The Washington Redskins got a brief reprieve from the cloud of controversy that has loomed during the past month. The focus shifted to team captain London Fletcher, who revealed that he expects to retire following the completion of the season.
Fletcher said after Wednesday’s practice at Redskins Park he is “about 99 percent certain that this will be my last season in the National Football League. I’ve got to leave at least one percent just in case I change my mind.
“It’s really just about having another conversation with my wife,” he added. “I thought with this being the final home game, this being Dallas Cowboy week, [it’s an] opportunity to go out with a bang, get the fans riled up, say thank you to them, beat the Cowboys. What better way to end it?”
Washington hosts Dallas on Sunday at FedEx Field in their final home game.
For Fletcher, the game will represent the 255th consecutive played (the longest active streak in the NFL) and his 214th straight start (a league record for games played by a linebacker).
“I felt like I accomplished everything I can accomplish in the National Football League from a player standpoint,” said Fletcher a four-time Pro Bowl selection, who won Super Bowl XXXIV while with the St. Louis Rams. “Obviously everybody wants to go out like Ray Lewis with the Super Bowl parade and winning the Super Bowl. That would be great. . . . It wasn’t in the cards for me, if this is it.
“It’s more, again, about trying to leave a legacy, putting some seeds in place and hopefully they’ll grow and fester years down the road and I can be proud of this organization, this franchise that I played for.”
Fletcher said he was “about 90 percent” sure entering this season that it would be his last.
He said he came back, after elbow and ankle surgeries last offseason, to help the development of inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr., among other things.
He previously had left his decisions about whether to return until the offseason.
“For probably about the last four or five years, I’ve always thought about retirement and what do I want to do?” Fletcher said. “I want to do some other things in life because I think in order for me, at least, in order to do it at the level that I’ve been able to do it, it takes a lot of commitment and a lot of sacrifice, whether it’s just the time spent training and leading and watching extra film and all the things that I’ve been able to do. I’ve enjoyed doing it but I’ve missed a lot of other parts of my life. I’ve got three young children. They’re back in Charlotte. So I’m missing parts of their life with them growing up.”
Fletcher called his consecutive games streak “obviously . . . a part of my legacy” but said he also expects to be remembered for the “type of player that I was as well.”
Teammates spoke of Fletcher’s durability. But his production, leadership qualities and character also stood out when they discussed the legacy he will leave.
“Single best leader, player, just stand-up guy that I’ve been around,” safety Reed Doughty said. “Not only has he backed it up with his charitable foundation but on the field, knowing and putting people in positions to make plays, but making plays himself. Interceptions, making tackles, he’s the ultimate team leader. . . . Unmatched, honestly.
“Every year, to play 16 games in one season is really a feat,” Doughty said. “To do it as long as he has, it’s really remarkable, and to see it at as physical a position as he plays at the inside linebacker position, I don’t think you’ll see that happen.”
Fletcher said he probably will seek to continue his broadcasting career. He said he was “embarrassed” by the Redskins’ performance in their last home game, a 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and hopes for better against the Cowboys.
“That hurt me to my core,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher also used the occasion of announcing his likely retirement to endorse Coach Mike Shanahan, saying he thinks that owner Daniel Snyder should retain not only Shanahan for next season, but should give Shanahan a contract extension.
“The way I look at it, I think Coach Shanahan is a great coach,” Fletcher said. “Any player who’s played for him, most guys — probably 95 percent of the guys who have played for him — would love playing for him. As I look at the current situation, I think Coach Shanahan is definitely the right guy. I think Mr. Snyder would be wise to let him see this thing through.”
Meanwhile, Shanahan praised Fletcher’s contributions to the team on and off the field, and described the hole left by his departure.
“He’s been very, very special to the organization,” Shanahan said. “He’s experienced a lot with different people, different players, different coaches. It’s going to be tough to lose a guy like that. But hopefully he can end it on the right note with a good win against Dallas.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins said Fletcher’s teammates will be motivated to try to give him a proper FedEx Field going away present.
“We would love to have him walk off that field for the last time, if it will be his last time, with a victory,” Cousins said. “We all respect and admire London. . . . I think it would mean a lot to London to get a win. But I think it would mean a lot to us as his teammates to send him off with a win.”
The Redskins do have a game the following week, their season finale, on the road against the New York Giants.
Fletcher hadn’t told his teammates of his decision to retire, but most of them seemed to expect it.
Riley, whose contract expires following the season but expressed a desire to re-sign with the team, described the idea of playing without Fletcher as daunting, and something that he and his teammates “don’t like thinking about.” But he said he feels prepared to take up the mantle based on the example Fletcher has shown.
Asked what stood out the most, Riley said, “How humble he is and how much, even though he’s been in the league for 16 years, and knows everything, he’s still trying to learn. He doesn’t act like he knows everything. Even though he’s thinking about retiring at the end of the year, he still takes notes every week. Comes and watches the film of practice and takes notes on that. You only do those things if you really love the game, and you can tell he loves the game.”