If you’ve glanced at a set of defensive stat leaders anytime in the last 10 years or so, odds are you’ve seen London Fletcher’s name. Season after season, one of the NFL’s most underrated players quietly racks up well over 100 tackles and the undying admiration of his peers.
But Fletcher’s contributions extend far beyond his ability to play the middle linebacker position better than almost any other. He’s a leader, master motivator, mentor and the heart and soul of a team still trying to find its way into football’s Promised Land.
“Everybody here knows what type of guy London Fletcher is, both on and off the football field,” Mike Shanahan said. “He’s a guy that prepares like every game is a playoff game. When you have that type of mindset, that type of work ethic, that type of football ability, then you play at the level he plays at.”
At 36, Fletcher may be in the twilight of his career, but he hasn’t relied on reputation to coast through games. The passion and drive remain intact as he leads the NFL in tackles with 134 while also adding two interceptions and 1.5 sacks.
More importantly, he provides the struggling Redskins with an identity – a presence to be respected and feared.
It’s remarkable but no matter how adverse the circumstances, Fletcher has been that way throughout his time with the Redskins. Every week he expects to win and this year, he sees teammates beginning to adopt the same mentality – a positive sign as to the direction Washington is taking.
“When a situation is not going your way, you can have some guys kind of go separate ways, but that’s not how this locker room is,” Fletcher said. “That’s not the makeup of this football team.”
Fletcher’s persona is that of a polished professional. Following Sunday’s defeat at the hands of Patriots – Washington’s eighth loss in nine games – he was as dignified as ever despite being wrongfully penalized for a legal hit on Tom Brady. As animated as he was on the field after the call, he shifted the focus on the team’s failure to close out what could have been a stunning upset.
“As professionals, you’re going to compete against whoever you’re facing regardless of the situation,” he said. “Whether we were 8-4 at this point in time -- whatever the record is – that’s what our job is.”
Shanahan’s third season coaching the Redskins will be a pivotal one. If he can successfully stabilize the quarterback situation and oversee a team that shows significant progress on the field where it counts, Washington has a chance in Shanahan’s fourth and fifth seasons to recapture the magic that made it great in the 1980s.
That can’t happen without Fletcher – set to enter free agency this offseason – leading the charge on defense. In a locker room full of impressionable young talent (see Trent Williams and Fred Davis), he’s precisely what Shanahan needs to help reroute the franchise.
Based on comments Fletcher made to Jason Reid of the Washington Post it appears as if the two-time Pro Bowler is willing to continue being that pillar. That’s a commitment Washington should not take for granted.
Because letting him slip through their fingers this offseason would be the worst mistake of all.