The Redskins have decided they will not attempt to sign Terry Metcalf, the former St. Louis star running back who played last season in the Canadian Football League.

Metcalf and defensive tackle Bruce Clark were the Redskins' two major offseason free-agent targets, but now the club realizes it will not have either player under contract next season.

Clark, who also played in Canada last season, is negotiating with Green Bay, which holds his NFL rights. The Packers have said they will not trade him and Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard says Washington has no chance of obtaining him.

"We like Terry, but he just doesn't fit into our plans," Beathard said of Metcalf. "This is nothing against Terry. I'm sure he is going to help some team, but we'd like to go in a different direction."

Team sources indicated that Metcalf's salary demands (he was seeking a contract in the $225,000 range) and his age (29) were major factors in Washington's decision. If the Redskins had signed Metcalf, he would have become the second highest-paid player on the team and they also would have had to compensate St. Louis, probably with a fourth- and fifth-round choice.

Beathard's decision came after a thorough review of films from last year's Toronto Argonaut games, with whom he played the last three seasons since leaving the NFL in a salary dispute with the Cardinals.

"We are still pursuing ways to improve the team," Beathard said. "There are players from Canada we want to sign and we are considering trades where we can pick up some draft choices without hurting the team."

There is no question that Metcalf would upgrade the Redskins' running back situation, but apparently the improvement would not have been enough to warrant meeting his contract demands.

His coach in Toronto, Willie Wood, said that although Metcalf had lost some of his agility, he still could be a factor in the NFL.

"In terms of foot speed he still has it but he's not going to be as quick as he was in the past," Wood said. "What he can still do is come out of the backfield catching the ball. He is a great receiver."

But the Redskins already have two reliable receivers in their backfield, Clarence Harmon and Wilbur Jackson. Instead, they need a breakaway threat that would allow Jackson to move from halfback to fullback, freeing Harmon for third-down duties.

Metcalf, who signed a seven-year contract with Toronto in 1978, remains a subject of controversy within NFL circles. Presently, there is no clear-cut answer regarding what a league team would have to give up if they sign him. The Cardinals maintain they have right of first refusal on any contract he signs, Beathard believes he would have owed St. Louis compensation and the NFL Players Association says he can be signed without any hitches.

Washington was the one team Metcalf wanted to play for. He lives in Arlington during the offseason and plays for a local radio station's basketball team.

In Toronto last fall, Metcalf gained 554 yards on 140 carries and caught 51 passes for another 417 yards. He was the Eastern Conference's fifth leading receiver.