While Washington's offense faces plenty of upheaval this offseason, the defense figures to be much more stable, especially if captain/Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher re-signs. Everyone else is under contract for 2012 except for left end Adam Carriker and strong safety LaRon Landry.
What's more, Fletcher, who'll be 37 in May, and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who'll be 32 in June and was limited to 12 games and eight starts during his Redskins debut because of nagging muscle pulls, are Washington's only defensive starters over 28.
"I'm glad we improved on defense last season," said swing safety Reed Doughty, who wound up starting 11 games because of injuries to Landry and Atogwe for a unit that rose from 31st in 2010 to 13th in 2011. "It was a step in the right direction. We added players like (rookie outside linebacker) Ryan Kerrigan, (defensive linemen) Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen (who signed as free agents) who really helped us a lot. But we still have a ways to go. We need to force more turnovers. (Third-year inside linebacker) Perry Riley's another young guy with a lot of talent. None of us have been in (coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4) defense for more than two years so we're still learning how to play it."
Although Landry is just 27 and perhaps Washington's best athlete, he missed 15 of the past 23 games with an injury to his left Achilles that won't heal and on which he has refused to have surgery. And although Carriker, who'll be 28 in May, has been ultra-reliable during his two seasons with the Redskins, 2011 second-round draft choice Jarvis Jenkins is waiting in the wings after missing last year with a torn ACL suffered halfway through a promising preseason.
So despite his age, re-signing Fletcher has to be Washington's top priority on defense. Haslett promised in December that Fletcher would be back. The day after the season ended, coach Mike Shanahan said that re-signing the co-captain was a priority. Fletcher has said all along that he wants to return despite the frustrations of three consecutive double-digit loss seasons.
"I like playing here," said Fletcher, who would have a new position coach with Lou Spanos having become UCLA's defensive coordinator and former cornerbacks coach Bob Slowik replacing him. "I believe in coach Shanahan. (But) obviously, there's a business aspect I was also told I was wanted in St. Louis and I was wanted in Buffalo. They wanted me, but their level of want and my level of appreciation wasn't the same."
Less than four weeks before Fletcher can hit the market, the sides still haven't agreed on the right level of appreciation.
The same goes for Carriker, who was drafted by St. Louis in 2006 when Haslett was its coordinator.
"Hopefully I proved myself to be a little more valuable than (being virtually given to the Redskins by the Rams on the eve of the 2010 draft)," Carriker said. "I think I played pretty well this year. I'd like to stay here. We'll see if they call. We'll see if talks happen. If it's a fair deal, that's great. If not, I'll test free agency and see what happens."
As for Landry, Washington's hardest hitter hasn't endeared himself to Shanahan by paying to have platelet rich plasma therapy, which he sees as a more natural way of healing the Achilles.
"It's my body," Landry told 106.7TheFan last week. "I'm going to do what I think is right. A major surgery is quite hard. You're changing the structure of your body as far as range of motion, you might not get the same thing you had before. I don't want (to lose) that."
However, not only did trying the less invasive treatment sideline Landry during last summer's training camp and preseason as well as the season's first two games, he was shut down in December after eight games in which he had rarely played like his feared pre-injury self. And while the Redskins were just 5-10 minus Landry the past two seasons, they were only 6-11 with him in the lineup so is he really a difference-maker?
Landry doesn't figure to be healthy enough to work out for teams when the free-agent market opens on March 13 so returning to Washington with a one-year, incentive-laden contract seems to make sense for him and the team. His buddy Atogwe is in some jeopardy of being cut because it won't cost the Redskins much to do so under the cap before March 13.
Although starting cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are under contract and backups Kevin Barnes and Byron Westbrook should return as restricted free agents, the Redskins could add help here with 2010 third corner Phillip Buchanon almost certainly not returning after playing in just one game in 2011 because of a drug suspension and injuries.
And if Fletcher leaves, the Redskins will have to find someone who could run the defense and make a boatload of tackles. Former starting outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is the most natural candidate on the roster but he has never played inside although he has lined up all over the line as well as at offensive tackle, fullback and tight end.
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