Linebacker's absence would create huge hole in middle

As London Fletcher delivered an emotional speech after Sunday's playoff loss to Seattle, at least one teammate wondered: Is this the end?

You could tell he was really sad, upset. We're real close, so it was real heartfelt for me," Lorenzo Alexander said. "You're almost like, is he coming back or is he not? You get close to guys and never want to see them go away."

"The Redskins certainly don't want to see him go away. But as they head to the offseason, one question their defense will face is this: What happens if Fletcher does retire? The role he handles is one that nobody else at inside linebacker has filled, from running the defense to playing at a consistently high level. Not to mention he has been the defensive leader since he joined the team in 2007.

So if Fletcher retires -- he said he would take time to think about it -- there would be a void. And the Redskins would need to find his replacement, whether they think a combination of Alexander and Keenan Robinson could handle that role or they have to look outside.

Among the other questions with the starting lineup:

What happens to linebacker Rob Jackson? » He's a restricted free agent, which means the Redskins can match any offer he receives (or they can trade him). Jackson made big plays in place of injured Brian Orakpo, but the latter is considered a better all-around linebacker, not to mention the Redskins' best pass rusher.

The reason Washington applied pressure mainly through blitzes was in large part because of Orakpo's absence. While teammates and coaches have talked about Jackson making plays, they also talk about how the rush will be improved next season with a healthy Orakpo. It will help end Stephen Bowen a great deal as the Redskins excel at running stunts.

Where does that leave Jackson? After starting 14 games, he doesn't want to return to his previous role. But the Redskins could re-sign him and create some packages in which he plays more. One NFL coach said they could create "unlimited" packages.

Do they make a move with DeAngelo Hall? » The 29-year-old cornerback will count $7.5 million against the salary cap. The Redskins would have pursued corner Cortland Finnegan a year ago had they not received the $36 million cap penalty. He played two excellent games the past two weeks but remains an inconsistent cover corner. He's versatile, but he's expensive. However, Hall said he would be open to redoing his contract if the Redskins would want to.

"This thing is getting right where it needs to be," Hall said. "Like I said, whatever I've got to do to be here, I'm going to try to do that."

The Redskins don't have Hall's replacement on the roster, so if they cut him, they not only would need to replace him but possibly add another corner if they don't bring back Cedric Griffin. Re-signing Hall to a lesser deal is doable.

What should they do at safety? » Strong safety Brandon Meriweather showed in limited duty -- in training camp and one game in the season -- that he can help. If healthy, that is. If Meriweather is healthy, that still leaves the Redskins a starter short as it's doubtful they will stick with Madieu Williams. It would be unwise to rely on Tanard Jackson, out with an indefinite drug suspension. Even if he's cleared in August, he has been suspended three times and hasn't played for a year. There's no way a team can rely on him. The Redskins will need to find someone else via free agency or the draft.