Chris Cooley Shows Class on His Way out of Washington

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Chris Cooley Shows Class on His Way out of Washington
Chris Cooley may not have had a choice about staying with the Redskins. (FWG)

Nobody wants to say "I told you so" when somebody receives bad news that abruptly changes their life. But as the NFL's preseason progressed it became obvious that tight end Chris Cooley was not in the future plans of the Washington Redskins. Rumors stirred debate and opinions were plentiful, but the uncertainty gave way to reality on Tuesday, as Cooley acknowledged his last day as a Redskin.

Cooley probably knew his fate long before we did, but he did not lash back at Washington's organization. He did not say no when he was asked to assist the coaching staff or mentor young teammates. And he kept his emotions in check, until the day they were meant to be released.  

So, don't feel bad for Chris. He'll pick himself up and brush himself off.

Now that Cooley is no longer with the team he loves, he'll mourn in private, and then get back to doing what he does best. That role is being a respected athlete, a humanitarian and a beloved son, brother and husband. He'll also return to the hobbies that complete him. Cooley's other passions include art, sculpture and blogging to a boisterous group of online followers. 

Most importantly, Cooley will return to being his jovial, laid-back self. He won't have to worry about what he says and he won't have to wonder what his role is. He'll find his niche again and he'll succeed because he's genuine. And that's hard to find in sports these days.

I wrote a column on August 14 that received a strong response from readers about the future of Chris Cooley. I predicted that Chris would not make it past the "Turk" or "Grim Reaper," which is what NFL teams refer to when they're on the verge of cutting somebody.

Chris Cooley had trouble keeping his composure at his farewell press conference. (Redskins.com)

Some readers agreed that Cooley's contract was a concern, while others couldn't believe I had the nerve to write such a thing.

"[Cooley will remain] a Redskin. He is sure handed, a good blocker and is a veteran leader," wrote one fiery reader. "This is all about the media over-blowing Fred Davis' [off-field transgressions] and Cooley's salary. If Cooley made a million-dollar salary for this year, him being cut or traded would never come up. Now, let's not get me really mad with this junk."

But as the preseason progressed, Cooley's playing status grew tenuous and some BR readers acknowledged that a pink slip was possible.

"If we can trade him, we must jump on it," wrote Dennis Zepato. "It's time to move on." 

I responded by suggesting that Washington should deal Cooley and get something in return.

Another reader wrote that he heard Washington was actually talking to other teams about a Cooley trade.

"I read that [general manager] Bruce Allen said [on ESPN980] that they have been talking to the Raiders about a trade," wrote Redskins fan Adam Banig. "The logical trade here would be a swap between Cooley and Kalif Barnes or Joseph Barksdale. We need help at tackle, so that would make sense."

Then there was the BR reader who believed that Chris should have offered the Redskins a pay cut to stay with the team.

Cooley made virtual waves with his infamous blog site that went viral on numerous occasions. (SI.com)

Joe Youngblood wrote:

"From everything I've read and seen on Cooley he wants to be a Redskin for life, and I could see him being more willing to restructure his deal then being traded. Again this is coming from the heart and not the bottom line of dollar and cents."

Unfortunately, none of the above scenarios played out, and the two-time Pro Bowler is now looking for a new home as a free agent. 

Looking back on the past few weeks, the handwriting seemed to be on the wall for a man that gave his heart, soul, sweat and tears to the Redskins. There were subtle hints at first and then awkward decisions that didn't make sense.

Coach Mike Shanahan caused a minor media circus when he said that Niles Paul reminded him of Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, who starred for Shanahan with the Denver Broncos.

Then there was the strange move by Washington's staff to try out Cooley at fullback. While it's true that Darrel Young's injury forced the Redskins to find a substitute, it seemed unfair to a pair of "bubble" backs like Antwon Bailey and Dorson Boyce, who lost repetitions because of it.

Chris obviously had experience already as an H-back under former coach Joe Gibbs. So it's not like he had never previously proven that he could play in the backfield. To this writer, it was a clear sign that backs were beginning to turn on him.

Even Chris himself sounded weary when he chatted with reporters in early August. He just didn't sound like his typically endearing and entertaining self. In fact, he sounded more like a guy trying to tow the company line, in hopes that he'd survive pending layoffs.

Cooley's career will continue elsewhere, but his heart will stay in Washington. (AP)

Sadly, Cooley didn't dominate at fullback or tight end against the Bills and Bears. And when Young recovered and Paul played well, Chris was living on borrowed time after eight memorable seasons in the nation's capital.

This is pure speculation, but I bet Cooley offered to restructure his contract. And I can envision general manager Bruce Allen's response. "We truly appreciate it Chris, but it's not necessary because we have already made up our minds to go in a new direction at tight end."

Cooley even said it himself, as he choked up during an emotional press conference on Tuesday.

"Ever since Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have been here, I've trusted everything they've done, and everything they want to do," Cooley said, per Brian Tinsman of Redskins.com. "Even though I'm not a part of that today, I still do believe in what they're doing."

By not burning bridges, Cooley showed class on his way out and stayed true to being a role model for others to look up to. He was solemn while announcing his Redskins' release, but he took the news like a good man should.

Let's also not forget Shanahan in all of this. If anything, he should be commended for letting down his guard and showing his true colors, as he teared up while talking to reporters at Cooley's presser. To the outside world, Shanahan seems cold, calculating and unapproachable in practice and in games, but he truly loves his players and feels bad for them when their dreams get shattered or they're taken out of their comfort zone. He also knows what Cooley has meant to the city, the Redskins and their fans.

To Shanahan, the NFL is a fraternity and most everyone associated with the league loves it unconditionally. So, deep down, it must be hard for him to confront men who don't make the team or must leave, due to circumstance. They often share the same passion he does and he knows it.   

Very few players have the type of passion for a team and the game than Chris Cooley, and it was incredibly painful to watch him say goodbye to D.C. on Tuesday.

I'm not sure any of us can handle seeing Chris play in different colors, but he will, and he'll excel. And when his playing days come to an end, Cooley's wish of retiring as a Redskin will come true. It's the least the team can do for a beloved player that bleeds burgundy and gold.

“Today, for the time being, will be my last day as a Redskin," said Cooley, amidst a horde of reporters like Rich Campbell of The Washington Times, who have embraced him for most of the past decade.

Cooley's quote kept the door open to another day. Perhaps it will be at a reduced rate, if other teams pass on him. Or maybe he'll re-enter that door upon retirement, like running back Clinton Portis chose to do this month. But until that time, thoughts of Chris will stay strong in the hearts of Redskins Nation.

Three cheers to you, Captain Chaos. You will be missed.

 

Joe Versage is a NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.  He previously covered the Buffalo BillsWashington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage 

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