London Fletcher is doing what his Redskins teammates expected him to do all along: return for another season. He made that official Wednesday after undergoing ankle surgery by tweeting, "Surgery went great...thanks for all the well wishes! Prep begins now for season 16!"
Thus ends any talk of retirement. Truth is, Fletcher's main concern all along was being able to be healthy enough that he could continue to play at a high level. Yes, he has been auditioning for TV jobs this offseason and will segue into such a role once he retires.
But TV won't pay him $5 million next year or the year after or the year after that. So this is his last big payday, and the Redskins will give it to him. One thing they won't do is pay him less. If they want to keep Fletcher, he'll play for his entire salary. It's not good to ask players like that to take a pay cut; it only creates bad feeling in the locker room if, say, Fletcher takes a pay cut, then outplays someone making more money.
If the Redskins wanted to, they could release Fletcher and put the savings (around $3 million) toward a safety or cornerback. Their No. 1 priority is upgrading the defensive backfield.
Fletcher missed more tackles than we're accustomed to seeing early in the season. Part of that stemmed from not playing healthy. Injuries and age (he's 37) always are a lethal combination. One former NFL linebackers coach said he can see a linebacker's decline when he's missing tackles in the hole. However, Fletcher rebounded and played at a solid level in the final month of the season (and did so while hurt).
It will be interesting to see how this unfolds for Fletcher. He still helps in terms of intensity (in games and practice), preparation, leadership and knowledge. But at some point age and injuries conspire against every player. The Redskins do have second-year Keenan Robinson (though there's no proof he's ready for a full-time role yet). They do have Lorenzo Alexander, assuming he re-signs. So they have good backup plans.
Fletcher will have to prove coming back is a good idea. Just remember he has spent his whole career proving a point.
- John Keim