The Redskins' playoff chances are so slim that it would be better for Coach Joe Gibbs if somebody cut the final thread before Sunday's game with the Rams in Anaheim. Let the New York Giants win Saturday, or the Detroit Lions either win early Sunday or make the loss to Tampa Bay close enough so Washington has to beat Los Angeles by more than 90 points to keep the NFL's postseason resuscitator pumping.

Gibbs never would utter that heresy. Possibly, he would strangle any such thoughts that dared enter his mind. But a miracle would not be in his best interest just now. If you have one, Joe, button it inside a back pocket for another year. The coach before you got fired for achieving too much too soon.

Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke found a great deal to admire in the man he hired to replace Jack Pardee and said so the other day. Cooke and the rest of us have learned that Gibbs does not panic easily, seems rigid in the grand scheme of running a team and flexible in the weekly scheme of how it runs. He suffers a Coy Bacon only so long, but changes offensive gears on the fly.

We know that Gibbs wants deeply to win and sense that he knows how to win. What we still haven't determined, after his two-plus years here, is just how much the owner wants the Redskins to win. Some answers will pop up before the first crocus.

"I honestly believe, given time, we can become a truly dominant force in the NFL," Cooke told The Washington Post's Paul Attner. A Cooke can alter football time, hurry it up by spending enough money the right way, working a two-minute drill with his wallet. Cooke can make the team a genuine playoff contender next year in two ways, one of which he discussed in public. League rules assure his silence on the other.

It was fascinating that Cooke should say: "If I could buy a No. 1 (draft choice), I would."

Maybe he's dickering.

Let's hope he is.

I've always thought Joe Theismann would complete a post pattern on Neptune or Ed Garvey and Tex Schramm would slip off to Camp David and negotiate a fair NFL labor settlement on time before owners sold No. 1 draft choices for money. A man would sooner sell his first born than his first-rounder.

Perhaps not. Colts owner Robert Irsay did say he'd been offered $2.5 million for his No. 1, which very likely will be the top stud-hoss in the whole draft. Who would have been so bold? Or it may have been more Irsay nonsense. The man needs cash, but Colt fans surely would stuff him inside a crab cake if he let anything that valuable go without getting the equivalent in players back.

Irsay's pretty close to a football fool, though.

Redskin faithful should not be too giddy about the owner whipping off thousand-dollar bills, or however such matters are handled by NFL gentlemen, for the rights to some collegiate franchise-turner. Cooke likes to strut as much as any owner; he did not get to be one by investing heavily in anything that did not eventually generate more than it cost.

Cooke couldn't make anything on such a No. 1-for-cash deal. He couldn't sell another ticket, get another penny in regular-season television money. Psychic income has its price.

We can hope otherwise, but assume, until it happens, that Cooke was acting the way all of us sometimes do when we want to establish credibility without paying the price. We say: "If I could buy that (new car, boat, diamond), I would." We hope whoever we're trying to impress responds: "There, there. I know you can't afford it. So nice of you to let us know you care."

Cooke could buy Montana.

He'd be better off getting Bruce Clark.

Clark is the defensive lineman who opted for Canada after his Penn State career and who many believe will be the strongest man in the NFL when he signs a rookie contract before next season. Apparently, the Packers, who drafted him two years ago, can get Clark by matching the best other NFL offer.

Saying more about Clark than Ken Beatrice would ("a hair under 6 . . . ") is defined as tampering by the NFL. But if Clark's price, by hook or by Cooke, isn't in seven figures, Garvey's right: the owners talk about winning but don't go out on a spending limb to achieve it.

Not that Cooke won't be parting with more than a few pennies just to keep peace on the team. His quarterback, Theismann, wants a contract much higher than the estimated $215,000 one that has expired and his part-time fullback, John Riggins, wants much more than $300,000 to tote that ball.

How Cooke, through General Manager Bobby Beathard, handles the Theismann negotiations will be intriguing. How quickly and amicably will it be handled? Neither man, after all, has much leverage. Theismann's trade value is not nearly what he thinks it is, and the idea of the Redskins opening next season with young Tom Flick at quarterback seems ludicrous.

Technically, Theismann will be a free agent Feb. 1. But if nobody bid heavily for Vince Ferragamo after he took the Rams to the Super Bowl and for Walter Payton or Too Tall Jones in their prime, Theismann will not even get the attention he deserves, let alone what he believes he merits.

Cooke realizes that Gibbs wants Riggins back next year, and that the vocal majority in RFK Stadium does, also. Many devoted Redskin watchers, possibly even Riggins, have been astonished at how warmly he has been received after walking out on the team and missing last season.

If Gibbs chooses to use a one-back offense again, either Riggins or a healthy Wilbur Jackson presumably would be excess, possibly trade bait to bring in a wide receiver or a plug for the defense.

The coach is riveted to films of the Youngbloods, of course, to a game that could be relatively meaningless by kickoff. Only owners dare take a longer look these NFL days.