- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

After finishing with the NFC’s worst defense in 2006, the Washington Redskins signed middle linebacker London Fletcher to help forge a turnaround.

With his relentless play, knowledge of their scheme and positive attitude, Fletcher delivered. In 2007 and 2008, the Redskins’ defense finished in the top eight in the NFL.

But in the second half of last season, injuries became a factor. Fletcher suffered a sprain, a deep bone bruise and a chip fracture in his left foot Nov. 23 in Seattle; the injuries limited him in practice - but not games - the rest of the season.

And in December, Fletcher expressed anger about being bypassed for the Pro Bowl as the Redskins slid out of the playoff picture. The normally ebullient Fletcher was so frustrated that, except for the mandatory minicamp, he stayed away from the team this offseason. Coach Jim Zorn said his co-captain’s absence was about money, which the 34-year-old vehemently denied.

“When you’re… negotiating, it has some sort of effect on the players and how they approach their situations, but it certainly wasn’t a strategy to punish our football team,” Zorn said. “It was a strategy to look at the contract.”

Fletcher’s five-year, $25 million contract grows in 2010 and 2011 to $7.1 million a year, so it would make sense for the Redskins to shift some of that salary cap hit to 2009 to make his presence the next two seasons more affordable.

“I’m not unhappy with my contract,” Fletcher maintained. “I do all right financially. I’m making decent money.”

In any event, the former undrafted rookie wasn’t a leader this offseason.

“The Redskins were aware that I wasn’t going to be here,” he said. “That bone bruise that I had, that’s an injury that takes some people a year to 18 months to fully heal. I needed some time to really allow my body to heal. I wasn’t able to do a lot of running early in the offseason. I didn’t feel right until maybe June.”

During his absence, linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti kept in touch with Fletcher via text message.

“I knew what he was up to, but I told him when he left that I would leave him alone,” Olivadotti said. “London doesn’t age. When he did come back, he was in good shape.”

In training camp, the coaches are helping Fletcher, who still gets “a little achiness here and there,” by limiting his reps in nonteam drills.

“It’s about how you take care of yourself, how the coaches take care of me during training camp and the season,” Fletcher said.

Heading into his 12th season, Fletcher knows how to take care of himself. He has never missed a game, and since becoming a starter in 1999 with a St. Louis Rams team that went on to win the Super Bowl, he has started all but one game. He has led his team in tackles in all 10 of his years as a starter.

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my age,” Fletcher said. “There have been a number of linebackers who’ve played 15 to 18 years in the league. I’ve still got a ways to go to get to that. … I’m not at the point where I feel like my career is nearing the end.”

As for the elusive Pro Bowl invitation, Fletcher’s chances figure to be enhanced with the addition of All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth, the return of Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall and the selection of linebacker Brian Orakpo in April’s draft.

But after blasting Pro Bowl voters last year, Fletcher is done firing back.

“How happy can you really be making the Pro Bowl if your team doesn’t make the playoffs?” he said. “There are a lot of people in the Pro Bowl who don’t necessarily deserve it. We were the only top-five defense that didn’t make the playoffs.

“Whether I deserve to make the Pro Bowl, that’s for somebody else to decide.”

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