In today's Rewarding Moments In Washington History presented by Maryland Lottery My Lottery Rewards, Ring of Fame linebacker London Fletcher recounts exactly how he ended up in Washington during free agency in 2007. (By Kyle Stackpole)
London Fletcher remembers watching Washington play the New York Giants in Week 17 of the 2006 season. It was the night before Fletcher capped his ninth NFL season, and months later he would become a free agent after spending five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Could D.C. be his next home? Its franchise could certainly use him.
"Tiki Barber just ran crazy on them," said Fletcher, summarizing the 234-yard, three-touchdown performance. "He was just gashing them. I mean it was a situation where I was looking at it like, 'They need me. They need a middle linebacker bad.'"
Washington knew that, too, and wasted no time signing Fletcher to a five-year, $25 million contract. Fletcher was worth every penny and then some with 706 tackles, three Pro Bowl appearances, a second-team All-Pro nod and zero games missed. He then signed a two-year, $10.75 million deal in 2012, adding another Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro campaign during that span.
In 2019, Washington inducted Fletcher, a six-year captain, into its Ring of Fame.
"For me to be the 50th member of the Ring of Fame, that's special," Fletcher said during the ceremony. "There's been a lot of great football players for this organization, and I always try to represent the burgundy and gold on and off the field in a manner that would be pleasing to the players that played prior to me and those who are coming up after me."
Fletcher's statistics and accomplishments in the nation's capital are well-documented, but how exactly did he end up with Washington in the first place? It's a story that spans about 30 hours and includes multiple post-midnight phone calls, a lighthearted back and forth with team owner Dan Snyder and a Washington Wizards game with former cornerback Fred Smoot.
In the process, Washington locked up one of the best defensive players in franchise history.
The 2007 free agency period kicked off at 12:01 a.m. on March 2. That's also when Fletcher received a call from a 703 area code in Northern Virginia.
"Hey, London, this is Coach Gibbs, Washington Redskins. We're interested in you as a free agent."
Washington, New England and Detroit were all interested in the 31-year-old coming off a season that included 146 total tackles (101 solo), 14 pass breakups, four interceptions and his first-career touchdown. The Bills also wanted to re-sign him, but they couldn't match the money Fletcher would get on the open market.
Washington made sense to Fletcher for a variety of reasons. He has always been an avid football fan, so he remembers being "very impressed" watching Gibbs and the Hogs lead Washington to three Super Bowls in the 1980s and 90s. He also yearned to play in one of the bigger markets, and Washington happened to have his former head coach (Gregg Williams) and defensive coordinator (Jerry Gray) on its coaching staff. "I knew their scheme, had familiarity with those guys, knew they had a need."
On Wednesday, linebacker London Fletcher announced the 2013 season more than likely will be his last. Relive some of his best moments with highlight images of his stint with the Washington Redskins.
Gibbs spoke with Fletcher for about five minutes before passing the phone off to Williams, who was the defensive coordinator at the time. All the while, team officials worked on travel arrangements to get Fletcher to D.C., and at about 9 a.m. that morning, a plane with Williams on board touched down in Cleveland to pick Fletcher up.
After a quick tour around the team facility in Ashburn, Virginia, Fletcher, Gibbs and Williams congregated in Snyder's office. The casual conversation included discussions about his illustrious career and what his future would look like with Washington, but Fletcher specifically remembers Snyder mentioning how the franchise had yet to have an indoor practice facility.
"He's like, basically, 'Are you tough enough to play in this weather?'" Fletcher said with a laugh. "And I was like, 'Man, listen, I'm from Cleveland and I just spent five years in Buffalo. I'm plenty tough to play in this weather.' I was like that's the least of my concerns."
Following a 1-on-1 meeting with Williams, Fletcher went to lunch with linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, and they spent the next few hours getting to know each other and pouring over the defensive game plan. Fletcher had not agreed to a deal yet, but his agent and Washington were negotiating.
"My initial call with [my agent] from the first offer was maybe about 2 o'clock that afternoon," Fletcher said. "And I could say probably by maybe 6 or 7 o'clock, we had agreed to a deal. Things moved fairly quickly."
Fletcher was actually getting out of a limousine at the Verizon Center in D.C. when he received the call. He was with Smoot, a fellow free agent, Gray and safeties coach Steve Jackson, and they had just arrived to see the Washington Wizards take on the Atlanta Hawks.
At that point, the basketball game was the last thing on his mind. He had to call his wife, Charne, who was eight months pregnant with one of their two daughters, and his family members about signing with Washington.
"We're sitting up in the suite, and I couldn't tell you who was in the suite because I was so excited and processing everything and the fact that I was going to be playing in Washington," Fletcher said. "I don't remember who they played. I don't remember a ton about the game. I don't recall talking to any reporters or things like that, but things were a blur once we agreed to the deal."
About 24 hours after departing Cleveland for Washington, the team held a press conference introducing Fletcher to the local media. He said that this was where he wanted to be and brought up that when he talked to Williams shortly after free agency began, Williams told him to "bring a suit."
"In his mind, he knew they weren't going to let me out of the building."
Fletcher was on his way back to Ohio around 3 or 4 p.m., but Washington would be his new home for the next seven seasons. Fletcher credited the franchise for being aggressive when he was leaving Buffalo, especially since the Lions, who tried to sign him when he was a free agent in 2002, were prepared to make another lucrative offer. "They knew the talent, they knew what they wanted, and it worked out well, I feel, for both of us."
Upon re-signing with Washington in 2012, Fletcher said there were three other NFC teams still interested in him. But at 37 years old, he planned to retire after playing out his new two-year contract. And he wanted to do it representing the burgundy and gold.
"It was going to take a lot for me to leave Washington just because the way I felt about the organization, the way I felt about Mr. Snyder, the way they had treated me, the way I felt about the fans, and just really wanted to continue to cement my legacy there. ...I really wanted to retire from Washington, and I'm glad we were able to get that done."