(WUSA) -- Chris Cooley's hoped-for future in Washington might well rest in the hands of Fred Davis, his replacement as the Redskins' top tight end.
That's not just about how effectively Davis fills in for the injured Cooley for the rest of this season. Not only did Davis do a fine job of that when Cooley suffered a season-ending broken ankle in Week 7 of 2009 and has emerged as Washington's leading pass-catcher this year, but the fourth-year man is due to be a free agent this coming winter.
Simply put, if Davis re-signs with the Redskins, Cooley could well be released even though he has caught more passes (428) than any tight end in Washington history and is 18th on the NFL's career list.
Not only will Cooley be 30 in July, but the chronically ailing left knee that landed him on injured reserve on Tuesday means that he'll have missed 20 of 48 games the last three seasons. And Cooley's due to make $3.9 million in 2012, hefty pay for a player who might be the No. 2 tight end and who hasn't been able to stay healthy lately.
What's more, coach Mike Shanahan raved about No. 3 tight end Logan Paulsen this week, saying how much he has liked the 2010 rookie free agent all along. Paulsen, unlike Davis, is under contract for 2012.
Shanahan was upbeat about Cooley in that same press conference, saying that the two-time Pro Bowl pick can "hopefully be real productive" for the Redskins in the future.
However, the hard-eyed Shanahan isn't one for sentimentality. The coach drafted Clinton Portis for Denver in 2002 and received a pair of 1,500-yard seasons from him immediately but had no qualms about dealing the running back to Washington in 2004 or cutting him in February on the verge of 10,000 career rushing yards and the Redskins' all-time mark after injuries had taken a heavy toll. And when another Shanahan draftee, running back Ryan Torain, broke a hand in August, his job was handed to the recently-acquired Tim Hightower.
So while Cooley is the most popular Redskin since Hall of Famer Darrell Green ended his franchise-record 20 year career in 2002, that won't carry any weight with Shanahan nor will his valiant effort to overcome the knee injury - he had it drained 15 times this season.
Cooley's 77 catches for 849 yards in Shanahan's Redskins debut in 2010 also don't figure to counterbalance the mere eight grabs for 65 yards he produced as a shadow of his usual athletic self this year.
Despite his recent injury woes and the team's failure to win a playoff game since 2005 when he was a first-year starter, the often-goofy Cooley loves being a Redskin as much as any rookie.
"I have no desire to be a part of any other organization and I have no desire to retire," he said today.
Although he's from the Rockies, Cooley married a local girl and seems likely to remain in Washington as have so many of the stars from the franchise's glory days: Jurgensen and Bobby Mitchell, Taylor and Theismann, Moseley and Riggins, Monk and Green, to name a few.
"Every part of me continues to believe that I will continue to play for the Washington Redskins ... at a very high level," Cooley said.
But given the team's needs for a legitimate starting quarterback, better offensive linemen and trying to re-sign or replace such free agents as inside linebackers London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh, safety LaRon Landry, Hightower and defensive end Adam Carriker, if Davis receives a lucrative deal, there doesn't seem to be room under the salary cap for Cooley to keep wearing the burgundy and gold.
When that day comes, it will be a sad one and not just for Cooley.
WUSA-9's Redskins Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of five books on the Redskins including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."