When ILB London Fletcher, the captain, as well as heart and soul of the defense of the Washington Redskins, signed a 2-year contract in the 2012 offseason, I think most fans hoped he would play both seasons of that contract before retiring. However, at Fletcher's age, 37, retirement is a possibility every single year.
Fletcher struggled with hamstring and, more persistently, an ankle injury, most of last season. Perhaps for that reason, as well as age, he had the worst season since he became a Redskins, maybe the worst of his career. Apart from missing more tackles than any inside linebacker in the NFL, he seemed to be out of position more often and had more trouble in coverage and in fighting through trash near the line of scrimmage.
The question that has hung in the air since the season ended is whether or not Fletcher would be back for another one. Well, now we know Fletcher's ankle injury is serious enough that he's having surgery to correct the problem. The surgery might cost Fletcher some OTA time, but that stuff is meaningless to a player with Fletcher's experience and work ethic. More importantly, the surgery should not prevent Fletcher from being healthy and ready to play when training camp rolls around in late July.
After hedging for weeks about whether he would return in 2013 or not, Fletcher now says he plans to play one more season -- assuming the injury heals properly. Just a few days ago Head Coach Mike Shanahan was asked by Redskins Nation host Larry Michaels if he thought Fletcher would return. Here's Shanahan's reply:
“I really don’t know. One thing you have to do is, you’ve got to have a mindset that there’s no way you’re going to retire. Because if you’re thinking about retirement, you’re not really sure – at least when I look at my previous years, and you look back at guys – if you’re thinking about retiring, you’re probably already retired.
“London’s the type of guy that you don’t even want to ask him a question. Because his mindset, he’s a warrior, how hard he’s played and what he’s done for this organization. But all those those things, you’ve got to have a game plan for if he does come back, if he doesn’t come back. You’re taking a look at your financial responsibilities, if you do have the hit that we may take. You just don’t know. So we’ve got a game plan for all scenarios, but you always hope that your great players keep on playing at a high level.”
That doesn't sound as if Shanahan expected Fletcher to be back, but now Fletcher says he will be back. It isn't entirely clear who would take over at inside linebacker if Fletcher didn't return, but my best guess is Keenan Robinson, a promising 4th-round pick last year out of Texas. Robinson looks like the natural successor to me and I like his size and speed compared to Fletcher. Of course, nobody -- pretty much nobody in the NFL -- has Fletcher's experience and knowledge of NFL defense and Robinson is still young and recovering from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his rookie season early.
Ideally, Fletcher comes back fully healthy, plays one more solid season with the Redskins and then retires to do whatever he wants, with Robinson taking over the starting job in 2014. However, Robinson must be ready to start in 2013 if Fletcher is beset by injuries again or if last year's reduced production turns out to be the precursor to greatly diminished capacities in this coming season.