In the last six weeks, the Redskins have made eight trades involving 18 draft choices and four players. So in Bobby Beathard's four years, the general manager has made 23 trades with 16 teams. He has acquired 19 players while giving up eight. He has picked up 21 draft choices while giving up 26 (including two No. 1s and three No. 2s).
Is this guy a blond George Allen?
Beathard is a gambler arrogantly bold. He has to be. "Don't look back," the right-handed philosopher Satchel Paige once said, "becase somethin' might be gainin' on you." Eroded by a decade of Allen's give-away-the-future schemes, the sorry Redskins of '80 are at the back of the pack. And so they must gamble if they are to gain on anybody anytime soon.
Beathard's wheeling and dealing is not the patient, draft-and-build operation of Dallas of Pittsburg, mainly because Allen's deals left the Redskins with no foundation of draft choices. Had Beathard chosen to be patient this season, using only the draft, he would have improved the Redskins with only a No. 1 and six choices from the fifth round down. Forced to choose between high-risk gambling and conservative patience, Beathard chose to walk out on a high wire in the wind.
Patience? Bah, humbug. Let the cursed Cowboys clip coupons. The Redskins will draw to an inside straight.
With only one draft choice earlier than the fifth round, patience would have produced seven rookies, six unlikely to make any NFL roster. Instead, Beathard's aggressive flesh market activity produced 13 players -- and at least three of them could be starters this season: running back Joe Washington, center Russ Grimm and tackle Mark May.
So the Redskins are on a high wire now, and as they so thrilling teeter up there we will learn answers to legitimate questions such as . . .
If the offensive line was so bad last season, how do you improve it by trading away a young, quick, big first-string guard? Jeff Williams went to San Diego in trade for Wilbur Young, an old second-string defensive lineman.
If Beathard, who thinks he is the best scout since Kit Carson, believes that certain success comes through the draft, why did he trade away next year's No. 1 to get a center, Russ Grimm of Pitt, who was only the 69th player drafted?
If your team had no running game last year, where does a tiny pass-catcher fit in as a running back? Joe Washington, coming over from Baltimore for a No. 2, needs two or three years to run as far as John Riggins did in one.
On first thought, these questions seem clear evidence that Bobby Beathard has baked his brain in one of those marathon's he's always running. Allen at least limited his jogging to a mile or so, a distance safe against hallucinations. Beathard's critics remind that he has had three seasons as general manager -- time enough to judge his work, time in which the Redskins have not made the playoffs, and indeed time in which the Redskins fell below .500 for the first time since Allen's arrival in 1971.
Look at the questions closely, though, and Beathard seems more cunning than foolish.
Besides improving the defense with the addition of Young (a likely starter here for two or three seasons), Beathard is saying he believes in his coaching staff.
By trading away the team's best offensive lineman, Beathard has told Joe Gibbs that he believes the new coach and his assistants can improve somebody enough to replace Williams. Gibbs and the offensive line coach, Joe Bugel, likely will use a rookie (Melvin Jones, off last year's injured reserve list) or a transplanted veteran (Fred Dean, most times a tackle).
"Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," the country-western song says of the gambler. Beathard has folded his No. 1 draft choice twice now, first in '78 to get Coy Bacon and Lamar Parrish, still a bargain at the cost. The general manager gave away next season's No. 1 to get a third-round pick this year when he realized Grimm would be available.
Here comes the arrogance of the bold gambler, for Beathard gave away a precious No. 1 to get a center that all 25 other teams had passed on twice. Yet the fact is the Redskins need someone at center; futher, Grimm was the first center taken, even if he were the 69th player chosen, and, what's more, Beathard is cocky enough to think he can get that No. 1 choice back somehow before next year's draft.
And shy shouldn't he be so cocky? He knows it can be done, because that is basically how he obtained Joe Washington last month. This takes some explaining.
Remember the Wilbur Jackson deal last summer? When John Riggins chose to sit on his tractor in Kansas, the Redskins desperately needed a fullback. Knowing panic when they saw it, the San Francisco 49ers squeezed two No. 2s out of the Redskins for Jackson, who had sat out '78 with a bad knee.
Loud and raucous were the complaints that Bobby Beathard gave up too much for an old man with a bad knee. Knowing when to hold 'em is part of the gambler's genius, too, and Beathard worked very hard to get those two No. 2s back in his hand.
He did it so smoothly you might have missed it. Trading No. 1 drafting positions with the Rams this time, Beathard also obtained a No. 2 pick. That one he used to trade to Baltimore for Joe Washington. Then he traded his 1982 No. 1 to the Rams in a deal that, among other goodies, brought a No. 2 in '82.
Viola! Both No. 2s given away for Jackson are back. And when it comes time, Beathard will be working to get back that No. 1 in '82.
All this wheeling and dealing is not the frenzied patch-in-panic work it seems. The ledger shows that Beathard has acquired more players and draft choices than he has given up (40 to 34). And it says here, in a subjective accounting, that Beathard has improved the Redskins in this offseason with the hiring of the Gibbs crew and his use of the draft in tandem with trades.
The Joe Washington deal is illustrative of the Beathard way. By finagling that No. 2 choice back and then dealing it, he came up with a little running back who is a great pass catcher. And Joe Gibbs, the brain who made San Diego's passing attack fly, will see that Joe Washington gets the ball.