WASHINGTON (AP) — Captain Chaos fought to hold back the tears.
Chris Cooley, the longest-tenured player on the Washington Redskins and easily the team’s most colorful character, was saying goodbye.
“I appreciate everything,” Cooley said with a sniffle, his voice starting to waver. “I’m sorry. I’m a baby. I appreciate everything you guys have done for me. I guess, finally, just to say thank you to our fans. It’s been great. Thank you.”
The Redskins released their two-time Pro Bowl tight end Tuesday, a few hours after creating some special teams chaos of their own by cutting kicker Graham Gano and replacing him with Billy Cundiff.
Talk of field goal percentages quickly gave way to the stunning realization that No. 47 will no longer occupy his customary space near the back corner of the locker room.
“He helped me get comfortable with this team & this offense. He is a legend in my mind and will be missed. Thank You Chris Cooley,” tweeted rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III — and he’s only known Cooley a few months.
Coach Mike Shanahan said the decision came down to a matter of playing time. Fred Davis, who had a breakout year in 2011, has emerged as the new starting tight end, relegating Cooley to utility duty as a backup at both fullback and tight end during preseason.
“He wants to start. He wants to play,” Shanahan said. “And we’ll see if he gets that opportunity.”
Cooley did not take questions at the end of his impromptu speech to reporters. He said recently that he wanted to start, but that he was also at the point of his career that he wanted to win after missing the playoffs in six of his eight NFL seasons.
Shanahan said Cooley’s release wasn’t about health or money. Cooley appeared in only five games last season after trying to play before sufficiently recovering from offseason left knee surgery.
“I thought he practiced well, he played well (in preseason), and I think he’s got an opportunity to start in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s healthy.”
Cooley, whose Pro Bowl seasons came in 2007 and 2008, was also one of the most expensive players on the team, due $3.8 million in salary this year and $3.85 million in 2013.
“We never talked about a reduction,” Shanahan said. “We never talked about anything like that. I’d never do that to a guy like him.”
Shanahan conceded that cutting Cooley is a “risky move” because Davis would be lost for the year for another violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Davis was suspended for the final four games of last season after failing a drug test.
The coach didn’t rule out having Cooley return if the 30-year-old tight end can’t find a suitable team elsewhere.
For his part, Cooley seemed unsure what to do with himself.
“I have every belief that I can play football,” he said. “I have every belief that I can be not only a productive player but a starter in this league. I’m very confident in my abilities to continue to play the game. It would be a tough decision for me to put on another jersey. It’s something that I really never had to imagine, so for now, I’ll take some time and make sure what I do in the future is exactly what I want to do.”
Gano’s release came one day after he appeared to win the kicking job, and two days after Cundiff was cut by the Baltimore Ravens.
Gano had stood at his locker on Monday feeling excited and looking forward to the season after his lone competition in training camp, Neil Rackers, was sent packing when the Redskins made their first round of cuts.
But Gano’s numbers have never been impressive. He has made 73.8 percent of his field goal attempts since joining the Redskins (No. 25 in the AP Pro32) late in the 2009 season, the second-worst rate in the league over the past three seasons.
Gano, 25, missed 11 attempts in 2010, tied for most in the NFL. He had a league-high 10 misses last season, although five of those were blocked. He beat out Rackers without attempting a field goal in the Redskins’ preseason games, coming out ahead based on his performance during practice.
Cundiff’s statistics are only marginally better. The 32-year-old kicker has a career field goal rate of 76.7 with the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore. He joined the Ravens during the 2009 season and went to the Pro Bowl season in 2010, going 26 for 29, but last season he missed a potential game-tying, 32-yarder against the New England Patriots in the waning seconds of the AFC title game.
Cundiff also has limited range. He is 5 for 19 over his career from 50-plus yards, including just 1 for 6 last season. He was cut Sunday by the Ravens, who opted to go with rookie Justin Tucker. The Redskins called as soon as Cundiff cleared waivers.
“It obviously was an interesting situation, and I think there’s really no other way to put it,” Cundiff said. “For me, obviously, a tug of emotions. When you start to see what I accomplished in Baltimore, and then to have the door kind of shown to me a little bit earlier than I thought — then to have a team come up right away and say they’d like to have my services and they were going to make a move.”
Shanahan didn’t offer much of an explanation for his kicker change.
“We just thought that was the best move for us at this time,” the coach said.