After 2011 blew up in the collective faces of the Philadelphia Eagles, they aren't as likely to splurge recklessly on free agent after free agent. They don't actually have that many holes to fill, but Washington Redskins free-agent-to-be London Fletcher could fill one.
The one glaring weakness that everyone who has ever heard of football knows about, is linebacker. The Eagles' linebacker corps has been criticized since the preseason, and really since the departure of Jeremiah Trotter.
Looking objectively, that unit deserves most of the criticism. Late in the season, head coach Andy Reid tried trotting out the explanation of youth. While it comes across to some as a weak excuse, especially so late in the game, there is some truth to it.
The Eagles have six linebackers who saw action this season, and going into the season, they averaged 24.3 years of age. The oldest were Moise Fokou and Akeem Jordan at 26.
Looking at NFL experience, it is even more damning. As a unit, they had an average of 1.3 years of service time. The longest NFL career was by Jordan, at four years.
So while their lack of age and experience is true, some other things were true as well. They just weren't good players and they were lacking in the size department.
Draft position doesn't always directly relate to pro performance, but it is well documented that the Eagles just don't draft linebackers high in the draft. Of their six linebackers, their average draft position was Pick 176. That's roughly equivalent to mid-sixth round. Their highest selection was Casey Matthews at No. 116.
Now to the size of the current group. Their average weight is 229.3 pounds. The heaviest is Jamar Chaney at 242. The other five are 231 or less.
London Fletcher may not sound like the most attractive addition, as he will be 37 years old at the start of next season, but he has shown no signs of slowing.
Fletcher has started 208 consecutive games and has never missed a game in his career. He has averaged 137 tackles per season, has totaled 34.0 sacks, 18 interceptions and 17 forced fumbles with three defensive touchdowns in the last 13 years.
Over the last five years with the Redskins, Fletcher maintained a high level of production. He averaged 141 tackles per season and totaled 6.5 sacks, seven interceptions, seven forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown.
At his age, of course people are skeptical of a drop-off, but his season in Washington is very similar to Brian Dawkins' final season with the Eagles in 2008.
Dawkins made the Pro Bowl and was the defensive player of the month in December. He was let go and ended up in Denver. He isn't the Dawkins of old, but most believe the Eagles would be better off with Dawkins at the back end.
In the season's final month, Fletcher piled up 59 tackles over five games. He may finally suffer some injuries but, really, he isn't the future at the middle linebacker position, he is someone to help add to a defense that wants to win in 2012.
At 245 pounds, he isn't the biggest linebacker in the league, but he would be the biggest on the roster. He is strong and powerful and he has the athleticism to make plays on the outside. He is still extremely active, and he would bring a ton of experience and at least a little more attitude.
If the Eagles finally break down and pick a linebacker high in the draft, he can bring something that may be more important than anything else—leadership. This defense is dying for leadership, and with a guy like Fletcher on the roster, maybe the prospective draft pick will have an easier transition to the NFL than, say, Casey Matthews did.
Even if that last thing is all he can provide, anyone who remembers Matthews early in the season knows that would be more than worth the investment.