Reporting David Elfin
A linebacker from Division II Indiana (Pa.), Jim Haslett lasted seven seasons before a broken leg ended his career at 30 (not counting three games as a replacement player for the 1987 New York Jets).
A linebacker from Division III John Carroll, London Fletcher has doubled that NFL shelf life with St. Louis, the Bills and Washington.
But Fletcher, who is headed to a second straight Pro Bowl next month under Redskins defensive coordinator Haslett after making it just once during his previous dozen seasons with St. Louis, the Bills and Redskins, is still going strong, having led the NFL in tackles at 36.
Haslett, who has been in the league for more than a quarter century said Fletcher is “one of the best players I’ve been around … a student of the game, a guy that does it on the field, a leader in the (locker room). He can still run. He’s powerful. He’s just unbelievable.”
With Fletcher running the defense inside next to the rising Perry Riley – 67 tackles during the final eight games – and with young pass rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan — 16.5 sacks between them – outside, Haslett loved his linebacking group this season despite Washington’s 5-11 record.
However, Orakpo, who had 28.5 sacks during his first three seasons, had shoulder surgery early this month that will keep him from training for a while.
And, more important, with the opening of the free agent market less than eight weeks away, Fletcher remains unsigned.
Haslett promised in December that Fletcher would be back. The day after the season ended, coach Mike Shanahan said that re-signing the co-captain was a priority. Fletcher has said all along that he wants to return despite the frustrations of three consecutive double-digit loss seasons.
And yet, going on three weeks into the offseason and there has been communication between the Redskins and Fletcher’s agent, Ben Dogra, but still no deal.
If Shanahan, general manager Bruce Allen and Washington owner Dan Snyder let Fletcher hit the market, he might just do the smart thing and find a team that will allow him to be a missing piece of the puzzle in a Super Bowl scenario rather than continue to try to help fix what’s wrong with the Redskins.
“I like playing here,” said Fletcher, whose position coach, Lou Spanos, left Tuesday to become UCLA’s defensive coordinator. “I believe in coach Shanahan. (But) obviously, there’s a business aspect … I was also told I was wanted in St. Louis and I was wanted in Buffalo. They wanted me, but their level of want and my level of appreciation wasn’t the same.”
Shanahan, Allen and Snyder need to get their levels on the same level as Fletcher and Dogra soon. If not, there will be a big hole in Haslett’s defense and in his heart.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.