(photo by Brian Murphy)
While the front office of the Washington Redskins is working diligently to upgrade the roster in hopes of improving upon last season’s disappointing 5-11 record, the status of one key player remains unclear.
Once the Redskins finalized their deal with the St. Louis Rams to acquire the second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft ensuring the opportunity to land a potential franchise quarterback for the first time in decades, all eyes in Washington turned to the status of middle linebacker London Fletcher.
The 14-year veteran has been a team captain, a locker room leader and the heart and soul of the Redskins defense for the last five seasons, so naturally more than a few ‘Skins fans are concerned about the very real possibility of losing Fletcher via free agent.
Even Redskins general manager Bruce Allen has made it clear that he’s doing whatever he can in hopes of bringing the 36-year-old back to the burgundy and gold.
“I’m not going to hide the fact that we love London Fletcher,” Allen said. “We hope that he’s a Redskin next year.”
Fletcher was named a second-team All Pro last season and earned his third trip to the Pro Bowl in five seasons in Washington, so there’s no denying just how talented the John Carroll standout is each and every time he takes the field.
Which makes what I’m about to say that much tougher — the Redskins should do what they can to re-sign Fletcher. To a point.
His value is obviously greater to the Redskins than it is to any other team out there, but that doesn’t mean the front office should hand over a blank check. Fletcher turns 37 this May, and while there’s no doubt he takes great care of himself — after all, he’s never missed a game in 14 seasons — no one can play professional football forever.
Not even London Fletcher.
Think about some of the greatest teams in professional sports — teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers. While neither franchise has ever come right out and said it, both have historically operated under the matra “It is better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late.”
That’s how Hall of Famers like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice end up playing elsewhere in the final days of their respective careers. Even now, Hines Ward, who has been a staple of Pittsburgh for the last 14 seasons, has to ask himself if he wants to start over in another city or call it quits after the Steelers let him go.
One of the greatest players in NFL history, a guy by the name of Peyton Manning, is currently unemployed. That guy has meant more to Indianapolis than you or I could ever imagine and yet, he was shown the door by the Colts because they thought it was what was best for the franchise.
And as painful as it is to admit, my favorite football player of all time — James Arthur Monk — was unceremoniously shown the door after 14 Hall of Fame seasons in Washington. Like I said, no one can play the game forever.
I’m not taking anything away from Fletcher’s stellar career, but I think it’s safe to say that Monk meant more for the Redskins than a guy who didn’t come to town until his 10th NFL season. So if the franchise didn’t implode once Monk was let go, then it’ll probably survive when Fletcher is no longer around to lead the league in tackles on yet another double-digit loss team.
I understand the sentimental value of guys like Fletcher, Santana Moss or Chris Cooley. I get that ‘Skins fans haven’t had much to celebrate over in recent history, so it’s worth clinging on to one of these players when they enter your life and show they care about more than just cashing a paycheck or being a celebrity.
But that doesn’t mean that the franchise is obligated to bend over backwards to accommodate them or look the other way when production begins to slip.
Let’s be real for a minute, Sam Huff is one of the greatest players to ever lace ’em up and deserves the utmost respect for playing back in the days when guys were really allowed to beat the ever loving hell out of each other.
But that version of Huff is long gone, and it’s hardly a secret. Sadly, the guy in the broadcast booth today isn’t the same man he was and for me personally, it’s tough to hear him like this. I’m not saying they should run the Hall of Famers out of town or anything like that. I’m just saying that players rarely know when to call it quits and they almost never get to write their own endings.
So if Fletcher decides at the end of the day he’d like to chase one last payday, then I won’t begrudge him. If the Redskins current regime offers him a fair-market deal and he turns it down to score an extra year or a few more extra bucks guaranteed, I’m not going to hate him. I’ll simply wish him the best and happily root for the next guy to line up at middle linebacker.
Personally, I think that if he comes back to Washington, the front seven of the Redskins’ defense could really be fun and exciting to watch next season. And I’d love for guys like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to get some extra time to learn as much as possible from the savvy veteran about how to have a long and successful career.
But at the end of the day, Fletcher has to do what’s best for him and so do the Redskins. And maybe — just maybe — that adds up to him playing elsewhere next year. Should everything play out that way, please don’t hold it against him. Simply be happy for the guy because he’s getting the chance to write his own ending.