Reporting David Elfin
The Redskins haven’t had a top 10 defense since 2008. The starters on that defense included: end Andre Carter and cornerback Carlos Rogers, each of whom made last season’s Pro Bowl with a different team; end Demetric Evans, tackle Cornelius Griffin, outside linebacker Marcus Washington and cornerback Fred Smoot, all of whom are retired; safety Chris Horton, who just signed with the New York Giants after being out football last season.
Another 2007 regular, linebacker Rocky McIntosh, was benched last November and is a free agent who won’t be back after breaking curfew on the eve of the season finale.
Strong safety LaRon Landry, who missed 15 of the past 23 games with an Achilles injury that won’t heal, signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets on Monday after he and Washington coach Mike Shanahan fell out over his continual reliance on alternative therapies rather than having surgery on the Achilles.
That leaves two starters from that 2008 defense who could still be in a Washington uniform this fall: tackle Kedric Golston, now a reserve end who doesn’t figure to be expensive to re-sign, and linebacker London Fletcher.
However, we’re eight days into free agency and all’s quiet on the Fletcher front. The Pro Bowl pick three years running has disappeared from Twitter and hasn’t been rumored to be visiting any teams.
Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett both maintained late last season that re-signing Fletcher was a top priority and he said that he wanted to stay put, but recent Redskins history has shown that if a Washington player hits the market, he rarely returns. That’s what happened in Fletcher’s previous two stops, St. Louis and Buffalo. He started two Super Bowls and won a ring with the Rams and enjoyed playing for the Bills, but once he was no longer their exclusive property and another team offered him big bucks, it was nice to have known ya time.
Fletcher is Washington’s defensive captain, top tackler and a locker room leader, but when it comes to contract negotiations, he’s apparently not willing to settle, even though he’s two months shy of his 37th birthday, which is about 85 in linebacker years.
Don’t forget that when reporters told Fletcher in December that Shanahan and Haslett had said retaining him was so critical to Washington’s plans, he replied, “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.”
Perhaps Stephen Tulloch agreeing to remain in Detroit yesterday for five years at an unknown (to the media) price will help set the market at a position at which Dan Connor, who chose to accept a likely backup role in Dallas, had been the only one of the top-rated free agents to sign.
Inside linebackers haven’t been hot commodities thus far, but Fletcher also knows that the Redskins don’t have an obvious heir apparent. Last year’s backup, Keyaron Fox, is a free agent and has started just seven games during his eight seasons. Jack-of-all-trades Lorenzo Alexander – now an outside linebacker — could move inside, but that wouldn’t be Plan A for Washington’s special teams ace.
Trading up for the right to draft Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III — who’s holding his pro day at Baylor today — is the bold step at the most critical position that Redskins fans have been waiting for throughout Dan Snyder’s 12-plus years as the franchise’s owner. However, if the defense loses its quarterback that could be as big a loss in 2012 as gaining Griffin will be on the other side of the ball.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. 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.