The Redskins decided yesterday they could not wait any longer for Fred Cook to improve, so they cut the veteran defensive end and reclaimed a ninth-round 1982 draft choice they had given Baltimore last month.
Cook's release came as no surprise. Coach Joe Gibbs and Defensive Coordinator Richie Petitbon had been disappointed in Cook's performance during training camp and it was apparent entering Saturday's preseason game at Baltimore that Cook would be waived unless he showed improvement.
He didn't, and now he is a free agent after seven pro years, all with the Colts. He and Baltimore had been unhappy with each other the last two seasons, which prompted the trade. The Redskins surrendered a ninth-round pick on the condition he made the squad.
The Redskins cut two other players -- Ken Taylor, a free agent safety, and Allan Kennedy, an offensive tackle from Washington State who was picked on the 10th round. If either Kennedy or quarterback Phil Kessell, who was placed on injured reserve last week, were on the active roster to begin the season, the Redskins would have lost a sixth-round 1982 selection to Cleveland.
Gibbs still has to cut seven more players to be down to 50 by 4 p.m. today. He said that injuries "and juggling numbers at a lot of positions" are complicating matters.
The situation became more involved yesterday when doctors told Gibbs that wide receiver Charlie Brown would miss one to three weeks with a sore knee. Brown fell on the knee in the Baltimore game.
Gibbs already was concerned about the receiver situation, since none played up to his expectations against the Colts. With Brown in limbo, there is a good chance the Redskins will pick up a receiver off the waiver list or make a trade to bolster that position. At least three receivers will make the final roster.
Washington currently has four healthy ends: Art Monk, Ricky Thompson, Virgil Seay and Ken Harrison. Harrison has struggled with injuries for most of camp. Seay has had some impressive moments but his size (5 foot 7) restricts his effectiveness. The receiver position is one of the most crucial in Gibbs' aggressive, wide-open offense, which relies heavily on passing.
"This cutdown is a struggle, no doubt about it," said Gibbs. "We have to weigh all the options as carefully as possible."
It seems almost certain that the Redskins will make further reductions along their offensive line today. They have to decide whether they can carry guards Ron Saul (knee) and Fred Dean (arm operation) much longer, or place them on injured reserve. Dean, who began camp as a starter, may not be ready until midseason.
Another top-heavy position is linebacker, where Farley Bell, last year's No. 5 pick who sat out the season, has been slumping and free agent Quentin Lowry has leg problems that make him an injured reserve candidate.
Gibbs likewise could be forced to make an earlier-than-desired decision about his punters, where Mike Connell is holding off Mike Kirkland.
The Redskins were hoping that obtaining Cook would turn out to be a masterful personnel stroke. Since the trade was conditional, they really were not risking anything if he failed. And if he made the squad, a ninth-round pick would have been a small cost, especially if he bolstered what had been a troubled position entering the preseason.
"We obviously felt like he could make it when we traded for him," said Gibbs, "but I'm not really disappointed. The whole idea is to go with the people who play better."
Cook was brought in to compete for Coy Bacon's starting right end position, even though he had been a left end at Baltimore, where he was a member of the Sack Pack. Bacon, however, has played strongly the last two weeks and Cook stood still.
"Fred played hard against Baltimore, but he just didn't produce much," said Petitbon. "We couldn't wait any longer to see if he would get better. Time just ran out."
If Cook had shown an ability to defense the run, he conceivably could have wound up starting on the early downs at either end, with Bacon and rookie Dexter Manley coming in on passing situations.
"I know I'm not playing well," Cook said last week, "and I'm just thankful the coaches have had patience with me. I didn't report in the best condition and I hadn't realized how much my last years in Baltimore took out of me."
Said Gibbs: "I think Freddie probably will catch on with someone else who has a place for him. We just thought it was time to go in another direction."
With the cutting of Kennedy, the Redskins are left with seven of the 12 players drafted by General Manager Bobby Beathard in April. Barring injury complications, all seven -- Mark May, Russ Grimm, Tom Flick, Manley, Larry Kubin, Brown and Darryl Grant -- have an outstanding chance of surviving the last roster cut next Monday.