The two-time Pro Bowler is coming off his second injury-shortened season in three years.
As a fan favorite, Cooley was never the face of the franchise but was accountable for much of their success. Throughout his career the former Utah State tight end has been among the best in the game at his position.
In his first full season as a starter, Cooley was third in catches for a TE behind Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. He has already set the franchise record for catches by a Redskins TE and could possibly pass Jerry Smith for most receiving yards with one more good year.
The problem is Chris Cooley might not be given the chance for one more good year.
While it's not entirely his fault, Cooley is doing everything he can to make sure he's got a chance at starting again. However, coming into this summer fully healthy and slightly lighter than his typical playing weight may not even matter.
The 30-year-old Wyoming native is facing an uphill battle this offseason to say the least. With Fred Davis emerging and Niles Paul quickly transitioning well to the TE position, the road ahead is still unknown for him.
To make matters worse, his cap number for this upcoming season is $3.8 million. If he is not starting, Bruce Allen and company will have a hard time saving a spot on the roster for him, especially with the league-enforced salary cap penalty.
There are a lot of Fred Davis fans out there who think Davis should start regardless of Cooley''s health. But when Cooley broke his leg in 2009, he rehabbed and came back strong as the starter in 2010, putting up 77 catches for 849 yards.
Davis played well in 2009 during Cooley's absence, but not well enough to take his starting spot in 2010.
Coming off a campaign in 2010 that saw Cooley come in second in receptions for a TE, last year was shaping up to be a breakout year for him. Instead it would turn out to be the worst of his career.
Multiple injuries plagued Cooley from Week 1 and he never looked like himself.
Cooley should be on this team and starting Week 1 of the 2012 season. It's clear that Davis has more talent than he knows what to do with. Davis is more physically gifted than Cooley and has a much higher upside. However, Davis has yet to prove he's mature enough and reliable enough to become a leader on this team.
Cooley isn't the fastest guy on the team by a long shot. He's not the strongest. He doesn't have the best vertical. He's not making route cuts on a dime.
But he has a number of intangibles that could greatly impact the Redskins' season.
He is one of the most consistent weapons on the team (when healthy) and he gets open. Cooley has a knack for finding the soft spot in coverage and has thrived at his position regardless of who was under center.
His sure-handedness, reliability and leadership are all things that this offensive unit needs for their new leader Robert Griffin III. The best thing for a young quarterback in the NFL is a reliable tight end. Cooley could be the steady hand that keeps the chains moving when all else breaks down.
I'm afraid though that Cooley might not get that chance. With two years left at $3.8 million per year remaining on his deal—and with Fred Davis' franchise tag at $5.4 million—something's got to give.
I'd like to think Mike Shanahan could utilize both Davis and Cooley like the New England Patriots do with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. But the odds of that happening this year are seemingly decreasing day after day.
While Fred Davis has all of the talent and potential to become a Pro Bowl caliber player, he is one puff away from missing an entire season.
There are a lot of moving pieces at play here with the starting tight end spot. One thing is for sure, it's going to be an interesting summer at Redskins Park.
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