Chain Reactions: Is Cutting Cooley the Right Call?

NASHVILLE TN - NOVEMBER 21: Chris Hope #24 of the Tennessee Titans tackles Chris Cooley #47 of the Washington Redskins at LP Field on November 21 2010 in Nashville Tennessee. The Redskins won 19-16 in overtime. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

This week's "Chain Reactions" explores why Chris Cooley's release is not a surprise, but the timing might be; also, the skidding Nationals.

You've gotta feel for Graham Gano. On Monday he finds out he has beaten out veteran Neil Rackers as the team's placekicker.

Then he shows up to work Tuesday only to find out he has been replaced by former Raven Billy Cundiff.

Let me get this out of the way; yes, this is the same Billy Cundiff who choked on a 32-yarder in the AFC Title game for the Ravens. Look at it this way ... it is highly unlikely that he will have to deal with playoff pressure with this year's Redskins. Cundiff also was a Pro Bowler two seasons ago.

Back to Gano .. .shortly after seeing the Turk, he got knocked off the top trending topic list on Twitter in DC just hours later because the Redskins released fan favorite Chris Cooley (more on Captain Chaos below).

Gano usually had plenty of leg, but he was maddeningly inconsistent in his time with the Redskins. Last season, he did not get a lot of help from his protection up front, which led to something like 50 blocked kicks.

However, the truth of the matter is that if those kicks had not been blocked we have no idea if they would have split the uprights or not. Clearly, the Redskins coaches did not believe in him enough in the end.

The Redskins have gone through 18 kickers since Chip Lohmiller. Let's hope Cundiff can at least make it through the season and that Gano does not go on to become the next David Akers (yes, he was a Redskin once).

In this week's "Chain Reactions," we ask if the Skins did the right thing by cutting Cooley; plus, are the Nationals in need of the Heimlich Maneuver?

I Don't Question Cut ... Just Timing

The Chris Cooley Era ended on Tuesday after the Redskins released one of the most popular players in recent franchise history. Anyone who spent time watching the Redskins this preseason knew it was going to be a close call on cutdown day for Cooley.

The news was not shocking and certainly can be justified considering Cooley's cap number ($3.8 million) and the fact that he missed 11 games due to injury in 2011, and 20 in the last three seasons (although he played the full 16 in 2010).

Plus Cooley's position on the depth chart was dicey at best between Fred Davis starting, the ongoing Niles Paul experiment, and Logan Paulsen's blocking ability. In the end, Mike Shanahan chalked it up to Cooley's desire to be a starter still.

''He wants to start. He wants to play,'' Shanahan said. ''And we'll see if he gets that opportunity.''

So why not do this months ago? Did the Redskins and Cooley not communicate the entire off-season?

Did they really give Cooley a chance to compete this preseason?

Cooley was mainly playing fullback for the injured Darrell Young, which was clearly not his comfort zone.

Did the Redskins use Cooley to help Niles Paul, which he did a nice job of during the off-season? Paul told us on ESPN 980's "Inside the Locker Room" a week ago that Cooley was his go-to guy with questions about his new position.

One of the biggest issues many fans have with the move is this: can the Redskins really trust Fred Davis, who is one bad urinalysis away from a full season suspension. Shanahan did leave the door open for a possible Cooley return Tuesday, but he may be onto greener pastures by then.

There are few players that get to call their shot on how they go. From Hall-of-Famer Art Monk to Brian Mitchell, many Redskins greats have faced the same fate. Only Darrell Green comes to mind as a longtime Redskin that got to leave on his own terms.

Cooley is the franchise's all-time leader in receptions among tight ends and only four players in franchise history have more receptions than him. He also connected with the fans like no other player of his generation with his blog and unique sense of humor (remember the Tony Romo/Jason Witten skit?)

''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.''

So for now, the two sides are parting ways and saying all the right things. There's no question that it will be weird not to hear the "COOLEEEEEEEEEY" chants when the season starts.

The Redskins, unlike in years past, have some difficult decisions to make in cutting down to 53. Do you keep 7 (with Brandon Banks) at wide receiver now, 9 offensive linemen, 4 running backs, or 9 linebackers? In the end, you could not keep four tight ends to get the best 53 on final cutdown day and still have the flexibility to bring someone in off the waiver wire if they are the right fit.

What should not be lost either is that Cooley's release is a sign that it is no longer business as usual with the Redskins. They are not keeping players around just because their jerseys are being worn in the stands. Mike Shanahan made this move in order to put out the best final 53. Whether it plays out that way or not remains to be seen.

Nats Hit the Skids

OK, so it is not time to panic. Despite 5 straight losses, the Nationals still own a 4 game lead in the NL East over the Atlanta Braves. These things happen in a 162-game season. There are ups and downs, ebs and flows, and you've gotta roll with the punches.

Now that we've got that out the way, you have to admit it is an uneasy time in Natstown. There is the looming Strasburg shutdown, a full month of September to play, and a group of players that are in the unfamilar role of being the hunted.

From the outside looking in, you have to wonder if the Nationals are gripping the stick a bit harder as we head down the home stretch. Or is it just a slump?

GM Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson were overheard having a heated conversation Sunday after the team was swept in Philadelphia. "Happens all the time," is what we are being told.

The injury bug hit again in Philly, with Ian Desmond hurting his hammy and Michael Morse getting hit in the hand. Both are back but not 100%. "These things happen in a long season, everything is fine."

One thing that I am totally sold on is what Davey Johnson said after the sweep in Philly: you are never as good as you look when you are winning and as bad as you look when losing.

We have to believe the Nationals will snap out of this funk. They did not get to this point being bad. They just need a Cury W, and they need it in a hurry.

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