Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week, said Thursday he was “a casualty” of the NFL lockout because he was barred from consulting with team trainers and doctors while rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery.
Cooley had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee the day after the 2010 season ended. But because the NFL players and owners spent the offseason at a labor impasse, he was not allowed into the Redskins’ team facility and was unable to consult the medical staff.
“I feel 100 percent — and I’m not blaming anybody — I feel 100 percent that I am a casualty for the season of the lockout,” Cooley said, speaking for the first time since he was placed on injured reserve. “I think it was a shame that they didn’t let players who had surgery spend time with the doctors and trainers that they trust on a daily basis. I wish I could’ve.”
With his rehabilitation program essentially delayed by six months, Cooley missed most of the preseason this summer. He had one day of full practice before the Redskins’ regular season opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 11. And though Cooley played in the first five games, he said his knee never felt right.
“To be honest with you, it hurt to run 10 yards,” he said. The eight-year veteran vowed to return next season.
Coach Mike Shanahan said he agreed with Cooley about the effects of the lockout. If the team had more time to evaluate the knee, Shanahan said coaches probably would have put Cooley on the physically-unable-to-perform list to the start the season, which would have saved a roster spot and given Cooley more time to get his knee well.
“Now, if he was on the PUP list, could he go full-speed right now? I can’t answer that question,” Shanahan said. “But I’m not sure that wouldn’t have been in his best interest and our best interest if we had to do it over again and we knew for sure that he was as bad as he was.”
In playing the first five weeks, Cooley said he had his knee drained 15 times. Eventually sidelined with a finger injury, Cooley traveled Monday to Pensacola, Fla., to consult with orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, hoping to find out why his knee had yet to heal. Cooley underwent another MRI exam and X-rays, and he and Andrews agreed more than four or five weeks of rest was needed.
“We didn’t want to go in further and do a microfracture surgery,” said Cooley, who is on crutches to keep weight off the joint. “Microfracture surgery would limit my chances of playing next season. And so, we made the decision that if I take three to four months right now without running, seriously rehabbing my knee, I should be fine next year.”
Since the team shut down Cooley on Tuesday, there has been much speculation about his future in Washington. He posted just eight catches in five games this year. Cooley will be 30 years old before next season begins, and his contract for 2012 would pay him $3.8 million.
Despite finishing two of the past three seasons on injured reserve, Cooley does not seem worried about his future with the Redskins.
“Every part of me continues to believe that not only will I continue to play for the Washington Redskins, but I will continue to be an outstanding player at the position I play,” Cooley said. “I have so much confidence in my ability to play tight end, and my ability to play tight end at a very high level if I’m healthy. I’ve been here long enough and it’s amazing what this franchise means to me.
“I don’t want to run through the tunnel in another uniform. I don’t want to finish my career looking at a team that can win the Super Bowl and say, ‘I want to go anywhere just to win a Super Bowl,’ ” he continued. “This will be the only team I care about the rest of my life, and I want to do it with this team.”
Shanahan wouldn’t delve into specifics this week, but he said he thinks a healthy Cooley will still help the Redskins for years to come.
“Hopefully all our guys now that are on IR will be real productive and [I’m] hoping to have them back and playing at a high level,” he said.
Said Kyle Shanahan, the team’s offensive coordinator: “Cooley has a great future here. You need two tight ends.”
“I want to help the team. I can’t hold them hostage,” Cooley said. “I can’t go into Coach Shanahan’s office and say, ‘You’re going to give me seven weeks, and you’re going to hold a roster spot for me while I hopefully get better.’ That’s not fair to anybody and I’m completely comfortable with the decision that was made for me to go on IR.”
Cooley said he will still be a visible part of the organization. While he’ll miss Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto, he’ll attend the final nine games and watch from the sidelines.