ASHBURN, Va. — Brian Orakpo started getting sacks just as the Washington Redskins season fell apart. London Fletcher hasn’t played up to his usual standard, but he’s set to take the field for his 253rd consecutive game — sprained ankle and all.
The pair of linebackers should enjoy each other’s company while it lasts. There’s no telling where they’ll be next season.
“It’s not ideal,” Fletcher said Thursday, “to have one-half of your defense not under contract.”
Orakpo and Fletcher are two of seven Redskins defensive starters set to become free agents at the end of the season. With the record at 3-9, it’s tempting to skip the final four games — at least mentally — and start to contemplating the makeup of the team in 2014.
“You think about it, but you can’t really think about it,” Fletcher said, “because the minute you start thinking about that and focusing on that, it can affect your performance.”
Fletcher is nursing a sprained left ankle, but he practiced Thursday and there’s hardly a doubt that he’ll extend his NFL record for longest playing streak by a defensive player since the 1970 merger when the Redskins host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
But he’s 38, and on pace to have his least productive season since the 1990s. He’s not ready to commit to whether he’ll return for a 17th NFL season.
“You don’t want to make emotional decisions based on how you’re feeling during the season,” he said. “When you win, you feel a whole better about things than when you lose. There’s a lot of things that come into play when you decide whether you want to continue to play or not play. Production. Performance. Can you play? Health. Do they want you to play?”
There’s no question that Orakpo will be in demand. Fully healthy after twice tearing the pectoral muscle near his left shoulder, the two-time Pro Bowl linebacker has 5½ sacks in his last four games — all Redskins losses.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Orakpo said. “Playing at a very high level, and we’re still not finishing those games. That is a tough thing to swallow.”
It’s easy to conclude that Orakpo, like many players before him, is raising his game just in time to get a hefty contract on the open market. He says that’s not the case, and that he’d like to re-sign with the Redskins.
“I wish you could be inside my head, man,” he said. “I honestly do not care about the contract situation. I don’t care. I really don’t stress about it, worry about it, because I’m fine. Like I said, last quarter of the season, I want to finish strong and everything will take care of itself.”
Free agency is also on tap for linebacker Perry Riley and the entire starting secondary: cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson and safeties Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty. Complicating matters is whether coach Mike Shanahan will return after his third losing season in four years.
“Obviously we’re 3-9, so it’s a disappointing season,” Orakpo said. “But that doesn’t take away from what I know we’re capable of. If we get our core guys back, add a few pieces here and there with all the money that we’re receiving back from all the salary cap issues that we had, I think we’ll be up for running at another title shot.”
If there’s a massive shake-up, the new players would need time to gel, especially if there’s a new defense to learn. For his part, Fletcher would prefer to stay the course.
“When the wins don’t come, people always want changes to come, so we’ll see,” Fletcher said. “It’s the same coaching staff that won the NFC East (last year). But people look at you from a different lens when you don’t win.”
Notes: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III has come under scrutiny, defended his play-calling from late last season, when Griffin was dealing with a knee injury. “When somebody tells me they’re healthy and also when doctors tell me somebody is good enough to go, then I don’t sit there and go against what somebody is telling me,” Kyle Shanahan said. He also said his relationship with Griffin “is the same as it’s always been.” ”We go to work every day, we’re competitive people, but we work together,” he said. … LT Trent Williams (bruised foot) and CB DeAngelo Hall (left hip and neck) took part in the full practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday. TE Jordan Reed (concussion), S Brandon Meriweather (bruised chest), S Reed Doughty (concussion) and FB Darrel Young (hamstring) were limited.
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