Cooley said an emotional goodbye to the Redskins after eight seasons with a team that failed to recapture the glory of its past even as he carved a niche as a beloved player who squeezed the most out of his ability. Cooley caught more passes than any other tight end who has played for the franchise and was a charismatic figure who had a knack for connecting with fans.
Redskins release Chris Cooley, popular tight end for the past eight years
“It’s been awesome,” Cooley said, fighting back tears during a brief news conference at Redskins Park following the team’s practice Tuesday. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to play for a franchise that has embraced me and a fan base that has embraced me the way that they have. This organization has changed my life in every way for the better and I appreciate it. I’ve loved every minute of playing here.”
Coach Mike Shanahan portrayed the move as the team’s attempt to let Cooley, who turned 30 last month, pursue a starting job with another NFL team.
“That’s what we’re doing at this time, giving him every opportunity to see if there is a chance for him to be a starter on another team in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “I had many conversations with him over the past year, just general talks, sometimes more specific than others. But in essence, he’s going to get the opportunity to check to see if he can be a starter on another team.”
But Cooley had said in an interview just a few weeks ago that he wanted to remain with the Redskins in any capacity, even if that meant relinquishing the centerpiece role and starting job that once were unquestionably his.
“I’m happy to do whatever is asked of me. I think I always have been,” Cooley said. “I think I’ve always been a very coachable player. I think I’ve always been a player that said, ‘Look, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ And I’ve fit in a lot of different ways. I’ve fit it on a lot of different offenses. I’ve been accommodating to a lot of different roles, and it’s worked for me.”
Cooley joined the Redskins in 2004 as a third-round draft pick from Utah State. He was in the same draft class as Sean Taylor, the star safety who was slain in 2007, and was coached by Joe Gibbshis first four seasons with the Redskins.
Amid frequent turnover of coaches and starting quarterbacks, the Redskins won only one playoff game during Cooley’s tenure. But he had 428 catches, a franchise record for a tight end, for 4,703 yards and 33 touchdowns. He was selected to two Pro Bowls.
“He’s just a competitor,” said Antonio Pierce, a former NFL linebacker who played with Cooley with the Redskins and against him while with the New York Giants. “He was a guy you always had to account for. The Redskins always relied on Chris Cooley over the middle.”
Cooley had a reputation as a free spirit off the field who once sparked a controversy by accidentally posting a photo of his genitals on his blog. He was ahead of his time in interacting with fans online as well as in person. He made his own pottery and opened an art gallery. Redskins followers adored him.