First, the Redskins traded their leading receiver from 1979 and a fourth-round draft pick for a cornerback who held out for the entire training camp and spent the early games doing more watching than playing.
Then, the club dealt two second-round draft choices -- a nice hunk of its future -- for a fullback who was supposed to make fans think less frequently of the retired John Riggins. Only the new fullback became the starting halfback after one game and his running average wasn't much better than last year's much maligned starter at halfback, Benny Malone.
But just when those two major transactions threatened to be known forever as Beathard's Folly (in honor of their originator, General Manager Bobby Beathard), cornerback Jeris White and halfback Wilbur Jackson finally are starting to produce some results for a team that admittedly needs as much help as it can get from its new players.
Jackson has been a starter from the second week and now leads the team in rushing (295 yards) and in 100-yard games (one), while producing the longest gain (55 yards). He is also fifth in receptions (12 for 137 yards) despite rarely playing on third down.
But what makes the deals a plus is the sudden emergence of White, whose play has been as low key as his talk. His steady improvement and consistency have forced the Redskin staff to search for ways to give him more time, particularly at Joe Lavender's corner back spot.
After a difficult transition period in which he was trying to grasp the intricacies of two positions in a new offense without the benefit of decent blocking from his line, Jackson is settling into a comfortable niche.
The Redskins are finding out what plays best suit his talents and, in turn, his toughness and competitiveness is rubbing off on his teammates, even if he probably is playing out of position at halfback.
"He's not John Riggins, but we aren't asking him to be another Riggins," Coach Jack Pardee said. "We want him to be Wilbur Jackson and do things for us that maybe Riggins couldn't do. We're very pleased with his progress."
Jackson does not have the great breakaway speed teams want from a halfback, but he runs powerfully, blocks well and is consistent. One of his major assests is that he rarely loses yards, especially when he runs up the middle. With the Redskins' policy of using a lot of backs, he is not being asked to do more than he can.
Washington knew it would never recover from the loss of Riggins without some contribution from Jackson. But White is a different story. Pardee was prepared to play the season without him, realizing that cornerbacks Lemar Parrish and Lavender were talented enough to diminish his loss.
Yet White's improvement is helping an already strong secondary become even more dangerous and more versatile. Such plays as his two interceptions in Sunday's St. Louis game, combined with his continual aggressive tackling against the run, are making him too valuable for only occasional use in the nickel defense.
But Pardee has a dilemma. Lavender is having perhaps his best overall season as a pro and Parrish, of course, is one of the league's best cornerbacks. There just is not enough time for three cornerbacks, even when the odd man out has White's talents.
Ironically, if White had not boycotted training camp over a contract dispute, the starting job might have been his weeks ago, since the Redskins made the deal with Tampa Bay in part to boost its secondary strength against the run. But when Washington started off slowly, and its defense was having considerable problems stopping the rush, White was too far behind in adapting to his new team's formations to be of any immediate help. He stayed on the bench and opponents stayed on the ground with great success.
But whenever he has played, he has been impressive. He is adept at wiping out blockers along the line of scrimmage by simply running into the interference as hard as he can. And even though he has a reputation for lacking good pass catching hands, he made two difficult interceptions in the Cardinal game, his most extended appearance of the season.
Now Pardee talks of freeing him from much of his special teams work, so he will remain fresh for his plays on defense. "We want him ready if we start him or give him a lot more playing time.
"He came into camp late and that put him behind a lot, but after he got into real good shape, he's improved. He's just a tough player, a good special teams player too.
"We found we can use him against two tight ends because of the way he handles the run. He's added some toughness and improved our defense against the run. But Lavender is playing the best ball of his life.We're just looking for ways to get Jeris in more and give everyone else time too."
White isn't accustomed to playing a reserve role. He was a starter last season on the NFL's top-ranked defense and was considered one of Tampa's best players.
But Coach John McKay wanted no part of White's contract demands, and he became available. Those same demands kept him out of the Redskin camp before he signed on the eve of the club's final exhibition game.
"I don't regret making the trade for Jeris," Beathard said, "although I thought we wouldn't have as much problem signing him. He's a quality player. He's going to give us a lot of good years. It's just a shame he started off like he did, but you have to do what you think is right."
Center Bob Kuziel, who has a badly sprained right wrist, practiced yesterday and did some snapping. "It felt pretty good," he said. "It will get better as the week goes on. I know I can play Sunday" . . . Pardee said the Redskins activated wide receiver Ken Harrison to fill Ray Waddy's roster spot. Harrison will be used mainly on special teams, but the ex-49er adds speed to the Washington receiving corps. He is a veteran who was obtained through waivers by Beathard last spring. Harrison had to clear waivers this time before the Redskins could activate him. . . Pardee was concerned about defensive end Coy Bacon, who is sidelined by a bad knee. Pardee did not seem optimistic about Bacon's availability for the New Orleans game Sunday, but he said he felt tackle Terry Hermeling could play. . . Snapper Jeff Bostic has back spasms and missed yesterday's workout to stay in traction. "But he should be back Thursday," Pardee said.