The Redskins will begin the 1980 NFL season in rousing fashion by meeting the Dalls Cowboys in a Monday night game on Sept. 8 in RFK Stadium.
The game will give the Redskins a first-hand look at how well the hated Cowboys will adjust to the absence of quarterback Roger Staubach, who has retired after plaguing Washington teams for a decade.
Having such an important game as an early season incentive is just one of the reasons Coach Jack Pardee is smiling these days around Redskin Park.
Pardee is pleased with the work of his players in the offseason conditioning program. He is pleased that contract negotiationns are going well with a number of key athletes. He is pleased that such players as Ken Houston, John Riggins and Diron Talbert seem certain to be around once training camp starts in July.
But his joy could diminish greatly in three weeks if the Redskins don't come out of their first meaningful draft in a decade with at least two players who can step in as starters immediately.
Not that Pardee will say officially that the club's high-round picks will be instant first stringers. But there is no question, for example, that the team's failure to secure a starting running back out of the draft would set back its chances for next season.
Otherwise, the Redskins wouldn't be so anxious about the draft. Nor would they be so willing to part with incumbent starter Benny Malone, who has been given permission to make a deal with other clubs in this option year on his contract.
If Marlone is around come training camp, which is likely, Pardee maintains he would be the probable starter.
But in the next breath, he admits one of his goals for next season is "to improve our running game. We ran the ball well but we can run it better. If we just improve a yard a carry, we'll pick up another 600 yards in offense and that will win you some games."
He also would relish the idea of a young, strapping defensive lineman who would give his group of veterans a hefty push. Again, he says the newcomer wouldn't necessarily be a starter but would shove those ahead of him to beter achievements.
The prevailing feeling around Redskin Park, however, is that the draft must produce two or three starters and at least five or six squad members in all to give the 1980 Redskins enough manpower to compete with the league's best teams.
Anything less and Washington may not have the depth and overall talent to compensate for a major rash of injureis or unexpected poor individual performances.
Pardee believes the culb is fortifying itself just with its intense conditioning program and that this offseason effort "well make us better even without considering the draft."
Two days ago, for example, fifteen players were working out at the park. The entire offensive line has appeared regularly for exercise, as have many of the young players around whom the future of the franchise will be constructed.
"Rich Milot weighs about 235 now and he looks like a different man," Pardee said. "Monte Coleman is about 228 and we drafted him at 212. Everyone is producing the kind of work I hoped we'd get from them. You don't get better by accident, you get better because you work at it." Coleman and Milot could be involved in one of the experiments Pardee might undertake during training camp. At least one, probably Milot, could move from outside to middle linebacker to join Neal Olkewicz. The new comer's function would be to play on passing situations instead of having the middle linebacker replaced by an extra defensive back.
Pardee also said:
Houston, who broke a forearm last season and had talked about retiring, will be in camp. Houston confirmed this from his home in Texas. "I want to have one last season," Houston said.
Riggins, who had contract problems before the start of last season, will suit up this year "without any more difficulties. I think he realized what he means to us."
None of the club's oldest players will be waived or asked to retire. "We want people like Diron (Talbert), Coy (Bacon) and the rest of them in camp."
Contract negotiations with such players as George Starke, Mark Moseley and Bacon, all of whom are either in the option year of their contracts or have no option in their pact, are entering crucial stages.
"I have no reason to believe that all these players won't sign," Pardee said. "There has been no indication of unhappiness from any of them."
General Manager Bobby Beathard, who conducts the negotiations, confirmed Pardee's feeling.
"We've had talks with most of the players and I think we'll come to terms with all of them," he said -- with Malone being the lone exception.
Pardee was convinced after last season ended that his team was the equal, if not better, than any in the NFC. After watching the playoff, he says he is even more sure of his opinion.
"If you boil down our season, you are talking about a spread of six or seven points that kept us out of the playoffs," he said. "Gosh darn, we should improve by 1 percent -- that one touchdown we needed last year.
"With all our young players, we didn't play as well as we could. We are going to be better this season, no doubt about it."