Redskins: Why We Should Expect London Fletcher to Retire

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Redskins: Why We Should Expect London Fletcher to Retire
Rob Carr/Getty Images

UPDATE (March 6): According to David Elfin of CBS DC, London Fletcher is preparing to undergo surgery to repair a left ankle that troubled him for most of the second half of last season.

Despite Fletcher telling Elfin that "surgery is the first step towards prepping for next season," my thoughts and opinions expressed in this column don't change.

 

Whether it be by way of contract restructuring, renegotiating, re-signing or releasing, the Washington Redskins have big decisions to make on approximately 20 different players on their current roster.

Among the group is veteran linebacker London Fletcher.

The looming $18 million cap penalty throws a wrench into most things offseason, and the team can thank themselves for some of that. But regardless of who’s at fault, it will make most decisions that much harder. In fact, it could even push free agency’s current March 12 start time to a later date. It’s that kind of serious.

So when we hear about Fletcher not yet making a decision about his career and future with the Redskins, the routine response is that he’s just waiting to see how the whole free-agency thingy works out. And that makes sense. His $6.2 million cap hit for 2013 is too big for the team and his contract would almost be forced into restructuring (via spotrac).

While assuming Fletcher would come back and re-work his deal in order to better help the team is a reasonable assumption, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a safe bet. Instead, being the gambling man that I am, my money would be on Fletcher—who’s set to turn 38 this May—hanging up his cleats and never playing a down of football again. Not for the Redskins. Not for anybody.

Despite my belief the Redskins need London Fletcher in 2013, I can’t convince myself that he’ll be lacing up cleats on Sunday and not a pair of dress shoes on the set of an NFL Network production.

 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

5. He’s 38 years old

I mention this in the most obvious way possible because it’s clearly noticeable on the football field.

He has lost a step or three in coverage, he led the league amongst inside linebackers with 21 missed tackles last season and his speed has obviously diminished over the years. According to Pro Football Focus, Fletcher ranked No. 28 out of the 30 inside linebackers who played at least 60 percent of their team’s snaps last year (profootballfocus). 

And that’s not a cut on Fletcher. He’s a beast. But age is a natural occurrence and it doesn’t blend well with most sports. Golf? Maybe. But not football. Although time and age has made many veterans around the league wiser football players, their physical attributes don’t improve over time. Fletcher is no exception.

Great careers, even those of the seemingly ageless, all must come to an end.

 

Rob Carr/Getty Images

4. Life after football

“It’s still a process,” Fletcher said. “Understand I do this every year, probably the last four or five years. It’s just when you get older in your career, you have to evaluate everything. Health is one thing. Can I still do it at the level that I want to do it at and play at?  So this year is no different than those years in the past.”  (via profootballtalk)

This isn’t any different from any other veteran athlete. Although I’m sure there’s a fair share of guys that are willing to play until their legs fall off, Fletcher isn’t one of them.

“I’ll take some time to let the emotions of the season kind of get away, refresh a little bit and then sit down with my family and make the decision from there as far as whether I’ll continue to play or not,” Fletcher said (via Washington Post).

Mind you, this is coming from a 15-year NFL veteran who experienced symptoms very similar to that of vertigo just last season (via Washington Post)

 

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

3. His stats warrant Hall of Fame votes, but his streak makes him a lock

This is obviously debatable. But not in my eyes.

When you look at Fletcher’s entire body of work, when you break down his numbers, when you compare his statistics, London Fletcher is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But that’s in my opinion. And I don’t have a vote.

Sadly, others don’t believe Fletcher is a first-ballot guy. Maybe because he’s not a flashy game-changer. Maybe because he’s back in the huddle without celebratory dances before announcers can spew his name over our television sets.

Whatever the case may be, there’s a lot of people who simply chalk him up as an underrated football player because that’s the easy thing to do and they never actually take in how significant this guy is on Sundays.

There is one thing, however, that no fan, player, nor Hall of Fame voter can ignore. And that’s the astonishing 240.

Two-hundred and forty consecutive games played, a feat that’s truly rare in the sport of football, especially at the linebacker position.

For all those who don’t consider Fletcher a Hall of Famer, or who teeter on the line of in or out, there’s absolutely no denying him after having already looked over his Hall of Fame numbers and then adding the fact that he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 1998.

Actually, if you don’t believe Fletcher is a Hall of Famer, just email me personally explaining why not. Then be prepared for a profanity-laced tirade in response, even if you make a decent argument.

 

2. He’s doing lots of television

No, really. Like, lots of television stuff. And he’s good.

When you take time away from football and spend your days on production sets, I assume it gets to you. In a good way. In a dress-in-nice-suits-eat-free-food-look-pretty-don’t-have-to-get-dirty-or-hurt-myself kind of way.

There’s life for Fletch after football and it probably involves some color commentary and analyst stuff.

 

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

1. And you know what they say…

“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.”

Head coach Mike Shanahan knows what they say. He’s the one you said that.

Shanny sat down with Larry Michael earlier this week to talk shop and he dropped some pretty interesting stuff regarding No. 59. (via Washington Post). 

“London’s the type of guy that you don’t even want to ask him a question,” Shanahan said. “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.”

It doesn’t sound all that promising to me. And Shanahan’s right. Usually when guys start contemplating retirement, they already have one foot off the gridiron and the other on the set of a television broadcast. And that’s okay. As selfish a fan as I may be, if there’s anyone that deserves to leave the game on his own terms, it’s London Fletcher.

As for the Redskins and their preparation for 2013, it seems the safest plan would be to assume Fletcher will miss action for the first time in 15 years.

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