The New York Giants yesterday claimed former Redskin kick returner Tony Green from the waiver list.

Green, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, was placed on non-recallable waivers in a surprise move Monday as the Redskins reduced to the opening-day limit of 45 active players.

The Giants, a league spokesman said, were the only club to claim Green.

Team sources indicated Monday that Green had lost his courage. He reportedly was told before the final exhibition game with Cleveland that he needed a strong performance to save his job.

In four preseason games he returned seven punts for 57 yards and carried 10 times for 18 yards.

Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said the Redskins had attempted to trade Green, but couldn't. League sources indicated yesterday that Green's apparently lost taste for heavy contact was not a secret among the league's personnel men.

When General Manager George Young of the Giants returned a phone call yesterday, one of his first responses concerning Green was: "How do you like him? Do you think he can play?"

Young confirmed that he had heard the reports about Green's attitude.

"We claimed him. We need a punt returner," Young said. "We've had our problems. We'll wait and see; that's all we can do."

After Green was told that he had been placed on waivers, he drove to Florida, where his family lives. A family member said yesterday that he had arrived and was in Gainesville, where he had played football at the University of Florida.

The Giants said they understood that he was in Sarasota.

Young said that he anticipated getting in touch with Green and getting him on the next plane to East Rutherford, N.J.

The Giants, like the Redskins a member of the NFC East Division, will open their NFL season Sunday at Philadelphia.