Chris Cooley has long been a fan favorite in Washington, both on and off the field. Dubbed "Captain Chaos" after a dare with teammates to introduce himself as such to opposing teams, Cooley's antics (including wrestling fellow tight end Fred Davis and battling wasps outside his home) have made him quite popular in the locker room, as well as a leader on the field.
Since he was drafted in the third round of the 2004 NFL draft, Cooley has amassed almost 5,000 career receiving yards and now holds the franchise record for career receptions by a tight end.
Now his spot on the roster has been clouded by cap space and injury concerns over the past few years. With Fred Davis usurping Cooley on the roster and Niles Paul making the transition from wide receiver to tight end, there is surprising competition for the 30-year-old Pro Bowler.
Davis and Paul both have better speed than Cooley, so he will have to find a way to separate himself from the two. Last year, the coaches played him at fullback in an attempt to get him more involved in the offense, which he did well in limited time. If he can develop that part of his game, he could find his way onto the field in different packages where he can work as a receiver out of the backfield.
Most likely, Cooley will have to earn his stripes through blocking. Davis has never been a strong blocker, and while Paul has performed excellently at that duty on special teams, he's never had to block the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Trent Cole or Jason Pierre-Paul on the outside rush.
Washington would love to employ a two-tight end offense similar to a poor man's version of what Bill Belichick has in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernadez. For that to work, either Cooley or Davis need to fill the blocking role of Gronkowski. Cooley seems the safer bet for that task.
The Redskins love Cooley, so there's no reason to think his job is in peril. However, with the $36 million cap penalty dealt to Washington this year for front-loading contracts during the lockout, he could be asked to restructure his contract and take a pay cut.
Cooley and his wife own an art studio in Leesburg, Va., and the two are deeply rooted in the area. The chances Cooley leaves over a contract dispute range from slim to none, so there shouldn't be any real issues keeping him around aside from injury.
Despite his recent injuries, Cooley has always been a solid receiving option for the 'Skins. While he doesn't have great speed, he runs crisp routes, has good hands and plays well in the red zone. Davis is the flashy offensive star, but there is still an important role Cooley can fill.
The bottom line is that if Cooley is healthy, he has a spot on the team. The problem is that Cooley hasn't been healthy for the past two seasons. Coming into OTAs 20 pounds lighter and in shape is a good sign, but Cooley needs to prove on the field that he's ready to play.
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