A little more than a month from now, on May 19, London Fletcher will celebrate his 37th birthday. This is a high number for an NFL linebacker. Indeed, according to ESPN's research department, there are only 14 players at any position who are older than Fletcher and currently occupy space on NFL rosters. Eight of those 14 are kickers, one is a punter, one (Charlie Batch) is a backup quarterback who almost never plays and one (Patrick Mannelly) is a long snapper. The only non-special teams players older than Fletcher who still get get regular playing time are Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber, Green Bay's Donald Driver and Baltimore's Ray Lewis.
If you knew nothing else besides Fletcher's age, he would seem an odd fit with a Washington Redskins team that's looking ahead, signing younger free agents on offense, about to entrust its next decade to a rookie quarterback.
But the Redskins know better. They know all of the reasons Fletcher is the worthy exception to their plan to get younger. They know this is a man who has finished in the top seven in the league in tackles for eight straight years, who's in better shape in his late 30s than anyone in the locker room, who has played in 224 games since entering the league without ever missing one.
They know Fletcher is a person and a player who sets the right kinds of examples on the field and off for teammates young and old. Who plays hard on every single play and, without barking or bellowing or calling attention to himself but simply by the mere and apparent fact of his own effort, encourages others to do the same. They know he's a leader to whom other players can go to seek counsel on matters related to football as well as matters related to non-football life.
The Redskins remember this time last year, when the players were locked out and Fletcher was calling teammates, organizing player workouts, scouting high school fields to see if they would hold up well enough or if he'd be putting his men at too great a risk of injury by practicing on them. They remember the stories of how he scribbled down a few of Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense plays on a piece of paper and stuffed it in his back pocket so he could call out specific formations and assignments during those loosely organized workouts.
They know, from having watched it up close, that Fletcher believes in what the coaching staff is trying to do. They have seen him embrace the change from the 4-3 to the 3-4 -- thrive in it personally while he helped teach it and sell it to holdovers and newcomers alike. They believe the development of younger linebackers such as Perry Riley, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan has something to do with the proximity those players have had to Fletcher in the locker room and on the practice field. Mike Shanahan views Fletcher as an extra coach -- someone who's so in tune with the program and so commands the respect of his teammates that he alleviates some of the responsibilities of the men on the coaching staff. He makes their job easier.
Fletcher matters to the Redskins. He wants to be a Redskin. He has become the captain, the leader and in a lot of ways the face of the franchise. He wants to be in Washington when it pays off -- when all of the lean years end and the Redskins contend again. The Redskins want him around their rookie quarterback -- be it Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck -- and the young receivers they signed. They want him to help corral all of the new members of their secondary and get the best out of them.
Fletcher is going to be 37 years old next month, and if that's all you were looking at then a two-year deal doesn't make sense. But if you've been watching and experiencing his career with the Redskins, you'd know it was a no-brainer. That's how the Redskins felt, and it's a huge relief to them and their fans that he's back in the fold.