Can Fletcher replace Cowart?

Ex-Ram London Fletcher will fill Sam Cowart's middle linebacker position next season. The Bills signed the 26-year-old Fletcher to a five-year, $17.125 million deal that included a $4 million bonus. The question now is can Fletcher capably replace Cowart?

Probably not physically, though his speed matches up as well or better than Cowart's [he had 4.3 40 speed two years ago]. In terms of presence, Fletcher seems to measure up.

Listen to what the Rams had to say about Fletcher before the Super Bowl.

"You have to look very hard to find a middle linebacker playing as well as he did this season," said coach Mike Martz.

"London is the guy everybody on this defense looks up to," weakside linebacker Tommy Polley said. "His play on the field inspires everybody else to be better."

Now that just might be a lot of SB B.S., but there probably is an element of truth in there.

The 26-year-old Fletcher, who'll turn 27 in May, is a speedy, compact, unhesitant player who rarely takes bad angles and has the instinct to stay out of the way of bigger linemen trying to take him out. That's been the key to his success. Cowart, 27, is a little more overpowering because he's more than three inches taller than Fletcher and a little heavier. If Cowart is completely healthy, he is just as good as the NFL's best-regarded middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Initially, Fletcher will make more money than Cowart, but Cowart's six-year Jets contract balloons toward the end – particularly accelerating if he hits a playing time bonus in Year 2 – meaning the Jets will likely be forced to restructure the linebacker after a few seasons because the numbers will not be salary cap friendly.

The reason the Rams didn't re-sign Fletcher, who was also being courted by Pittsburgh and Detroit, was that they didn't want to pay the linebacker an average of $4 million per year [as it is, the Bills will end paying Fletcher an average of $3.42 million a year]. So instead St. Louis signed ex-Tampa middle linebacker Jamie Duncan for an average salary of $2.24 million a year.

Fletcher's agent said there was no way his client would have played in St. Louis for the amount of money the Rams signed Duncan for. But the Rams feel they got an equal player to Fletcher for less money, which is how Buffalo feels about Fletcher as compared to Cowart. Of course, the Jets feel they signed the most superior talent out there.

Fletcher made six tackles in Super Bowl XXXVI, but did not make any impact plays. In fact, the Rams' defense did not make any impact plays that game in general.


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