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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Tulloch, Fletcher and the slow LB market

By Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles fans want to know when their team is going to sign a linebacker. Washington Redskins fans want to know what's taking their team so long to re-sign London Fletcher. These questions can be dealt with in the same post, and in the wake of the news that the Detroit Lions have apparently re-signed the best linebacker on the market, Stephen Tulloch, to a five-year contract.

Fletcher
I do not think the Tulloch signing will unleash a flurry of linebacker transactions around the league. I think that, once the numbers get out, it will help teams figure out what the going rate is for linebackers on this year's free-agent market, where the position has not been a priority to this point and teams have been content to wait. I think the signing of linebacker Curtis Lofton will also help set the market, and that the flurry (such as it is) will wait until after Lofton signs as well. I do not think the Eagles are gong to spend what it takes to get Lofton, just as they were not willing to spend whatever it would have taken to get Tulloch. While they surely realize they should have paid more attention to the position than they did last offseason, linebacker is clearly not a position about which the Eagles feel much urgency.

And so they will wait, content to know that they can get a serviceable, productive veteran for much less than teams are paying the top-end guys on the linebacker market. The veteran they get might even be Fletcher, who certainly qualifies as more than serviceable but is not going to get the five-year deal Tulloch got because he's going to turn 37 this year. Fletcher is a shorter-term signing, but he still likely must wait until the higher-end guys get their money, because teams aren't going to want to guess at what the market will bear for a player who offers what Fletcher offers -- they're going to let the market tell them what they should pay.

The Redskins have said, more than once, that Fletcher is a top priority for them. They are obviously going young at most other spots on the roster, but Fletcher is a special case for which they're willing to make an exception. His value as a leader on and off the field is immeasurable. They love having him around young linebackers like Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley, and they believe the examples he sets with his professionalism, his conditioning and his game-day enthusiasm would be impossible to replace. It's possible that the Redskins and Fletcher have some sort of understanding or agreement that he'll come back to them once the linebacker market fleshes itself out a bit and that they'll hammer out a deal. But it's also possible that some other team will recognize the value of what Fletcher brings, and that he's not your everyday 37-year-old player, and will make a strong pitch to recruit him as one of the final pieces for what it can convincingly say is a real run at next year's Super Bowl.

That team could and probably should be the Eagles. They still have the salary cap room to give Fletcher what he wants. They wouldn't need to lock into a long-term commitment at a position they clearly don't value very much. They would add a player who's older, yes, but still more productive than a great many who are younger and would bring a jolt of the kind of intangibles last year's Eagles team seemed to lack. He'd command respect from the younger players in the locker room as well as the older ones, and he might be the kind of missing piece the Eagles need to plug into last year's disappointing mix to push them over the top.

That's why the Eagles are the team that would scare me if I were the Redskins and still hadn't signed Fletcher. And why, if I were the Redskins, I'd be making a strong push to get him locked up as soon as the market tells everyone what he should reasonably expect to be making.