Amid speculation he could be traded or released before the season begins, Cooley, once a mainstay as the team’s starting tight end, says he is willing to play any role the Redskins give him in order to stay in Washington. He looks at the promise a new quarterback brings and burns to win with the Redskins after so many years of losing.
“I absolutely can be happy with any role on this team,” Cooley said. “The Washington Redskins have played a huge part in my life. I daily feel like I want to do anything I can do for this team. I owe this organization a lot.”
He added: “The only thing I want to do is win. I want to win on this team. That’s the only thing I haven’t been able to do.”
Fans have made Cooley one of the Redskins’ most popular players. To them, he is someone who always puts out maximum effort on the field and has squeezed the most from his ability. He seems genuine, honest and affable in his off-field encounters with the public. He was far ahead of most players in his use of social media to engage with fans. He makes his own pottery and sells it in his own Leesburg art gallery. In 2008, his jersey cracked the top 20 in NFL sales, unusual for a tight end.
Cooley is toiling through his ninth NFL training camp, attempting to demonstrate that his once-ailing left knee is sound enough that he can resemble the player he once was. He says he wants just one thing: He wants to see this thing through.
“I come to work thinking that I want to be the most productive player that I can possibly be,” Cooley said last weekend as he sat on a bench outside the back door at Redskins Park after a practice. “If that means fitting [a] role and moving around and doing a lot of different things, that’s what it means. And if that’s what helps this team win, I am a very happy guy.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Cooley was one of the sport’s most reliable pass-catching tight ends. He had 77 catches as recently as the 2010 season, and he holds the Redskins record for receptions by a tight end, with 428. But his body betrayed him last season, when he had eight catches in five games before Coach Mike Shanahan told him to shut things down and get healthy. A broken finger “enabled” an already “pending” decision about his knee to be made, he said.
“I think it was becoming apparent that a week of work was too much,” Cooley said. “And when a guy can’t handle a week of work, then he can’t continue to play for you.”