The Washington Redskins shook up the NFC East by winning the division in 2012, and as the team moves into 2013, the Redskins face a great deal of uncertainty on both sides of the ball.
The knee injury and recovery of quarterback Robert Griffin III has hogged all the headlines, but the Redskins may also be without the face of their defense in 2013.
The thing is, Washington may actually be better off that way.
As Sarah Kogod and Mark Maske of The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, linebacker London Fletcher, who led the team with 139 tackles in 2012, is still mulling over whether to return to the team for a 16th NFL season.
"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."
What is different is that for the first time in several seasons, the Redskins are now a contender, and that's all but certainly a consideration for the 37-year-old.
The problem there is that the Redskins might have a better chance at making a deep playoff run without London Fletcher on the field than with him.
This is right about the point in the article that folks skip to the end to fire off a comment filled with all sorts of saucy language, but hear me out first.
This isn't meant to be a knock on London Fletcher. In fact, I'll freely admit that for years I've been a huge fan of his. He's one of the most under appreciated defensive players of the past decade, and at some point there's going to be a very strong case for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So, how can the Redskins possibly be better off without a player who has averaged over 140 tackles per season in his six years in the nation's capital and never missed a game in his entire career?
For starters, age catches up to every player, and last year it appeared to finally catch up to Fletcher.
Yes, Fletcher's 139 tackles led the team in 2012, but his numbers were skewed by a high number of assists, which the Redskins' scorekeepers hand out like lollipops. No team in the league awards more.
Meanwhile, Fletcher's 78 solos were the lowest total he has recorded in a season in this century.
Granted, Fletcher also had three sacks and a career-high five interceptions last year, but that's another misleading stat.
Fletcher's not really a "big play" guy. Never has been. Isn't supposed to be. The season before (when he had 96 solos and 166 total tackles) Fletcher had only two interceptions and 1.5 sacks.
That year, Fletcher ranked in the top 10 among inside linebackers in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
In 2012? Only two players graded out worse than Fletcher did.
There's also the not-so-insignificant matter of what effect the presence of Fletcher could have on the rest of the defense in 2013.
According to spotrac.com, the Redskins currently sit a few million dollars over the projected 2013 salary cap, which means that the team is going to have to make some tough choices in the weeks ahead.
Among those is whether to keep linebacker Lorenzo Alexander in the fold.
The seven-year veteran, who filled in at times while Fletcher battled nagging injuries in 2012, had 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks a season ago. Alexander made the Pro Bowl as the NFC's special teams player and actually led all players in that game in tackles.
Alexander is set to hit free agency, and after showing himself to be a capable starter, there will be some demand for his services in 2013—especially among teams running 3-4 fronts.
As things stand right now, the Redskins have next to no chance of keeping Alexander. However, were Fletcher to retire and his $5.5 million salary for 2013 to come off the books, not only would the team have a much better shot at retaining Alexander, but they could do so with a cap-friendly deal that might free up some space.
As blasphemous as it may sound, the drop-off from a 37-year-old Fletcher to a 29-year-old Alexander would be negligible, and the Redskins would be done with this annual waiting game.
At the end of the day, the ball's in Fletcher's court. If he wants to play in 2013, the Redskins will all but certainly roll him out there, and the point of this article isn't that he would be a huge liability on the field.
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