The Washington Redskins are still awaiting word from Pro Bowl linebacker London Fletcher regarding his future in the National Football League. The seemingly immortal 15-year veteran turns 38 this offseason. The last time we heard from him, he had yet to decide whether he was going to return for a 16th season or retire with a Pro Bowl appearance and a playoff berth directly in the rear-view mirror.
That mentality seems to have head coach Mike Shanahan believing that Fletcher could be prepared to walk away before rust begins to develop. Shanahan told the team's website (via the Washington Post) that "if you're thinking about retiring, you're probably already retired."
The Redskins would take a hit without Fletcher. He isn't the same player he used to be but is still a reliable tackling machine and a leader on a team that needs leadership. With Lorenzo Alexander and Rob Jackson slated to become free agents and the team in a cap crunch, losing a key starter would hurt.
Those short-term consequences are obvious. I'm wondering what retirement would mean for Fletcher and his legacy.
For years, the undersized but sturdy linebacker was one of the most underrated players in the game. The fact that he didn't make a Pro Bowl until 2009 is the ultimate testament that said process is a sham. He hasn't missed a single game in a decade and a half of football and has recorded at least 116 tackles in each of the last 13 seasons.
I don't know if those facts alone make Fletcher a Hall of Famer, but considering that he's flown under the radar his entire career, I can imagine there's a good chance he'll continue to be overlooked as a retiree. He lacks the bravado and the star power that Ray Lewis possesses and he was never the type of linebacker who made game-changing plays.
Lewis retires with 50 career takeaways, which is the second most by a linebacker in NFL history. Fletcher isn't far behind with 41, but Lewis won two championships and does a really cool dance and likes to talk a lot.
Fletcher? Out of sight, out of mind.
Fletcher also has a Super Bowl ring, won way back in the previous millennium. Easy to forget, just like the majority of his accomplishments, apparently. He went to two Super Bowls in four years with the St. Louis Rams to start his career, but he hit his prime in Buffalo. During his five years with the Bills, that team finished above .500 only once and never made the playoffs. Until this past year, he hadn't been a part of a postseason victory since 2001.
Lewis came into the league two years earlier but has won eight more playoff games (14 to six) and an extra Lombardi Trophy.
However, it doesn't seem as though a few more takeaways and some extra team success should be enough to make Lewis a shoo-in for Canton while Fletcher fights. Throw in that whole murder thing Lewis has stuck to him and Fletcher's pristine character and it's frustrating to see the Raven get all the love.
I understand why we celebrate flash. It's prettier than durability and consistency and long-term productivity. Nevertheless, Fletcher deserves to be honored for the way in which he has consistently been a force literally every single fall Sunday since he signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 1998.
In my eyes, he's a Hall of Famer. If you agree, feel free to elaborate in the comment section. If you disagree, we're no longer friends.
(Chart stats via Jimmy Kempski at Blogging the Beast)