Did Chris Cooley ask to be released? It seems unlikely, but neither he nor coach Mike Shanahan said so after Cooley announced the move himself Tuesday afternoon. Cooley didn’t field questions after his 4-minute, 30-second speech, so we couldn’t ask him. Shanahan would not comment when asked that exact question.
There’s no doubt we’ll eventually find out the answer, perhaps soon. Cooley is gone, regardless, so it matters only so much. But for now there are mixed signals, ones that tease the possibility of him returning to the team at a reduced salary.
Cooley has not been secretive about his desire to finish his career with the Redskins. He loves the organization and its fans. Leesburg is his home. It’s why he fought not to break down crying during the announcement. His emotion was deep, genuine.
Shanahan said Cooley wants to start for an NFL team and, given that Fred Davis is entrenched as the Redskins’ No. 1 tight end, the Redskins are granting him an opportunity to seek that starting job.
That leads to the next unanswered question: Does Cooley actually prioritize starting—something he would have to take a pay cut to achieve, given his $3.8 million base salary in 2011—over finishing his career as a backup for the Redskins?
In the past, Cooley was adamant in explaining his desire to remain a Redskin for his whole career. His emotion Tuesday was proof that desire still exists. “It would be a tough decision for me to put on another jersey,” he said.
So if Cooley’s release was involuntary, then he simply failed to beat out Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul. That outcome always was possible this summer. Cooley, 30, was coming off knee surgery and had to prove he was sufficiently fit to run and catch and block. Thing is, Shanahan indicated he did so.
“He’s done a lot to prove that he can play and he came back in excellent shape,” Shanahan said. And later during his news conference: “He practiced well, I thought he played well. I think he’s got an opportunity to start in the National Football League. He’s healthy.”
Shanahan said financial considerations did not impact the decision. If the Redskins tried to trade Cooley before the first round of roster cuts Monday, his $3.8 million base salary might have turned teams off. But the Redskins during the offseason, at least, seemed willing to pay that if Cooley could perform.
One thing about Shanahan to keep in mind: He tries to act in the best interest of the team at all times. And even he conceded there are elements of this move that aren’t in the Redskins’ best interest.
Davis is one positive drug test from a yearlong suspension. Paul is an unfinished product in his transition from receiver.
“It’s a risky move,” Shanahan said. “We could lose two tight ends this week. It’s always risky when you don’t have to make a move and you make it anyhow. It’s always risky going into the last preseason game, but we did what we thought was right for him and the organization, and I wish him well.”
And that’s where the tease of a possible return comes in.
If Shanahan already decided he would release Cooley during final cuts on Friday, and this move is “risky” only because of possible injuries, then Cooley won’t be back and the Redskins will move on.
However, if Shanahan was open to keeping Cooley on the final 53 and actually released him magnanimously, perhaps the door is still open to him if he can’t find a starting job and/or if Paul or Paulsen are injured against Tampa Bay on Wednesday or early in the regular season.
“There’s a lot of scenarios that could happen here in the next week,” Shanahan said.
Cooley was the most cryptic of all when he said: “Today, for the time being, will be my last day as a Redskin.”