If you’re even remotely shocked by the Redskins releasing Chris Cooley, then I suppose I shouldn’t mention anything about the veracity of your parents’ stories regarding a large man who delivers presents while being flown around the world by reindeer.
Of all the cuts that will happen throughout this week and the weekend as rosters are trimmed to 53, this one would have been shocking had it not happened. Cooley is due $3.8 million this year, which is far too much cash for an aging tight end (he’s 30) who’s missed 20 games over the past three years, mostly due to a knee injury.
Even without his injury history Cooley may have still had a difficult time remaining on the Redskins’ roster with that salary following Fred Davis’ emergence last year. Davis had 59 receptions for 796 yards and three touchdowns despite missing the final four games of the 2011 season due to a suspension. He’s also one hell of a lawyer.
So, will Cooley’s release increase Davis’ production this year? Sure. How much? Well, imaginary asker of questions, that’s pretty difficult to determine since there’s a new rookie quarterback at the helm of the Redskins offense. But hey, since when has the possible inaccuracy of a projection ever stopped us before?
During the first season when he received significant playing time and touches (2009), Davis had 509 receiving yards and six touchdowns, with that TD total still a career high. He was able to compile those numbers because Cooley only played seven games that year, and at the time it was fair to wonder if the seeds for a takeover were being planted, especially since the Redskins invested highly in Davis during the 2008 draft (he was a second-round pick).
The roots for the transition were indeed in place, but it still wouldn’t come for two more years. Meanwhile, during their only full season playing together because of Cooley’s injuries, Davis’ numbers went down in 2010 due to the veteran’s presence. His TD total was cut in half from the previous year, and he had 193 fewer receiving yards while Cooley remained the team’s top TE and finished with 849 yards on a 53.1 per game pace.
Even last year we were given a very small taste of what the Skins’ pass distribution typically looks like with Cooley healthy, and it resembled the split in Carolina between Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. Davis had 80 or more receiving yards six times throughout his 12 games last year, but during the one game when a healthy Cooley was by his side he had a season-low 23 yards with only one reception, while Cooley had 41 yards.
That subtraction adds up over the course of a season, so even if Cooley’s role was minimized because of his age and health, as a backup he still would have ate into Davis’ touches. The Panthers’ Olsen is the trendy pick as the next breakout tight end, but with the focus solely on him now and with Robert Griffin III sure to lean heavily on his human glass case, Davis is a likely candidate to break the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career and join Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski among the very select group of elite players at the position, at least in terms of his yardage.
The best part? You’ll pay a premier second-round price for Graham or Gronk, but Davis will be on the board at least five rounds later in a 10-team league. That’s yet another reason why it’s wise to wait if you miss out on the top two TEs, and wait for a while, because there’s great value in the later rounds.