Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard and Don Klosterman, his counterpart with the Los Angeles Rams, had reached a stalemate after having talked frequently for weeks about making a major trade for draft choices. Now it appeared Beathard would have to look elsewhere for the extra selections he coveted.
As it stood, the clubs had agreed to swap first-round picks, so the Rams could get the ninth player available instead of the 20th in the draft three weeks later. In exchange, Beathard wanted the Rams' second- and fourth-round choices. Klosterman agreed to the fourth, but he wanted to hold onto his second-round selection that would yield the 52nd player chosen and send Washington his other second-round pick, the 56th choice.
Beathard, however, didn't want to risk losing a prize prospect by accepting the later selection.
"Look Don, is you agree to give us your No. 2 (the 52nd pick)," he told Klosterman early in the afternoon of April 7, "we'll say okay to everything right now."
Klosterman finally agreed and Beathard remembers swallowing hard.
"I knew we had the break in the draft we needed," Beathard said yesterday. "But it meant the player we really wanted wouldn't be available for us anymore in the first round."
That player, North Carolina defensive tackle Donnell Thompson, had been Beathard's prize prospect for months. He was convinced Thompson had a great future and was just the intimidating pass rusher Washington needed. But he also knew the Redskins lacked much more than just a pass rusher. They needed players, lots of them. It came down to a major decision: stay with his current draft choices, which meant a good chance of getting Thompson but having no second, third and fourth picks, or make a trade, forget about Thompson and try to fill as many other holes as possible with the extra selections.
"What clinched it, I guess," Beathard said," was a talk I had the day of the L.A. trade. I was talking to Tampa Bay, which was picking ahead of us in the first round, and they said that they would take Keith Van Horne, Ken Easley or Donnell in the first round. I figured that Van Horne would be gone quickly and that they'd have to take a defensive lineman over a defensive back like Easley. If I passed up the Rams trade and then didn't get Donnell, it would have been horrible."
Beathard said he walked next door to Coach Joe Gibbs' office in Redskin Park. "Joe," he said, "we're back in the draft business again."
Beathard's prediction proved out. The deal with the Rams was the first of four he would make before the draft ended Wednesday. Instead of obtaining seven players, as he would have had the draft been held April 6, he drafted 12 athletes and acquired another, Joe Washington, in a trade with Baltimore.
He staked a lot of the Redskins' future, and a large part of his reputation as a talent evaluator, on his maneuvering. But, he said, he had no choice.
"If I had done nothing," he said, "and not tried to get some of the great players in this draft, I would have never been able to live with myself."
Russ Grimm had been a quarterback in high school and a struggling center his junior year at the University of Pittsburgh. Even though he had improved considerably his senior season, the NFL scouting combines still graded him out as a midround draft pick, at best. But Beathard and the Redskins' line coach, Joe Bugel, thought he ranked with the best linemen available.
Once there was no hope of getting Thompson, Beathard settled on Grimm as his probable No 1. choice. Like the year before, when he became enamoured with defensive end Mat Mendenhall, Beathard realized he was gambling if he chose Grimm. As the draft grew closer, it became a risk he decided not to take.
Also considered for the first round were running back Joe Delaney, who flunked a Beathard film evaluation, and receiver Cris Collinsworth, who wasn't considered quick enough to be drafted so high.
"We can get Grimm on the second round," Beathard told his personnel director, Mike Allman, a week before the draft. "We can hold off on him." The Redskin hierarcy met until 8 p.m. last Friday discussing its picks, then met again Sunday. At one point, halfback David Overstreet seemed a possibility, but Beathard was convinced Anthony Collins of East Carolina was just as good -- and he should be available in the fourth round.
Finally, the day before the draft, the decision was made. If one of three tackles -- Mark May, Brian Holloway or Howard Richards -- remained on the Redskins' turn, he would be the team's choice. If all three were gone, then Beathard would make a quick trade, exchanging the No. 1 pick for a couple of No. 2s. When May's name still was on the board after 19 players had been taken, a cheer went up in the Redskin draft room. Later, Beathard worked a deal so he could get Grimm in the third round. The sting from losing Thompson was gone.
On a final scouting trip before the draft, Beathard worked with a prospect at Georgia Tech and two at South Carolina State, including wide receiver Charlie Brown, who had not appeared on some of the scouting combine lists. Beathard didn't like the Tech player, but Brown was special. He was a bit small, but had a fine burst of speed and he caught every pass Beathard threw to him.
"How could he not be one anyone's list?" Beathard asked. "This guy can play. They didn't throw a lot at his school and I guess he didn't catch anyone's eye."
When Washington's turn came in the eighth round, Beathard had his sleeper for the draft.
"There is always one guy you think you might have snuck through," he said. "Getting Charlie just made the whole draft complete."