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The Cooley Question

As if stories involving the Washington Redskins needed any extra elements of flair or intrigue before they are processed through the juggernaut that is modern media only to be churned out on the other side full of sensationalism, the addition of a fan-favorite former Pro Bowl player pondering a comeback nearly three years since he last touched the ball in a regular season game seems to have well and truly done the trick.

Back in the early summer when the stories of Chris Cooley expressing a desire to make a comeback to the NFL first started propagating, the concept was summarily dismissed by most people as the stock standard post-career lamentations that are common from retired players. Even 52 year old Michael Jordan still thinks he could beat current day NBA players in one-on-one games. To be a successful professional athlete certainly requires an extraordinary amount of self-belief and confidence in your own abilities, and once you hang up your boots those same character traits don’t just disappear.

But then, fate seemed to dictate that this comeback dream was going to get a little more attention than most. When both Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen succumbed to injuries that ended their seasons before they began, and players like Chase Dixon and Je’Ron Hamm looked as though they may potentially make the cut to round out the Tight End corps on the final Redskins 53 man roster behind Jordan Reed, fans and pundits alike started paying closer attention to Cooley. Running routes (in front of cameras) on the First Energy Stadium field in Cleveland hours before kickoff this past week, Cooley was sending a clear message saying ‘this is not a flight of fancy. I’m serious’.

Should the Redskins then actually consider the prospect of bringing back the man affectionately remembered as ‘Captain Chaos’?

The last time Cooley was on the field as a Redskin was in 2012, and if you cast your mind back to that eventful year, you may recall that even then, Cooley playing in 2012 was considered a “comeback”. He wasn’t on the roster to start the regular season, having been cut in the preseason to make way for Fred Davis, Niles Paul and Logan Paulson. But then Fred Davis injured his achilles and Cooley rejoined the team in late October. Even though he was on the roster, Cooley saw almost no action, and in fact only had one single reception for the year, coming in Week 16 against the Eagles. Here is footage of that 8 yard catch – his last touch of the ball in professional football.

Among the valid concerns and questions people have regarding any player returning from several years away from the game is how their body would stand up to the rigors of the NFL. This is especially relevant at a position like Tight End where contact is to be expected. Towards the end of his playing career in 2011 and 2012, there were huge concerns about Cooley’s knee, with some reports suggesting that his knee had deteriorated to where it was nearly ‘bone on bone’.

Another concern involves the question of what sort of distraction having a current member of the media rejoining the locker room as a player would be, especially one whom has been very publicly critical of some of the current locker room leaders including Quarterback Robert Griffin III. Furthermore, what happens if the Redskins do give fan-favorite Cooley a shot and it simply doesn’t work out? And lastly, isn’t there a rule that stipulates team employees can’t play for the team within the same year they’ve been on the payroll?

Cooley addressed all of these issues on Monday’s edition of his ESPN980 show in a nearly 20 minute segment that served as both Cooley’s Mea Culpa as well as his audition tape for General Manager Scot McCloughan.

The responses to these questions that Cooley gave ranged from short and sweet, to intricately detailed. Regarding his fitness and his health, Cooley offered up a simple assurance, stating;

“I’m working out and I’m in great shape and I’m ready to play. And I want to work out.”

Regarding the supposed regulation that would prevent him playing, Cooley was more detailed;

“I was actually told that this has been talked about a bunch lately; that because of the rules and regulations of the NFL by-laws, and my employment by Red Zebra Radio (being an affiliate of Dan Snyder), that I could not play for the Redskins. I was told that by… let’s just say by the Redskins. This was when Arizona called two weeks ago, and I think it was just a bit of ‘if they [Arizona] do sign you, we [Washington] couldn’t even offer you a deal, so don’t worry’. There is a by-law that states that anyone employed as a coach/trainer, or in another capacity, could not play in that same year [for that same club]. And I am employed by the club in another capacity.
But there’s an ‘unless‘. Unless signed to an NFL player contract and within the first applicable player limit of the preseason and making all subsequent cuts. Well that’s now. I’m within that applicable limit so I can be acquired right now, and I’d have to make it through all subsequent cuts. Pretty easy. Straight forward. I can be signed by the Redskins”.

On what would impact a potential signing would have on his status with the team and officials who he has worked so closely with for the last decade, Cooley was philosophical, yet also adamant;

“I’m just a guy. I can fill a spot, and if it wasn’t good then you can just cut me. I can work out. You give me a shot for three weeks, and then say you sign a guy from San Francisco then you just release me then if I don’t work out. 

My feelings aren’t going to be hurt either way. I’m not going to be crushed either way. I’m going to play for someone this year. I’m going to get an opportunity. I personally know it for a fact.”

Interestingly, Cooley also mentioned (in almost a bragging tone) that the prospect of his return to the Redskins was closer than some would think, with one key roadblock;

“There are four people that could potentially be involved in this decision. Three out of four are for this. For me coming back to the Redskins. The fourth is strongly averse.” 

Out of all the pieces of information that Cooley shared during the segment, this is perhaps the most intriguing. If we are to accept that Cooley is telling the truth, and that there are four (and only four) people that would be involved in making this decision, one would have to assume that those four are Head Coach Jay Gruden, Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay, Team President Bruce Allen, and General Manager Scot McCloughan. (As tempting as I’m sure it is for many to suggest that owner Dan Snyder would be involved in this decision, remember that he has ceded total football control to his President and General Manager).

Of those four, McCloughan has made the most concrete public statements that suggest he is that ‘averse’ party. When asked directly about whether or not the injuries at the Tight End position mean that he would consider approaching Cooley to give him a workout, McCloughan didn’t mince words;

“No, I’m not going there. Chris Cooley’s a really good Redskin, he’s a part of the Redskins still, but I’m not going there.”

McCloughan’s messaging here is reflective of what the entire ethos of the organization he is trying to build should represent. And it is precisely this ethos that is the reason why Cooley making a return to the Burgundy and Gold is unlikely. Simply put, it’s not the sort of move that a winning organization makes. Whether you’re chasing a Super Bowl or looking to rebuild your roster, the very basic principle that underpins success is that you must always be moving forward. If you’re not moving forward, you’re either stagnating or you’re moving backwards, and both represent failure. McCloughan is not accustomed to failure.

Chris Cooley is right; even nearly three years removed from the game he may still be better than the options the Redskins have at Tight End right now. But nothing is ever black or white in the NFL, and when you’re an organization that has a decades-long reputation as a basket-case, the last thing you should be looking to do is add fuel to that fire.

The fact that he is still revered amongst Redskins fans is a reflection on how significant the special place this fan base has for Cooley in their hearts, and we here at Redskins Capital Connection certainly count ourselves amongst his fans. The best place for him in 2015, however, is on the sidelines, just like he was at Training Camp.

 

 

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