2011, and has reportedly been tearing up OTAs and minicmp. They also have third year tight end Logan Paulsen, undrafted free agent, from Florida State, Beau Reliford (who has also looked good in OTA's), and Richard Quinn, who the Redskins signed after Davis' suspension in 2011.
All those players are younger and cheaper than Cooley. Cooley has looked okay in OTAs and minicamps, but doesn't quite have the same burst, and has had some nagging hamstring and groin injuries. On one hand, it's barely July, and OTAs and mincamp are all about getting back in football shape. On the other hand, it's not comforting that someone coming of a knee injury is having issues in the same leg.
To have a realistic chance at staying, Cooley would have to remain healthy throughout training camp and preseason, and then take a significant pay cut. It's not as simple as restructuring his contract—to "restructure" a contract would mean they would simply take the money he is owed now and spread it out over more years. In essence, they'd be paying him the same amount of money, with no guarantee that he'd be able to play 16 games over the length of his contract. That would likely mean extending the soon-to-be 30-year-old tight end to spread out the six million dollar cap hit not just for this year, but for next season as well.
It would be nice to keep Cooley; it's never a bad thing to have another weapon for a young, rookie quarterback. Cooley is still the best blocking tight end on the roster (the run game missed him after he was injured), and while Davis provides the explosive down field plays, Cooley's ability to catch the underneath passes and break tackles to gain yardage could be invaluable. But football is a business, and though Cooley has said many times he'd like to retire in Washington, losing $3 million or so in salary (that's likely what it would take for him to stay) probably isn't the most appealing thing to him.
Cooley is a fan favorite, and along with Santana Moss and Clinton Portis, was pretty much the heart and soul of a Redskins offense that rarely played championship caliber football. It's understandable that people would be reluctant to see him go in light of what he's done for the organization. But unfortunately, the more time goes by, the more likely it seems Captain Chaos will be catching passes from a quarterback other than Robert Griffin III when the Redskins open the season versus the New Orleans Saints.
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