Bobby Beathard, the Redskin general manager, said yesterday he believes Washington is at least three years away from being the type of solid team that would be considered a perennial playoff contender.

Beathard, who is finishing his third season with the Redskins, said he wasn't ruling out the club making the playoffs before then, "because there aren't many great teams out there and we can compete with a lot of them.

"But for us to be able to play consistently well with the best in the league, we need to strengthen ourselves in three areas: running back, offensive line and defensive line. Until we do, we will be lacking. And it takes time to shore up those many areas."

Beathard said he still believes the Redskins will pick a quality defensive lineman on the first round of the 1981 draft.

"We pick ninth and maybe we won't get the best guy available but we'll get someone who can step in and help us," he said. "Or we may be able to get a first-rate offensive lineman. I'm very optimistic about what we can do in the draft. I only wish we had more picks."

The Redskins don't have a second, third or fourth pick in the draft.

Beathard and Coach Jack Pardee are in the midst of meetings with owner Jack Kent Cooke that will determine their future with the team. Cooke has refused to say whether either man will be back next season, although it had appeared Beathard was more secure than Pardee.

"I'm just continuing on the bais that I will return," Beathard said."There isn't much else I can do. I'm doing my scouting and other functions. I hope I will be back. I want to be back because we still have a job to do here.

"I'm just going to answer his (Cooke's) questions honestly. If they aren't what he wants to hear, then maybe I'll be looking for another job. I don't know. But I have to live with myself and be honest."

Beathard's prediction about the Redskins' future may be something Cooke doesn't want to hear. The owner had thought his club was a Super Bowl contender this season before the Redskins crumbled to 6-10. And now Beathard is saying those Super Bowl dreams are still a few years away, although he adds that his projection could be speeded up if players already on the team move into the starting lineup. But first, he said, those players must be given the opportunity to play.

It was reported a month ago that this is the crux of a philosophical difference between the coach and the general manager.

"You never know how fast a young guy will come along," Beathard said. "But I am convinced that the young guys on our roster can play and play now.

"I'm not saying that from what I've heard, but from what I know. I've made my living in this league evaluating talent and I have faith in my ability to judge people who can help us.

"I think (defensive end) Mat Mendenhall, (guard) Melvin Jones, (tackle) Jerry Scanlan and (defensive tackle) Pat Ogrin can start next year for us. Of course, they have to show us they can do the job by the way they perform in training camp next year. They shouldn't be handed a position. But I have confidence they are ready to show us something."

All but Scanlan, who was activated late in the season, spent the 1980 season on injured reserve.

Pardee is enthusiastic about the abilities of Scanlan, a 6-foot-6, 270-pounder from Hawaii. But Beathard is more bullish on Jones and Mendenhall -- and much more willing than Pardee to have the Redskins live with any mistakes the young players might make.

"I'm not against age and using older players," he said, "but why go with an older player who isn't making mistakes but has no future, as opposed to a young guy who can turn into a star? I think most people in the NFL feel that way.

"That's why you have a draft in the first place, to get the young talent to keep the franchise going. You get the potential and then you coach the hell out of them. There is no question they will make mistakes while they learn; but in the long run, the team will benefit."

Beathard said he was against a large roster turnover before training camp. "I'd like to see how the youngsters do first, before we get rid of everyone and then not have any replacements to step in," he said. "We have to have competition for spots at all times, and not just hand a position to an unproven player."

He said he would have preferred to see such prize choices as Mendenhall and Jones on the active roster this season, so they could have gained playing experience.

"But that is a coach's decision," he said. "Those guys are still ours, which is the important thing. If we lost them, we'd really be set back. We have to keep adding young players to make sure we improve."

Beathard said the Redskins would be interested in talking to defensive tackle Bruce Clark and halfback Terry Metcalf, both of whom played in Canada last season. But he said that first, "We have to see what happens here and in Green Bay (which owns the rights to Clark). I don't want to be accused of tampering because I'm not. But if players say they want to play for you, you don't ignore that. Right now, I'm not sure if we can work anything out with either of them."

The Clark-Metcalf situation illustrates the present Redskin dilemma. Everything is in limbo until Cooke decides if he will retain Beathard and Pardee.

"This is a slow time of year for everyone but playoff teams anyway," Beathard said. "There isn't that much going on. We can afford to wait."