Chris Cooley fought back tears in late August when the Washington Redskins released him. It was the emotional end of a storied chapter for the franchise's longest-tenured player.
Cooley could have signed elsewhere in the NFL but decided not to. He couldn't imagine playing for another team, so he waited. Monday, the fan favorite's patience was rewarded as he re-signed with the Redskins after fellow tight end Fred Davis' season-ending injury.
"I feel very fortunate that I didn't go play somewhere else because this is the opportunity that I wanted," Cooley said. "I'd be kicking myself if I was in another city right now and this came up."
Cooley was waiting for his chance, which came at the expense of Davis but not at the expense of what the veteran wanted to do with his life. He started taking on some media duties and said he was "definitely OK with not playing football this year."
The 30-year-old was much more content to sit around and hope for the best. Although he has not played a regular-season game in more than a year, Cooley told coach Mike Shanahan that he was ready to contribute right away.
"I've maintained the strength that I've had throughout most of my career," Cooley said. "I wasn't at home doing squats and power cleans and listening to 'Rocky' music, but at the same time I'm in good shape and I'll step right back in and fit in and play."
It didn't take long after Davis tried to hop off the field at MetLife Stadium for fans to start speculating about Cooley's return. Once Davis' injury was diagnosed as a ruptured left Achilles tendon, that paved the way for players to consider the possibility, too.
"It's great to have him back. I figured once Fred went down, I knew they were thinking about it," Redskins tight end Niles Paul said. "He knows this offense better than anybody. To have him back is going to be a big impact on this offense and this team."
Shanahan made the call to Cooley once the Redskins landed at Washington Dulles International Airport after Sunday's 27-23 loss to the New York Giants. It didn't take any persuading to get Cooley back into the fold.
"I asked him what type of shape he was in, and he felt like he was in pretty good shape," Shanahan said. "I asked him if he'd like to come back. He said he did. So we're excited to have him."
It's more than fair to say the excitement is mutual. Cooley said it was "unreal" to watch the offense come together behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III without being a part of it.
Now he'll get the chance, likely Sunday when the Redskins visit the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I'm ready to play. I think I can play this week. I have no doubt about that," Cooley said. "I think I will continue to get better as the season goes on and feel better about everything the team's doing."
Cooley holds the Redskins' franchise record for receptions by a tight end with 428, and his experience in Shanahan's system should help him jump back in without too much transition time needed.
Passing a physical Monday was the final step before signing his new deal, but now he has a few days to fit in with fellow tight ends Paul and Logan Paulsen to try to replace Davis.
"Hopefully, he can help us this next week. Like all injuries, guys got to step up and play at a high level," Shanahan said. "We expect him to play at the level that he's played at in the past. Now guys get more of an opportunity to show us what they can do."
Especially Cooley, who faced the real possibility of his career being at its end before Davis' injury. But that perspective won't have him getting watery-eyed each game for the rest of the season.
"I know I can keep playing. It's just I didn't want to play in a situation where I was in a diminished role from what I knew I could be," Cooley said. "It was hard for me and I would've done it for the team that I loved. But I think if I get an opportunity to show everyone what I can do and show them I'm healthy, because I haven't over the last two years, I think it'll give me an opportunity to prolong my career."
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