Chris Cooley, the longest-tenured player on the Washington Redskins and easily the team’s most colorful character, was saying goodbye.
The Redskins released their two-time Pro Bowl tight end Tuesday.
The 30-year-old Cooley has spent his entire eight-season NFL career with Washington. He has 428 career receptions, including three seasons of at least 70.
”I appreciate everything,” Cooley said with a sniffle, his voice starting to waver. ”I’m sorry. I’m a baby. I appreciate everything you guys have done for me. I guess, finally, just to say thank you to our fans. It’s been great. Thank you.”
Injuries limited him to five games and eight receptions last season. The Redskins plan to use Fred Davis as their starting tight end.
”He helped me get comfortable with this team & this offense. He is a legend in my mind and will be missed. Thank You Chris Cooley,” tweeted rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III – and he’s only known Cooley a few months.
Coach Mike Shanahan said the decision came down to a matter of playing time. Fred Davis, who had a breakout year in 2011, has emerged as the new starting tight end, relegating Cooley to utility duty as a backup at both fullback and tight end during preseason.
”He wants to start. He wants to play,” Shanahan said. ”And we’ll see if he gets that opportunity.”
Cooley did not take questions at the end of his impromptu speech to reporters. He said recently that he wanted to start, but that he was also at the point of his career that he wanted to win after missing the playoffs in six of his eight NFL seasons.
Shanahan said Cooley’s release wasn’t about health or money. Cooley appeared in only five games last season after trying to play before sufficiently recovering from offseason left knee surgery.
”I thought he practiced well, he played well (in preseason), and I think he’s got an opportunity to start in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. ”I think he’s healthy.”
Cooley, whose Pro Bowl seasons came in 2007 and 2008, was also one of the most expensive players on the team, due $3.8 million in salary this year and $3.85 million in 2013.
”We never talked about a reduction,” Shanahan said. ”We never talked about anything like that. I’d never do that to a guy like him.”
Shanahan conceded that cutting Cooley is a ”risky move” because Davis would be lost for the year for another violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Davis was suspended for the final four games of last season after failing a drug test.
The coach didn’t rule out having Cooley return if the tight end can’t find a suitable team elsewhere.
For his part, Cooley seemed unsure what to do with himself.
”I have every belief that I can play football,” he said. ”I have every belief that I can be not only a productive player but a starter in this league. I’m very confident in my abilities to continue to play the game. It would be a tough decision for me to put on another jersey. It’s something that I really never had to imagine, so for now, I’ll take some time and make sure what I do in the future is exactly what I want to do.”