Artist, filmmaker and fan favorite Chris Cooley has returned to the Redskins. But his good fortune comes at Fred Davis' expense. Washington's starting tight end was lost for the season after he suffered a torn Achilles during Sunday's loss to the Giants.
On the surface, it may not seem like a huge deal; yes, Davis was a starter but the Redskins' offense is about the running game and read-option, and quarterback Robert Griffin III's place in it. Look a little deeper and Davis' absence could prove to be a big development, bigger than being without receiver Pierre Garcon.
Davis' 2012 season ends with 24 catches for 325 yards and no touchdowns. But according to Football Outsiders, he was seventh among all NFL tight ends in their value-per-play metric (and eighth in total value) ahead of names like Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and Brent Celek. And Pro Football Focus called Davis "(Griffin's) best receiving weapon."
Davis may have averaged just 3.5 catches a game but he got the most out of those catches. Here's the breakdown:
* 67 percent of his reception went for first downs;
* When looking at his last 20 receptions, that number jumps to 75 percent;
* On 2nd and 9 or more, he had 10 receptions. Of those, six went for first downs and a seventh gained 18 yards on 2nd and 20.
Put another way: Davis was an invaluable middle-of-the-field mid-range target for Griffin. His athleticism created matchup problems for opposing defenses and now that burden falls to Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen who have combined for nine catches for 141 yards and no touchdowns.
“I had a lot of stuff I wanted to do this year and I was doing it, yards after catch and making plays and blocking,” Davis said Sunday. “If I can’t play for the rest of the season, that’s going to [stink]. I’ve just got to get better and be ready for next year.”
That brings us back to Cooley who has been waiting anxiously by his phone for a second chance. And that's not a figure of speech. The nine-year veteran was literally waiting for his phone to ring.
"I was like, I hope they call," he said of the Redskins. "It was like ninth grade or eighth grade basketball 'When am I gonna make the team?' call. I'm waiting there like, 'come on, just gimme a call, tell me I can come back.' And coach called about 7:30 (Sunday night)."
“I asked him what type of shape he was in,” coach Mike Shanahan said Monday. “He said, ‘Pretty good shape.’ So I asked him if he wanted to come back and he said he did. So we’re excited to have him. I trust Chris. If he says he’s in good shape, he’s in good shape. So I hope he can help us this week.”
So what are the expectations exactly?
“We expect him to come in and play at the level he’s played at in the past,”
The Redskins face the Steelers this Sunday, a team known for its stifling defense though you wouldn't know it to watch them this season.
Either way, it's probably unreasonable to think Cooley will have more than a bit role in Pittsburgh. For starters, there's a reason the Redskins cut him -- they didn't feel he was one of their three best tight ends (or worth a roster spot as a fullback, where he spent a lot of the preseason). Cooley's also not the player he we was early in his career. But the time off may ultimately prove to be the best thing to happen to him.
“I’m only 30 years old,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “I know I can keep playing. I just didn’t want to play in a situation where I was in a diminished role from what I knew I could be. It was hard for me and I would have done it for the team that I love. But I think if I get an opportunity to show them what I can do and show them I’m healthy ... I think it’ll give me an opportunity to prolong my career.”
And that career officially starts Sunday.