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Friday, December 30, 2011
Shanahan calls Fletcher a 'top priority'

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

ASHBURN, Va. -- The interview today with Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was good and pleasant and informative, and as I'd hoped it will provide plenty of blog fodder for our Redskins readers over the coming days. But before I head off to the airport to catch my flight home, I'll share with you one nugget.

Shanahan didn't address a lot of specific-player questions. He ducked one about whether or not Rex Grossman has a place on next year's team, because he said he doesn't like to answer those questions for fear that people will take what he says and run with it. And fair enough, because we probably would.

But Shanahan didn't hesitate when I asked him about veteran linebacker London Fletcher and whether or not signing him in free agency is a priority.

"Yes," Shanahan said. "It's a priority. He's a priority for us. He's a top priority. He knows how I feel about him. He knows I want him to be with this organization, no ifs, ands or buts about it."

Fletcher turns 37 in May and wouldn't obviously seem to fit with the Redskins' youth-based rebuilding project. But Fletcher is an exceptional case in many ways -- leading the league in tackles this season and having played 223 consecutive games -- and Shanahan recognizes the value of having him around young players like linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley.

"It's great for those guys to experience a guy like London, because they learn how to be pros," Shanahan said. "A guy like Perry is a heck of an athlete, and just being around London teaches him how to be a pro -- how to prepare and how to do things that he didn't even know existed, probably, in college."

We talk a lot about Fletcher on this blog, and how amazing it is that he continues to perform at his consistently outstanding level at his age. But Shanahan said those on the inside of the organization have an even deeper appreciation of what makes Fletcher the player he is.

"I don't think anybody knows how a guy prepares," Shanahan said. "How he takes care of his body. I mean, how do you play that many games in a row without missing a game? How do you play at that level week in and week out? There's only one way to do it. You've got to be relentless in your preparation, the way you take care of yourself in the offseason, being a student of the game, the passion you've got to have... all the things you look for in a player, he's got it."

What remains to be seen is whether or not the Redskins can bring him back before he hits the open market, where he'll surely be sought by other teams.