Chargers Release Veteran End Cox : NFL: Rookie Duane Young moves into starting spot.
So much for waiting till next year to start the youth movement.
Less than 24 hours after General Manager Bobby Beathard said there would be no major changes made until after the season, the Chargers announced Tuesday they had released nine-year veteran tight end Arthur Cox.
The move apparently clears the way for rookie tight end Duane Young to become the team’s starting tight end. Young, who has been on the injured reserve list all season with an ankle injury, is ready to play.
“We’ll find out a lot more about Duane now,” Beathard said. “We thought an an awful lot of him in college. There’s a chance that he’ll have the opportunity now. He’s going to have to work his butt off and make the most of it.”
Young, a 6-foot-1, 276 pounder, was the Chargers’ fifth-round draft choice out of Michigan State. Beathard said Young’s biggest asset is his blocking skills.
“In college, he was a dominating end-line blocker,” he said. “He was as good as we had seen at that position. He’s a good athlete and he has real good hands.”
Although Charger players were caught off guard by Cox’s release, Beathard and Coach Dan Henning said it was not sudden.
“We need to get more consistent play out of that position,” Henning said. “It just came to the point where I felt like he’d been practicing inconsistently. He’d make a mistake in practice, then they’d creep up in the game.
“I don’t think Arthur was real happy with his role here. I think he lost a little focus because of that.”
Even though Cox, 30, came into training camp 25 pounds lighter than he had been last season, his playing time decreased greatly this season. He was used only when the Chargers employed three tight ends and had caught only five passes for 53 yards.
His holding penalty Oct. 20 against Cleveland took the Chargers out of field-goal range and contributed to a 30-24 overtime loss. Beathard said Cox made several more important errors in Sunday’s 20-9 loss to Seattle.
“There were a lot of mistakes made,” Beathard said. “It’s tough to live with those. If we’re going to win, we have to cut down on mistakes.”
Cox also made several crucial mistakes in a nationally televised 13-10 overtime loss to Seattle last year. He fumbled twice and was called for two penalties that cost the Chargers scoring opportunities.
But even with all of Cox’s faults, Roger Kirschenbaum, Cox’s agent, said the decision to fire his client was unexpected.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised had they made him a Plan B free agent at the end of the season,” Kirschenbaum said from Atlanta. “I’m a little surprised at the midseason timing for someone who’s been a starter.
"(Arthur) and I have discussed that he has not played as well as he’s capable of playing. The team has not played up to its capability and I think Arthur feels like he’s partly responsible.”
Beathard said the team considered letting Cox go earlier this season, but it was decided to give him another chance.
"(Henning) put Arthur on notice and gave him a chance to get back and redeem himself,” Beathard said. (The Seattle game) was his test and he didn’t pass it.”
“Arthur has a lot of ability. It just didn’t seem like he was playing up to the level that he’s capable of playing at.”
The decision to cut Cox was especially difficult for Henning, who also coached Cox in Atlanta. Eight of Cox’s nine seasons in the NFL have been spent with Henning.
“I like Arthur,” Henning said. “Arthur’s a guy I’ve known for a while. He came into the league with me in 1983. But we have to make decisions that are in our best interest right now and I think that this is.”
Henning said he tried to reach Cox Monday night, but didn’t contact him until Tuesday morning.
Kirschenbaum said he received a message on his answering machine from Cox at 10:30 a.m. Atlanta time.
“I figured something was up,” Kirschenbaum said “I appreciate the fact that Dan was the one who told Arthur.”
Kirschenbaum wouldn’t say whether Cox was stunned by Henning’s phone call.
“I can say that Arthur was aware that they weren’t happy with his performance lately,” he said. “I think he knows that he can do better.”
Cox did not return phone calls Tuesday.
The Chargers signed Cox as a free agent in May 1988 after he was released by the Falcons. He immediately became a starter and did not relinquish that role until this season. Cox’s most productive season came in 1989, when he caught 22 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
But Cox’s value to the Chargers was not measured by his pass-catching ability. He was considered one of the team’s best blockers and one of the Chargers’ enforcers on offense. The Chargers’ press release for the Nov. 10 Seattle game said Cox is “one of the NFL’s finest blockers.”
“He’s a big part of our running game as far as making it go,” right tackle Broderick Thompson said. “We’re going to miss him.”
Strong safety Martin Bayless appeared shaken by the release of Cox.
“It’s a surprise,” said Bayless, who was released before the season then brought back a day later. “How can you have a guy that’s been here for four years, the best blocking tight end we have, an integral part of our offense and one day you look and he’s not here? But that’s beyond my control.”
Kirschenbaum said he is attempting to place Cox, who is in the last year of his contract, with another NFL team.