NFL Nation: London Fletcher

The NFL's fame and glory machine didn't spit out DeSean Jackson this time around. It just showed him the blueprint.

Jackson is too young and too good for his ugly release last week by the Philadelphia Eagles to end his career. Regardless of anything that came out publicly (or whatever the Eagles or other teams may know privately) about the off-field detriments that undermine Jackson's wondrous on-field benefits, someone was going to pick him up.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAt 27, DeSean Jackson must realize that his relatively young NFL career is at risk.
The Washington Redskins didn't waste time and they didn't scrimp.

But what Jackson got to see was the manner in which the machine will spit him out if he lets it. A team can cut you, it turns out, without explaining why, and can let everyone assume it's because of the way you act and the friends you hang out with away from the field. A team can do this and have the wide NFL world nod in agreement at phrases like "doesn't fit" and "what's best for the football team."

So while the week's debate has been about whether this turn of events is good/bad for the Eagles, good/bad for the Redskins, good/bad for the Jets or any other team that may have been involved or interested, why not take a moment to debate whether this is good for the player? Is getting cut by the Eagles and signed by the Redskins going to benefit DeSean Jackson? Or is the machine determined to spit him out long before his desire and skill level dictate that it must?

I've been talking to people about Jackson for three years now, and here are a few things I believe I know:

Jackson is not an evil person. The Aaron Hernandez comparisons you may have heard or read are shameful and irresponsible. One guy is in jail on first-degree murder charges. The guy we're talking about here appears to have some childhood friends with shady connections. That's a pretty wide gulf, and it deserves to be treated as such in our analysis. We could sit here and say that someone of Jackson's fame and wealth is risking a lot if he refuses to cut ties with people who have nothing to lose. And if he's allegedly flashing gang signs after touchdowns, on his Instagram page or in his videos, as the police officers in the story that hit last week minutes before his release say he has, then he's doing himself a disservice.

Jackson is a 27-year-old who's been famous for almost half his life, but he knows the right thing to do with his platform. He goes into schools to speak actively against bullying, talking to bullies, victims, teachers ... anyone who can help with the problem. He doesn't just throw money at his causes; he works actively to help.

But he also conveys an untethered element. He was incredibly close with his father, who died quickly and cruelly from pancreatic cancer in 2009, and people who have spent time around Jackson will tell you the past five years have been rough. I once asked a player in the Eagles' locker room about Jackson and was told, "Not a bad guy, but sometimes you shake your head." I have heard stories about him pouting in the locker room. He himself admitted to dealing poorly with his last contract year; he let it affect him on the field, and he was suspended for missed meetings. Eagles personnel have for years expressed concern about the extent to which Jackson liked to focus on making rap music, sometimes to the detriment of his football business, in their opinion.

And the story got into his off-field associations in pretty strong detail. While the national takeaway was the uber-simplistic bit about alleged gang ties, the reasonable takeaway is that Jackson doesn't always make the best-looking choices. What I know about gang culture couldn't fill a shot glass, but I don't think DeSean Jackson is in a street gang.

The problem Jackson has now is that, right or wrong, some people who've been following this story for the past week do think he's in a gang. So the next time the NFL's fame and glory machine finds him caught in the works and tries to spit him out, there's going to be a chorus that thinks it's the right thing to do.

I wonder if he's in the right environment to succeed. The Redskins have a new, inexperienced head coach in Jay Gruden. They have a 28-year-old first-time offensive coordinator in Sean McVay. They have an attention-magnet quarterback in Robert Griffin III who's coming off a year that handed him a slate of his own problems to work out. The Redskins have lost locker-room leadership in recent years, most significantly with the retirement of London Fletcher. One of the top leaders on their offense is wide receiver Santana Moss, whose roster spot one would think is in jeopardy as a result of the Jackson signing. If Jackson is looking for another tether now that the Eagles' tether has been severed, it may be tough for him to find it in Washington.

Which makes it even more important for Jackson to realize what's happened here and work to make sure he's prepared the next time it happens. It's important for a lesson to be learned. Jackson doesn't have to change who he is or what he does away from the field if he doesn't want to. But his is now an at-risk career at the age of 27, and he needs to understand that. The next time the machine tries to spit him out, it's going to have a lot more impetus than it did this time around. Jackson's mission going forward is to fight that off -- to realize he's under a new and frightening kind of scrutiny, and to work to make sure he doesn't give anyone a reason to think he's something he's not.

Franchising Orakpo won't end debate

March, 3, 2014
The Redskins will use the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo, which makes it clear: The price of losing him outweighs the price of keeping him. It's the right move for this season. Whether it's good for the long term won't be decided until (or if) he signs a long-term contract.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsApplying a franchise tag on Brian Orakpo doesn't answer what his worth is to the Redskins.
It's not as if the Redskins have been sold on this idea from the get-go. It's been clear for a while that there's a division in the organization when it comes to Orakpo's value. Is a player who has never made All-Pro worth an eight-figure contract?

No player, including Orakpo, wants the franchise tag, knowing it does not provide the long-term security he desires. If Orakpo gets hurt this season, he would damage his ability to land a big contract -- especially considering he's had two torn pectorals, the second of which limited him to two games in 2012.

But it's not as if the tag is great for the Redskins, either. All it does is ensure they keep their best pass-rusher for another season at a high price, one that could impact their ability to make other moves. They'll now pay $11.455 million to a player with a career-high single-season sack total of 11. However, he is consistent and has averaged 9.6 sacks in his four full seasons (the Redskins do drop him into coverage more than other pass-rushers). That makes him worth it -- at the right price. If his deal averages $11.5 million a year, it's tough to think that's the right price. For one year? They can absorb it, with approximately $30 million in cap space.

Still, this will make it tougher to fill all the holes that exist -- of which there are many. The Redskins need two starting safeties. They need to re-sign inside linebacker Perry Riley as well as replace retired inside linebacker London Fletcher. They need more depth at corner. At receiver. Along the offensive line. The draft can provide help, but without a first-round pick, it'll be more difficult.

But the Redskins also knew they couldn't solve every issue in one offseason. Nor should they try to; that will only lead to forced (read: bad) decisions. And if they had let Orakpo leave, it would've created another large hole that would've require extra resources to fill. Maybe not $11.455 million, but certainly a good chunk of change. It's possible, too, that the Redskins have a sense of how it will play out with potential free-agent replacements and know their choices will be more limited than desired.

They don't have a young backup ready to ascend to a starter's role. Perhaps in 2015 Brandon Jenkins could be that guy. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who likes Jenkins, said at the end of the season he thought it could take Jenkins another year or so to be ready for a big role. It's not realistic now. They also haven't talked contract yet with another free-agent linebacker, Rob Jackson.

Why not the transition tag? Well, if you want Orakpo back, you're taking a chance someone might offer him a contract you don't want to match. Then Orakpo would leave without compensation. If you want him back, the franchise tag means he'll return. Yes, it costs more. But if the goal is to keep him here and keep negotiating a long-term deal, then don't mess around.

If the Redskins fail to build a good defense this year, I wouldn't blame it on Orakpo's contract. It's not as if free agency has been a panacea for the Redskins -- or any team -- in the past. It's taken them several years and a variety of reasons to reach this point of having to replace bad starters and having little depth. Sure, the Redskins could sign a few players for the $11.455 million they'd have to pay him this season. But that assumes all are productive. That's far from a guarantee, which anyone who has followed the Redskins since free agency began should know.

And keep in mind that even with the franchise, the process will not be over. The debate over Orakpo's worth will continue.

D'Qwell Jackson an option for Redskins

February, 27, 2014

They have a coach who was with him in Cleveland and another who schemed against him for three years. Not many teams will have a better grasp of what linebacker D'Qwell Jackson could bring – and still do – than the Redskins.

Cleveland released the veteran linebacker Wednesday, which, of course, prompted another round of this game: “Are the Redskins interested in ...”

In Jackson’s case, though, he clearly provides something the Redskins need: A veteran presence at inside linebacker who can still play. They already have one defensive coach who knows what Jackson can, and can’t do, in outside linebackers coach Brian Baker. He served as Cleveland’s outside linebacker’s coach a year ago. Also, coach Jay Gruden had to scheme twice a year against Cleveland’s defense for the past three seasons.

I’d be surprised if the Redskins aren’t interested for these reasons (and if they’re not, that’s also telling). We already know they need at least one inside linebacker capable of starting. Seven teams reportedly contacted Jackson’s representatives after news of his release, with a visit set at one of them for Thursday. One Redskins source pointed out, however, that Jackson was not yet on the league’s transactions (that will occur Thursday) so admitting interest would be to admit tampering as well. But, yes, they’ve done their homework on him.

Jackson, who has never made the Pro Bowl but who did lead the AFC in combined tackles three years ago (and the NFL in 2008), was released in part because of a pending $4 million bonus. The two sides attempted to restructure his current deal, but to no avail. If you think a player is still at a certain level, this step would have been accomplished. It’s not as if Cleveland is in dire cap shape and had no choice. But Jackson’s agent, Brian Mackler, told the Northeast Ohio Media Group that the Browns could not commit to him for more than the 2014 season.

Still, in watching a few of his games, it’s not as if Jackson can’t play. I didn’t see missed tackles. I didn’t see botched coverage assignments. I saw a lot of those last season watching the Redskins. But I also didn’t see any game-changing plays (five forced fumbles in his career; eight interceptions). Still, he’d be an upgrade over last year’s linebacking play and would also be able to provide leadership. The latter can’t be underestimated with the loss of London Fletcher, especially for a defense that will undergo numerous personnel changes. Even if Perry Riley is re-signed, which is not a lock, he’s not a leader.

But would Jackson want to come to Washington (he played at the University of Maryland)? Jackson said he’s looking for something the Redskins haven’t had in years: stability.

“I'm willing to go to 31 other teams at this point,'' Jackson told the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "Obviously I'm looking for a place that has some type of stability, some place that a guy that's been around and you know he's not going to be out in two years. I don't have a crystal ball or anything but ideally that's going to probably have a lot of weight in determining my decision in where I go.''

Chances are Jackson will have better options than Washington. Keep in mind that he has played in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 and might be better suited to the former. Mackler called Jackson one of the most respected people in the business that he’s come across in his 24 years involved in the NFL.

Here’s another quote from Jackson: “Losing year after year, it sucks.”

He lost double-digit games in each of the past six seasons and has played for one winning team. The Redskins have lost double-digit games in three of the past four seasons and have had one winning team since 2007. Despite players and coaches proclaiming the Redskins are closer to a 10-win team than a 13-loss team, they did indeed lose 13 games last year. And it’s tough to claim you’re closer to a 10-win team when you are replacing at least half of your defense. Jackson understands this, so if he comes here it’ll be because he received the best offer not necessarily because it’s the best situation. Which, of course, sums up why most free agents go anywhere.

The next big thing: Redskins

January, 23, 2014
The first priority for the Redskins is finalizing Jay Gruden's coaching staff and putting together their playbook. After that, here is what they need to do in the next few months:
  1. Figure out who they want to keep. They have a number of free agents, especially on defense. They need to find a way to keep linebacker Brian Orakpo, a pivotal player because he can rush the passer and has become a solid run defender. He'll always flirt with double-digit sack totals and twice has gotten there. The team can always use the franchise tag to keep him around, but he is a priority. They also will want to re-sign inside linebacker Perry Riley. Then there's cornerback DeAngelo Hall, coming off a good season, and backup D-lineman Chris Baker, who contributed late. He showed enough to warrant interest elsewhere.
  2. Who fits up front? With a new offensive system, the Redskins must decide how much they want to reshape the line. The O-line is a smaller group, built for Mike Shanahan's outside zone and stretch zone system. Gruden will still use zone blocking, but he also featured bigger guards at Cincinnati. Kory Lichtensteiger will need to bulk up to stay at guard; perhaps he could move to center. It's tough to make a lot of changes -- at least in the first year of a new regime -- but the Redskins likely will make some.
  3. Spend. The salary-cap penalty is gone. And that means the Redskins will be able to spend -- money has never helped them win a title, but it will enable them to rebuild their defense. They'll have approximately $30 million in salary-cap space; of course, they'll need to spend a decent amount to fill out their defense since six players who started at least seven games are free agents. But the Redskins can be active. Considering they have no first-round pick, that's important. They need to fix their secondary, even if they re-sign Hall. They need to replace retired linebacker London Fletcher and re-sign Orakpo and Riley. They also could use another receiver, especially if Leonard Hankerson's recovery from ACL surgery takes a long time. The good news for Washington is that this draft is deep, especially with bigger cornerbacks.

NFLN survey/respected player: Redskins

January, 16, 2014
It's sometimes easy to forget, but two years ago some doubted that Denver quarterback Peyton Manning would ever play again, thanks to multiple neck surgeries. Now he's the most respected player in the NFL because he has kept going, at an MVP-level no less.

That's why I have no problem with him being named the most respected player in our NFL Nation survey of 320 players. He was the runaway winner with Tom Brady coming in second by 62 votes.

Whether you think Brady is better than Manning is irrelevant here. Brady has done quite a bit with much less this season. But to return from the injuries Manning suffered is remarkable. There was no blueprint for Manning to follow in coming back from four neck surgeries, unlike, say, a torn ACL that many have suffered. The latter is bad, too, and it changes careers.

But Manning has flourished since his return despite an arm that isn't as strong as in the past. He can do so because of his intense preparation, another reason why he's so respected. Yes, he has talent around him, too. They help him look good; he's helped them be great. Even if Denver loses Sunday none of this will change.

Redskins angle: No surprise, but London Fletcher received 11 votes, which was tied for sixth with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Fletcher earned those votes for his stellar career and, like Manning, for the way he prepared. To play every game of an NFL career at the position he played is a phenomenal achievement. I've written this before, but Fletcher was the most respected voice in the defensive meeting rooms at Redskins Park. Players trusted him.

Robert Griffin III also received two votes. Though he did not have as good a second season as anyone wanted, the fact that he returned when he did and remained healthy for 13 games until his benching clearly impressed other NFL players. They also saw some of the hits he endured -- and got back up from.

NFLN survey/respected player: Eagles

January, 16, 2014
PHILADELPHIA -- Unlike the first two categories in our NFL Nation survey, the Philadelphia Eagles' results were markedly different from the national totals when it came to naming the most respected player in the NFL.

Nationally, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was the runaway winner. Although he beat Philadelphia 52-20 early in the 2013 season, the 10 Eagles polled did not name Manning.

Indeed, they didn’t show much of a consensus on anyone. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson was the only player to get two votes from the Eagles. One player said he had the most respect for the guys who play special teams and run the scout team in practice.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick got one vote. So did London Fletcher, Calvin Johnson, Tamba Hali, Andre Johnson, Ed Reed and Earl Thomas.

NFLN survey/respected player: Rams

January, 16, 2014
ST. LOUIS -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning continues to rack up the honors among his peers courtesy of the latest NFL Nation poll of 320 players. He already earned the most votes as the player to build a team around. Now he's also been mentioned the most times in the poll as the league's most respected player.

I have a hunch that while Manning isn't one to take pride in individual accolades or poll results, this is one he's probably value above many others. In talking to 10 Rams for this exercise, Manning's name came up right away multiple times and for obvious reasons. Players greatly value the opinion of other players and they also value their respect.

Manning won this one going away, earning nearly 27 percent of the vote with New England's Tom Brady second at 7.5 percent. In total, 78 players received votes though no St. Louis Rams appeared in the top seven. One former Ram did finish tied for sixth though in the form of linebacker London Fletcher.

Fletcher started his career with the Rams and became one of the league's top middle linebackers before the Rams decided to let him walk in free agency. It was one of the worst personnel decisions in a series of many the team has made in the 2000s as Fletcher has gone on to a career that will garner strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.

Jay Gruden likes the 3-4 defense

January, 10, 2014
ASHBURN, Va. -- When Mike Shanahan changed the Washington Redskins to a 3-4, he talked about how that scheme would bother him as an offensive coordinator. Four years later, it’s the same reason the team likely will stay in that scheme.

New Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he’d like to stick with that alignment.

“This team is built for a 3-4,” he said. “I hate the 3-4 as an offensive coordinator.”

The thinking always has been that it provides the defense a better way to disguise who will be rushing on a particular down. If they send four pass-rushers, which outside linebacker will rush?

[+] EnlargeJim Haslett
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliWhile it's clear the Redskins will stick with the 3-4 scheme, it's unclear whether Jay Gruden will retain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
The Redskins have played a 3-4 for the past four seasons, never ranking above 13th in total yards or 21st in points allowed (in the previous 11 years they had eight top-10 defenses in total yards and three in scoring).

The Redskins have recorded more sacks in this scheme than it did the previous four years in a 4-3 front: 138 to 116. But in each of the past four years opposing quarterbacks posted a rating of at least 87.0. In the previous six years opposing quarterbacks posted a rating of 87.0 or higher only once. Four times they were under 77.1. (For the record, three of the top five defenses against the pass in 2013 used a base 3-4 front).

The 3-4 wasn’t used much until the 1980s thanks to Pittsburgh’s defensive success. The added linebacker provided more athleticism against increasingly speedy running backs. Plus, it was easier to find athletic linebackers than athletic big men for a 4-3.

So it should help against the run. The Redskins have allowed opposing running backs to gain at least 4.0 yards per carry in each of the past four seasons. That happened three times in the previous six years.

But, in the end, the problem never has been about a 3-4 or a 4-3. Other teams switch and improve; New Orleans went from No. 32 in 2012 to No. 2 this season after going to a 3-4. It was always about finding the right players to fit that scheme -- you need linebackers who excel in coverage; as a group the Redskins haven’t had that, for example. It was also revealing that linebacker London Fletcher tweeted Thursday that Raheem Morris should be the next defensive coordinator and not Jim Haslett, the boss of the past four years.

Over the past several years, multiple NFL people I’ve spoken with are mixed on Haslett; he’s too boom or bust for some. But while nobody would say he’s one of the best coordinators, no one would say he’s the worst either. If he became available, he’d draw interest from other teams. While this was Haslett’s group, he did not have the autonomy that previous defensive coordinators here have had, with head coach Mike Shanahan having a big say. Shanahan compiled the staff and, one former coach here said would sometimes overrule the staff’s opinion on prospective players. And the salary-cap issues the past two years prevented needed upgrades (though money doesn’t always equate to successful signings).

Still, Fletcher’s tweet was interesting. One former player said two years ago that an issue defenders had was the ever-changing rules of the defense. It sometimes led to confusion, he said.

Gruden worked for one season with Haslett in the United Football League and respects him. But he has not yet named him as his coordinator. Regardless, it appears the scheme will remain in place. At least that’s the initial goal, though Gruden said it would be evaluated.

“I know when we played against the Redskins it was very difficult to run against them,” Gruden said.

The Redskins held Cincinnati to 93 yards rushing and 3.3 yards per carry in a 2012 loss to the Bengals. Not that it helped much as Cincinnati still scored 38 points and passed for 385 yards.

“There were some issues in the back end, but there is a core foundation in place,” Gruden said. “They were well-coached on defense.”

Washington Redskins season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 31
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The complete collapse. After last season's strong finish and all the youth on offense, the Redskins appeared poised to have an excellent year. Their defense looked good this summer, too, and welcomed back linebacker Brian Orakpo. But instead of fighting for a playoff spot, they're now battling other teams to find a head coach. It was not difficult to see the Redskins doing worse than last year, considering the cap penalties and Robert Griffin III's knee. But 10-6 to 3-13? That was tough to predict.

Biggest disappointment: The return of the circus atmosphere. The locker room held together well during the losing and maintained their support of the coaching staff. But the consistent leaks led to one story after another taking shots at Griffin, his father and the Shanahans. It led to speculation about why certain stories emerged. It also turned a bad season into a horrible one in which it became clear change was necessary. And the rift between Griffin and coach Mike Shanahan widened. One year ago the future appeared bright for the franchise. Now they'll enter the offseason with a lot of questions about their future.

Biggest need: Head coach. They already needed secondary help, another linebacker, a pass-rushing lineman and another receiver -- plus an offensive lineman or two. Now they need someone to lead the franchise. This is the sixth time owner Dan Snyder will have to find a new head coach in the offseason, which suggests his approach has not worked. No coach will have lasted more than four years under him. Not everything is his fault, of course, but it is a fact. Snyder will need to find someone who can develop Griffin, which means the offensive coordinator hire will be highly important as well. The Redskins likely will look to an offensive-minded head coach (for the fourth straight time under Snyder). But what they need to find is a good head coach. Otherwise they'll repeat this scenario in three or four years.

Team MVP: Wide receiver Pierre Garcon. He set a franchise record with 113 receptions, a testament to his consistency as he caught at least five passes in every game. He made the occasional flashy catch -- a one-handed grab or when he slipped and fell and caught a ball while sitting. But for the most part it was just about consistency, from the way he ran his routes to his approach to playing. Garcon played with passion and emotion and also contributed in the run game with his blocking. Garcon excelled at getting yards after the catch on horizontal routes because of his fearless style. Though running back Alfred Morris had a strong season, too, Garcon was more consistent.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 29, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 20-6 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

What it means: The end of the Mike Shanahan era, as he will be fired shortly, perhaps as early as Sunday night, according to multiple reports. Shanahan’s tenure will end with a 24-40 record after a 3-13 finish this season. It became clear in the past three weeks that Shanahan would not be coaching the Redskins in 2014 thanks to multiple stories that emerged painting quarterback Robert Griffin III in a bad light, among other things. That brought a return of the circus atmosphere Shanahan said had ended. But it’s tough to pin his ouster on Griffin’s influence with owner Dan Snyder. One of Shanahan’s complaints, according to the reports, was his dislike of Griffin's supposed close relationship with Snyder. Rather, Shanahan’s ouster can be justified from a football decision. In a bottom-line business, a 3-13 mark in a fourth season is tough to overcome. The Redskins last finished 3-13 in 1994, Norv Turner's first season.

Quarterback watch: Kirk Cousins played a full game against the best defense he’s seen in his NFL career, and the results weren’t pretty. Cousins was inaccurate on a number of throws on this wet, dreary day -- too wide on some, high on others and inside on yet some more. It was a bad all-around day for Cousins, who also threw two interceptions (one off a high pass to Santana Moss, which could have been caught). Another pick was dropped -- actually a couple of more were in danger of being intercepted -- and he also lost a fumble in the red zone. Cousins showed he’s still a young, developing quarterback. There’s nothing wrong with that. But he has not shown that he’s worthy of being traded for a high pick by any means. Nor that there’s any reason to think anyone but Griffin should be the starter in 2013. Cousins has some skills that you like and other aspects he must overcome. A couple of passes were dropped, but Cousins really struggled, completing 19 of 49 passes for 169 yards.

Record day: Receiver Pierre Garcon became the third receiver in NFL history to catch at least five passes in all 16 games. Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith (2001) and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (also 2013) are the other two. There are better receivers in the NFL than Garcon, but you have to admire his consistent play this season -- as a pass-catcher and run-blocker.

End of another era: Linebacker London Fletcher played his last NFL game. Linebacker Brian Orakpo, who was inactive because of a strained groin, corners DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, linebacker Perry Riley and safety Reed Doughty also will become free agents. All have been with Washington for at least four seasons. Any new coach will have a lot of holes to fill, which is what happens when a team goes 3-13.

Next up: Search for a new head coach.

Friday Conversation: London Fletcher

December, 27, 2013
Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who will play his last NFL game Sunday (he thinks) had a couple of extra minutes to talk about the Hall of Fame, what it would take to lure him out of retirement and what he'll miss about the game. After Sunday's home finale versus Dallas, Fletcher was asked whether he thought he'd be a Redskin for life. He said, "I think so. … People will probably remember me as a Redskin, but I hold all those places [St. Louis and Buffalo, too] near and dear to me. I don't see how you can devalue any of the other places I played at. I spent four years in St. Louis and five in Buffalo, seven here. Burgundy and gold will always be in my heart."

What’s the 1 percent scenario it would take to get you to come back?

Fletcher: It would have to be maybe a team that has six games left, a playoff contender. … It won’t be for a 16-game season.

How much do you think about the Hall of Fame? How do you see yourself compared with other guys who have gotten in?

[+] EnlargeLondon Fletcher
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker London Fletcher feels he has a good case to be a Hall of Famer.
Fletcher: I know I compare very favorably to the guys. I think you make a more difficult case to keep me out of the Hall than to vote me in, when you look at things like productivity, durability. Everything you look for. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer.

People know your passion for the game and how much you like studying it. Does coaching ever enter your mind?

Fletcher: It does. I don’t know. I’ll never say never that I won’t do it. Just right now I don’t think it would be something I’d be looking to do.

Why not?

Fletcher: Just with the age of my children -- a 6- , 5- and 3-year-old. One thing I want to do is spend more time with them and do some things that football doesn’t allow me to do. I’ve been so consumed with football. Even when we take vacations, I’m always thinking about the job, so it would be hard to stay involved right away with coaching. I know I wouldn’t be able to give them all the attention I would want to give them.

When you do TV, would you rather be in the studio or a game analyst?

Fletcher: I haven’t done a game before. I enjoy being in the studio. But obviously, if you do a game, it’s a different type of studying. You’re really breaking down teams, their strengths and weaknesses. That’s something [games] I haven’t done yet, and maybe it’s something I try to see which one I like better. But I know I enjoy the studio.

What little things will you miss?

Fletcher: Sundays, just coming out and playing. Coming out of the tunnels on Sunday. I’ll miss the hitting part of it. And, come June and July, the grass smells different to me. I know it’s football season. I’ll miss that part of it. It’ll be difficult in the offseason around the time I normally start preparing for the season because I’ve done it for so long. Now to have some type of change where I’m not going to do it, that will take some getting used to.

How much did you enjoy the hitting? What did that feel like for you?

Fletcher: Oh man. You’re talking about the ultimate feeling, man, when you get that perfect hit and you know you delivered that big hit. There’s nothing like it.


Fletcher: Yeah. And just the competitive standpoint. When there are goal-line stands or when you stop someone on third down. It’s just so many different things. It’s not about the big hits, it’s about making big plays.

Brian Orakpo: 'I'm pretty banged up'

December, 24, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said he wants to play in the season finale. Whether he can or not remains uncertain.

Orakpo strained his right groin early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and was limited in practice Tuesday.

“I’m pretty banged up, man,” Orakpo said.

Fullback Darrel Young (hamstring) was a full participant in practice. Safety Brandon Meriweather missed practice to take care of a personal matter.

Orakpo said he’d like to play in the season finale against the New York Giants, but with a caveat.

“I’m not going to be stupid,” he said. “If I feel good, I’ll try to give it a go. If not, it’s been a good season.”

Orakpo, a first-round pick in 2009, is a free agent after the season – along with fellow linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley. Fletcher is retiring, but the other two face an uncertain future.

But Orakpo said he’s not thinking whether Sunday will be his final game with Washington.

"It’s been a disappointing year from the whole aspect of our record,” Orakpo said. “I’m not concerned with it possibly being my last game. We have to take care of these Giants and get this bad taste out of our mouth.

“It’s going to be the last time to suit up [as a group]. Hopefully go out with a bang and finish the season somewhat on a positive note.”

Redskins can't deliver win for Fletcher

December, 22, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. – It’s not the sendoff London Fletcher or anyone else on the Washington Redskins wanted or envisioned. It could have been. It could have ended with a defensive stand and Fletcher leading the charge off the field.

Instead, it ended with another brutal loss for Washington and the final home game for the 16-year veteran. Fletcher announced his retirement on Wednesday, saying he was 99 percent sure he was done. That 1 percent did not seem to be much in play Sunday as Fletcher soaked in all of the atmosphere, from the pregame introductions to taking his time walking off the field, surrounded by cameras as he headed over to some fans in the stands.

[+] EnlargeLondon Fletcher
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports"As much as I tried to make this a normal game and week, it wasn't," London Fletcher said.
His three young kids played near his locker long after most of the place had emptied.

“Man, I thought we had it,” Fletcher said. “What better way would there have been for me personally to end my career [than] with a defensive stand on the goal line?”

It was a different final drive for Fletcher, who exited the game when the Redskins went to six defensive backs. He was back in for the final series of plays, which resulted in a touchdown.

“You have to give Tony Romo credit,” Fletcher said of the Dallas quarterback, who tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal in the Cowboys' 24-23 win. “He bought time and made plays.”

Thus ended an emotional week for Fletcher.

“As much as I tried to make this a normal game and week, it wasn’t,” Fletcher said. “I really had to curb my emotions throughout the week. At the end the reception that I got … not only today but just throughout the week as I’ve seen people all over the DMV area. People bought me lunch and all kinds of stuff.”

But his teammates couldn’t get him a win.

“When you have a guy like London that’s played to win and showed you how to be a pro,” Redskins receiver Santana Moss said, “you want to go out and give it your all. We knew what we had at stake this far in the season and that was nothing. So why not go out there and put our hearts on the line for a guy who has showed us in so many ways how to be a good professional. … Everybody went out and left everything on the field. We still came up short.”

Fletcher finished with six tackles. His 16-year career will come to an end next week, so the players have one more shot to send him out with a win. They just happened to want this one at home against Dallas a little bit more.

“You always want to send a guy like London out with a win,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Disappointed we couldn’t get it done.”

Fletcher gets one more week to prepare as an NFL player, then he’ll leave for the next phase of his career, perhaps as a broadcaster. And he’ll get plenty of chances to answer how an undrafted player from Division III John Carroll University ended up never missing a game in 16 seasons.

“I came into the league as a long shot, “ he said. “Based on God’s plan, I was a sure shot. People didn’t know what was inside of me.”

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 22, 2013

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 24-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

What it means: The Redskins have lost seven consecutive games, tying the franchise record for the longest streak since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. They're now a well-earned 3-11. They also lost seven in a row in 1998 and ’94. Sunday was yet another example of a team that just can’t make plays when needed. The defense allowed Dallas to drive 87 yards for the winning touchdown drive. The special teams allowed yet another long return to open the game in bad fashion, and the offense did not help itself in the red zone and with another turnover. Though the Redskins can claim they played better and were, once again, close, the reality is that they’re just not good enough to win. They consistently played bad football all season, and this game was no different. The defense, minus Brian Orakpo, didn’t apply enough pressure, giving quarterback Tony Romo way too much time. It led directly to two touchdown passes.

Red zone woes: The Redskins had excellent field position much of the day, but their first two trips in the red zone did not end well. After an 18-yard punt return by Santana Moss, the Redskins had a first down at the Dallas 37. They ended up kicking a 36-yard field goal. Their next drive was excellent, moving from their 21 to a third-and-goal from the Cowboys’ 2-yard line. But consecutive penalties left them at third-and-12, and another field goal followed. When you play close games, series like these lead to losses.

Saying goodbye: This was the final home game for linebacker London Fletcher as well as a number of other Redskins. The coaching staff also might have coached their final home game. It’s still hard to imagine owner Dan Snyder allowing this regime to continue, though strange things can still happen. But for Fletcher, it was no doubt his last home game and he was the last Redskin to leave the field, surrounded by numerous photographers -- and getting a nice hand from the fans. Fletcher did not leave with a great game, finishing with one solo tackle. He was out for much of the winning drive as the Redskins used six defensive backs.

Quarterback watch: Kirk Cousins was OK in his second start of the season, completing 21 of 36 passes for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception. It’s his third pick in two starts and each came off a bad throw and not a forced one or bad decision. Cousins had some nice throws, including one with right tackle Tyler Polumbus right in his way. But overall there was nothing special to his day, and he failed to get a first down on the final series.

What’s next: The season finale at the New York Giants. The Redskins already have clinched last place, so they’re left once more playing for pride. But it’s not as if the Giants have anything at stake, either.

Jason Witten ready to take Ironman lead

December, 21, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- For the past seven years, every time he has played the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has known he would see linebacker London Fletcher.

Sunday is likely to be the last time, with Fletcher saying he is 99.9 percent sure he will retire after the season.

With Fletcher’s retirement, Witten would take over the NFL’s ironman streak of consecutive games played for position players. Fletcher will play in his 255th straight game Sunday, and make his 214th straight start.

Witten will play in his 170th straight game on Sunday. Houston punter Shane Lechler has played in 188 straight games.

“Anything like that labels you as just getting up there,” said Witten, who is 31. “It is hard to play consistently and at a high level like he has every week, week in and week out. I’ve been fortunate to be healthy, and that’s a big part of it. Obviously, London -- that’s just unbelievable at that position to do it as long as he’s done it.”

Witten missed one game as a rookie in 2003 with a broken jaw.

Over the years, Witten has developed a healthy respect for Fletcher.

“London’s a great competitor,” Witten said. “He kind of defeats all the football odds. He’s not big. He’s not overly fast. But he’s just a great football player and he’s done it for a long, long time. I heard about his starts streak. It’s hard to play that many games, and that’s all you need to know about a guy like that is every Sunday he comes and he brings it. Just a true pro. Great player, and obviously a great career. I’ve enjoyed going against him the last seven or eight years, and just a great competitor.”