The news that London Fletcher had surgery to fix a problem with his left ankle can be taken as a very good sign that he will be back as the Redskins’ Mike linebacker in 2013.
The linebacker and captain said that he will attempt to play a 16th NFL season assuming that he is able to recover from the procedure on the ankle and another one he said he plans to have on his elbow later this month.
During last season, Fletcher told Redskins.com that he didn’t anticipate playing beyond the end of the two-year contract he signed last April so this is likely to be his last season.
Fletcher’s return was mostly good news for the team but there is a down side due to the sticky salary cap situation the team finds itself in after being hit an $18 million penalty by the NFL. His salary will be $5.5 million this year and he will count $6.2 million against the cap. A $6.2 million cap hit is not huge but it is the fifth-highest on the team and it does put Fletcher in the top five among all inside linebackers in the league. Had Fletcher chosen to retire, the team would have saved $3.4 million of cap money, dollars they could use to fill other needs on the team.
But, had Fletcher retired the Redskins would have found themselves with a need at Mike linebacker. Lorenzo Alexander is a pending free agent and while he is a capable backup and role player he may not have been the solution in the middle even if he does return. The Redskins drafted Keenan Robinson in 2012 as Fletcher’s heir apparent. He played 69 snaps on defense before suffering a torn pec on Thanksgiving in Dallas. Even if Robinson had stayed healthy it would have been a stretch for him to take over the starting job in the most complex position in the defense.
There are legitimate concerns about Fletcher as well. It appears that the high ankle sprain that forced yesterday’s surgery and caused him to miss most practice time for the last six games of the season plus the Seattle playoff game will be fine. But he will be 38 before the season starts and it is reasonable to think that more injury woes are a possibility.
Even when he was healthy last season his play was not always up to his usual standards. According to Pro Football Focus he missed 21 tackles, more than any other NFL inside linebacker. He struggled in coverage at times, particularly against bigger tight ends.
It certainly wasn’t all bad for Fletcher in 2012. He led the team in tackles as he has every year since coming to the Redskins in 2007. His five interceptions led the team and four of them came during the season-ending seven game winning streak that got the Redskins their first division title since 1999. As team captain he continued to provide leadership on the field and in the locker room.
Perhaps the Redskins will get more of the good Fletcher and have fewer issues if they take him out of the game on occasion. Last year he played 1119 of the team’s 1186 defensive players (94 percent). Jim Haslett should sub Robinson into the game in long yardage and rotate him into the lineup in other situations.
Giving Fletcher an occasional break will increase the chances that he will be able to make it through the season at peak efficiency. And since Fletcher’s contract is up after this season and it is likely that this will be his last season it would behoove the Redskins to get Robinson some experience under his belt.