Commentary

Inaction, not lockout, cost Cooley

Redskins TE had other options for injury rehab, but chose not to pursue them

Originally Published: October 28, 2011
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Chris Cooley is a grown man with a stocked bank account. To blame the NFL lockout on the demise of his season is ridiculous. Cooley knew his surgically repaired left knee wasn't right months ago, and yet he opted to sit on his couch rather than seek outside medical attention.

And now Cooley's season is over, and the Washington Redskins are without the most prolific pass-catching tight end in franchise history.

There are many legitimate casualties of the lockout and the new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players. In the early part of the season, staunch defense was one of them. Crisp tackling was another. Part of it was a byproduct of the rust from players not having offseason minicamps and workouts. Part of it has to be attributable to the new practice rules, where 90 percent of the practices are glorified walk-throughs with players wearing baseball caps instead of helmets. It is hard to be sharp on Sundays when you aren't hitting on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

[+] EnlargeChris Cooley
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhChris Cooley had only eight catches this season before being put on injured reserve.

But Chris Cooley is not a legitimate casualty.

Cooley had arthroscopic surgery on his knee after the 2010 season. He said it was stiff and swollen, but he didn't go see a therapist until late June. He wanted to go see the Redskins' trainers but could not because players were banned from team facilities during the lockout.

Peyton Manning blamed his neck issues on the lockout, too. He only wanted to see the Indianapolis trainer, even though he could have afforded to see the best specialists in the country. Both Manning and Cooley had other options, had they chosen to pursue them.

I get that athletes are finicky people when it comes to their bodies. They will do anything not to get cut on by a surgeon. They don't trust just any doctor's or trainer's opinion. Their bodies are their temples, their money-makers, their livelihoods.

But athletes get second and third opinions all the time. That's part of the reason acclaimed orthopedic surgeon James Andrews is a rich man. He is the king of the second opinion, and for good reason. He is very, very good at what he does. Cooley finally went to see Andrews earlier this week, and Andrews told him to shut it down or risk microfracture surgery.

So for Cooley to spend months ignoring something as potentially serious as swelling and stiffness in his knee after having surgery is just stupid. Cooley has no one to blame but himself.

While team trainers were prohibited from talking directly with players during the lockout, there were ways they could monitor a player's rehabilitation and training. Steve Saunders is a Pennsylvania-based performance trainer who worked with upwards of 80 players at several of his facilities during the offseason. He fielded calls from more than one team trainer who was checking up on a player. That qualified as permissible contact.

"There were plenty of guys that had surgery at the end of the season, or during the season, and everybody I think for the most part tried to coordinate," said Saunders, who worked with players from the Steelers, Eagles and Ravens, among other teams. "They weren't supposed to have direct contact, but you could have contact with a trainer at whatever facility. I had that with a few guys."

Saunders also had a surge in clients during the offseason because players could not go to team facilities and work out. In a typical offseason, "it takes a certain type of guy" to go see a private trainer, Saunders said, "because they have to see the benefit of it, and they have to not mind paying and committing the time.

"This year was different because there was no team stuff they could go to for free."

So players, at least the ones dedicated to their craft and concerned about their future, went to see people like Saunders. They made the financial investment and the time commitment.

The same applies to players seeking outside medical care. Cooley let months go by before addressing his issue. Now he sits on IR.

"I feel 100 percent that I'm a casualty for the season of the lockout," Cooley told reporters in Washington on Thursday. "I think it was a shame that they didn't let players who had surgery spend time with the doctors and trainers that they trust on a daily basis. I wish I could've. I think what I went through in July I could've went through in March. I started doing things, and it slowly swelled up, and I wasn't here. I can ice it at home and do things at home ... but I've never been through it before."

Cooley missed almost all of the Redskins' training camp and had to have his knee drained 15 times. He couldn't run very far without pain. He had only eight catches for 65 yards before Mike Shanahan put him on injured reserve this week. There already is speculation that the 29-year-old Cooley, who is supposed to make $3.8 million next season, has played his last game with Washington.

It is too bad. Cooley went to two Pro Bowls and played his entire career for the Redskins. He should have been smarter, more proactive. The Redskins, who have put two other offensive starters on injured reserve in the past two weeks, desperately could have used a healthy Cooley.

While defenses have seemingly recovered from the start of the season that saw offenses put up record passing numbers, Cooley will not recover in time to make an impact this season. Let's hope he and Manning are the only ones to blame the lockout on their lost season.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.