London Fletcher deserves another season, if he really wants one

The Washington Post’s LaVar Arrington, Dan Steinberg, Jason Reid and Jonathan Forsythe peer into their collective crystal balls to offer their bold predictions for the Redskins in 2013. (The Washington Post)

So London Fletcher had ankle surgery; he’s planning on undergoing elbow surgery soon, and then intends to play a 16th season in the NFL, a season in which he’ll be 38 years old. Fletcher doesn’t have a portrait of Dorian Gray in his attic. He has Dorian Gray’s X-rays.

Even Gray’s portrait would show some wear and tear after 15 NFL seasons, and Fletcher is as well. He was injured much of last season, and while he never missed a start, he did sit out practice more than usual. So what? While there are players in every sport who have taken missing practice to an art form, Fletcher is not one of them. He likes practice.

And at this stage in his career, how much does he really need? He rested much of December — and was named NFC defensive player of the month. He led the team in tackles. Who among the Redskins is going to grumble that Fletcher looked on from the sideline for some workouts?

Of course, there is surgery and there is recovery, and you can’t have one without the other. So Fletcher will have to see how his body responds to the operations. He’ll have to endure physical therapy, although his rehab probably will be easier than his daily workout routine when he’s healthy.

The question will be whether his body will respond, will heal itself and feel capable of handling another 16 games or more of pounding required of an NFL linebacker.

The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, LaVar Arrington, Jason Reid and Jonathan Forsythe debate whether the Redskins should have franchised Fred Davis. (Post Sports Live)

Offseason tweaks are as common for NFL players as between-projects tweaks are customary in Hollywood. I remember meeting then-Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Boschin 2010, when he was a lad of 31. I was in a sling, and before I could do more than introduce myself, he asked what I’d had done. When I told him I’d had the whole enchilada, shoulder-wise, he whistled and said that shoulder surgery was the worst.

How many surgeries had he had, I asked? Twenty-two, he replied nonchalantly, then proceeded to quiz me about the procedure and rehab. (I was praying all the while he didn’t ask me to compare scars, like Quint and Hooper in “Jaws.” I was feeling a lot like Brody, except without the appendectomy.)

Fletcher is the anti-Vanden Bosch. This week’s surgery was the first of his career, which is amazing, especially when you remember that he hasn’t missed a game since entering the league in 1998.

More concerning than his ankle injury, to me, is that Fletcher experienced some balance problems last season and was tested by a neurologist. I hope the doctors — his doctors — take a good, long look at a CAT scan and advise accordingly. Ankles can be rehabbed; brains can’t. Fletcher is a smart guy who is well aware of the current climate around the league regarding the long-term effects of head injuries, and the number of lawsuits filed against the NFL. He knows that head injuries can come from one bad hit or a long career of normal play.

More concerning to the Redskins is probably Fletcher’s cap number. The Redskins are scrambling to get under the salary cap limit before free agency begins next week; Fletcher would count $6.2 million against the cap next season.

Coach Mike Shanahan didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet last week when asked if he thought Fletcher would return.

“You’ve got to have a game plan for if he does come back, if he doesn’t come back,” Shanahan said. “You’re taking a look at your financial responsibilities, if you do have the hit that we may take. You just don’t know. So we’ve got a game plan for all scenarios, but you always hope that your great players keep on playing at a high level.”

I know the business of the NFL means that someone has to look at London Fletcher as a salary cap hit. I would hope, however, that it wasn’t his coach. There are players who outstay their welcomes; Fletcher likely won’t become one of those.

Then there are players who are coaches on the field, who inspire fans with their grit, who set an example for their teammates on the field and in the locker room. Those guys aren’t growing on trees, or on draft boards. Fletcher’s stellar record leads me to believe that he’ll know when his time is up. Hopefully, the Redskins will reach the same conclusion.

For previous colums by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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