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Free-agent scouting report: Redskins ILB London Fletcher

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By Eric Edholm

This is the 14th in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents on March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.

News: Even as a soon-to-be 37-year-old, Redskins ILB London Fletcher still carries high value as he prepares to hit the open market again because he continues to rack up the tackles. But the Redskins are hoping that his value never is fully realized on the open market — they have made it abundantly clear how valuable they view him as being. "We want to (re-sign him), and he wants to come back," Redskins GM Bruce Allen told the team's website earlier this month. "We're just waiting for the season to finish, and then we're gonna take care of business. He's a captain. We want our captain back." The season has finished now, and the thinking is that Fletcher — assuming the terms are right — could re-sign prior to March 13. Will a two-year deal get it done?

Notes: Fletcher is one of the most durable defensive players in NFL history, having not missed a single game in his 14-year career and having started every one of them since Week 10 of the 2000 season. And after being snubbed from the Pro Bowl previously — incredibly — he has made the team the past three seasons. It has been deserving: Fletcher has averaged 148 tackles also has totaled seven forced fumbles, six sacks and four interceptions over that span.

Positives: Among the more instinctive players at his position, Fletcher can smell out plays based on formation and tendency, sift through the clutter and is a reliable, wrap-up tackler. Short and stout, Fletcher uses his size well to fight off physical guards and fullbacks in the hole and will outwork opponents with his textbook ethic and approach to the game. He has incredible stamina — Fletcher is a three-down linebacker who can drop 25-30 yards down the seam in a Tampa-2 or plug holes against physical, inside-running teams.

Negatives: Fletcher is not a knockout hitter, and the edge has been taken off his lateral speed just a bit over the years. He has short arms, isn't exceptional in coverage and can be exposed by tight ends and backs with short-area quickness in his area. He lacks big power in his hips and can occasionally lack fluidity in his drops. At some point, given that few players at his position last this long at this high a level, Fletcher will see his productivity fall off.

Risk factor: Fletcher is about as sure a thing as there is in the NFL, despite his age. On a LB unit that otherwise would average less than 25 years old, Fletcher's presence and experience as a pseudo-coach on the field are invaluable to the Redskins — and that's precisely why most observers believe he will return to the team. Fletcher also believes there is unfinished business in Washington; he has spoken of wanting to finish the job of turning the Redskins around and for a part of that to be his legacy. It's possible that talks could break down if the Redskins refuse to budge off of a one-year contract or somehow low-ball and insult Fletcher, but this seems almost impossible given his value to the team on and off the field, as he was given the Bart Starr Award for his work in the community last year. The team has no one who can replace Fletcher, in any fashion, if he leaves.

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