CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 23: Tim Hightower #25 of the Washington Redskins gets attention by the training staff after being injured in the second half of the game with the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Two Washington Redskins starters were placed on injured reserve earlier this week. It's unfortunate for both of them, but it's far more unfortunate for one than the other.
The Washington Redskins placed two key offensive players on injured reserve on Tuesday. One is universally known as a fan favorite and is a dynamic media presence. His career in Washington D.C. will be remembered for years and years. That Redskins career is potentially coming to an end, because he's getting older and the team has a younger, cheaper (for now) and better replacement who plays his position.
And yet, it's the other player that I truly sympathize.
This isn't to say good riddance to Chris Cooley or anything. Injuries suck, and Cooley's enthusiasm for this season was genuine. But while Cooley has dominated the headlines around town for the next couple of days, the player who stands to lose the most from his injury is Tim Hightower, and that makes me sad.
Hightower's injury couldn't have come at a worse time for him professionally. He's slated to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, which would have been especially significant for him. He signed a three-year, $1.27 million contract with the Cardinals after being drafted in the fifth-round, then was given a one-year, $1.2 million tender as a restricted free agent last summer. Both of those contracts are well below Hightower's market value.
This upcoming summer was his one chance to cash in and truly feel like he had made it in the league. Had he stayed healthy, that certainly would have happened, whether in D.C. or elsewhere. Now, he enters free agency as an injured player, and teams will be reluctant to give him a lot of money.
I realize it's hard to feel sympathy for a professional athlete for only making $1.2 million dollars for his line of work. But think of this from Hightower's perspective for a second. He methodically worked his way up the depth chart in Arizona, going from a fifth-round pick to the team's featured back. As soon as that happened, though, the team tried to push him out and promote Beanie Wells as the guy, even though Hightower arguably outplayed him prior to this season. The trade to Washington provided Hightower with his opportunity at a perfect time for him professional, and while his rushing stats weren't incredible (321 yards, one touchdown, 3.8 yards per carry), his pass-blocking skills and his leadership made him far more valuable than the numbers indicated. He was finally going to be paid fair market value for his services.
And now, thanks to one bad cutback attempt, it may not happen.
Hightower continues to stay strong through the adversity, posting the following sign on his Twitter account. You know he's not going to feel sorry for himself. But I do feel sorry for him, and I will continue to feel sorry for him. None of us are millionaires, and none of us play a game for a living, but think about it a different way for a second. How many of us work so hard to get professional legitimacy and financial security, doing all the right things, only to have a freak event potentially take it all away? Maybe for us, it's not an injury that stops progress. Maybe it's a company shutting down or reshuffling, leaving us out of a job. But it happens to a lot of people, and that feeling sucks. The money and circumstances may be different, but one could argue it just happened for Hightower.
That's why I feel worse for Hightower than Cooley, even if Cooley's Redskins career may be over. Cooley has made his money and cemented his legacy. No matter what happens this winter, Cooley will go down as one of the most accomplished players in Redskins history. It obviously hurts to see the end of a career on the horizon, but Cooley has outside interests to keep him going, and I'm sure there's a broadcasting job waiting for him here locally if he wants it. None of this is to push Cooley out the door, of course, but the game has been good to him and he has been good to the game.
Hightower, though, was on the cusp of the kind of financial security Cooley was able to achieve earlier in his career. Injuries to anyone are unfortunate, but an injury that defers a players' rise is always more unfortunate than an injury to a player who has already walked that road.
For more on the Redskins, visit Hogs Haven.