ASHBURN, Va. — The NFL has made Chris Cooley a millionaire many times over. During the NFL lockout, when he was banned from working with the Washington Redskins' training staff, he could've hired the best physical therapists around to help him with the left knee that was feeling stiff from surgery in January.
Instead, he figured he would handle it himself. He didn't think the knee was that bad.
It was a decision that essentially cost him a season, and maybe his career. The knee didn't recover. He missed almost all of training camp and muddled through five games, unable to run more than 10 yards without pain. He had the knee drained 15 times.
This week, coach Mike Shanahan placed the two-time Pro Bowl tight end on injured reserve.
"I fell 100 percent that I'm a casualty for the season of the lockout," Cooley said Thursday. "I think it was a shame that they didn't let players who had surgery spend time with the doctors and trainers they trust on daily basis, I wish I could've."
"I can ice it at home," he added. "I can do things at home, but it's a shame it is the way it is, and there's no one to blame. I guess the person to truly blame would be to say I should've thought more about it. ... I probably should have taken more time rehabbing initially, and that's again stubbornness of me thinking I'm going to be OK, and I'm just going to work through pain. That's how I've got through my entire career and it's always worked, and it didn't work this time."
Cooley finally went to a therapist in late June, much too late. The knee was sore and swollen throughout the preseason. He played in the first five regular season games, but he caught only eight passes for 65 yards and was even taking snaps at fullback. When he broke his left index finger against Philadelphia on Oct. 16 — a nasty injury that required 10 stitches and weeks of recovery — he had the knee re-examined.
Cooley flew to Florida on Sunday and met with Dr. James Andrews. The verdict: Shut the knee down, or else risk having to undergo a microfracture procedure that could be career-ending.
"Dr. Andrews thought a microfracture would be 50-50, at best 70 percent, that I would play again," Cooley said.
Cooley is now on crutches, having been told to keep weight off the knee for two weeks. He can't run for the next three to four months. He says the prognosis is that he'll be ready for minicamp next spring, a better alternative than trying to hang around this season on one leg.
"I want to help the team. I can't hold them hostage," Cooley said. "I can't go into coach Shanahan's office and say, 'You're going to give me seven weeks, and you're going to hold a roster spot for me while I hopefully get better.' That's not fair to anybody."
The injury has led to inevitable questions about Cooley's future in Washington. The 2004 third-round draft pick has spent his entire career with the Redskins, and he's the franchise's all-time leader in receptions by a tight end. Known as "Captain Chaos," he's a fan favorite.
But he also has a hefty contract. He's 29, and Fred Davis has excelled this season in the tight end role and leads the team in receiving. While Cooley was speaking to reporters, Davis was campaigning on Twitter for Pro Bowl votes.
"Every part of me absolutely believes that not only will I continue to play for the Washington Redskins, but I'll continue to be an outstanding player at the position I play," Cooley said.
Cooley said he's inspired by the vision of running through the tunnel at the Super Bowl in a Redskins uniform.
It won't happen this season.
"I told Mike that if we get to the NFC championship and we get to the Super Bowl," Cooley said, "I'm going to come into his office and choke him."
Cooley was kidding, of course, but he wasn't joking when he again reflected on his choices during the offseason.
"That's something I think about all the time," Cooley said, "is 'Why didn't I go to a physical therapy place in March?'"
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP