"We can't afford to sit on our laurels . . . We aren't finished building yet. We need to always keep that in mind." --Joe Gibbs, Jan. 31, 1983
The first indication of how strenuously the Redskins intend to follow Joe Gibbs' post-Super Bowl declaration will come Tuesday during the marathon National Football League draft.
The champion Redskins were built in large part on the draft-day aggressiveness of General Manager Bobby Beathard, who has been highly successful dealing away players or choices to stockpile additional picks. Those extra selections have turned out to be such players as Russ Grimm and Dexter Manley.
Yet it has been strangely silent these past weeks at Redskin Park. Beathard has made no trades. He also is not predicting any will be made on Tuesday, though he characteristically is closed-mouthed about such matters.
Is Washington about to stand pat after its Super Bowl triumph, even though every Redskin official acknowledges it came in the midst of an on-going rebuilding program?
On one hand, Gibbs and Beathard say they want to stay aggressive on and off the field. They say it would be a mistake to think this team is set, that it doesn't need new talent. Yet they also fret about team chemistry, about building a loyal Redskin family, about how an ill-timed trade involving a veteran player could throw things out of whack.
Ever since Gibbs was named coach two years ago, Beathard's trading pace, especially involving veteran players, has slowed appreciably. But Beathard still has been able to give away a high choice for a number of lower picks. Now, he says, other teams are more reluctant to get into this bartering game with the Redskins, a sure sign of Beathard's successful gamesmanship.
It seems unlikely that any veterans will be traded by Tuesday, though Gibbs said last week that at least two reserves "have come to me and asked if we could trade them since they didn't think they had a chance to make the starting lineup. But I won't name them." One of the players probably is safety Curtis Jordan, who is playing behind Mark Murphy. But dealing away Jordan is not going to bring many draft choices.
The Redskins probably will begin the draft with only eight picks, once again the fewest of any team in the league. The Redskins do have first-, second- and third-round selections for the first time since 1967. And this is only their third No. 1 choice in 15 years.
Still, as the draft grinds on, Beathard may just get itchy enough to make a deal similar to last year's with New Orleans. In that one, the Redskins gave up their 1983 No. 4 choice for five selections in the 1982 draft (tackle Ralph Warthen, safety Ken Coffey, defensive end Harold Smith, kicker Dan Miller, tackle Donald Laster). Coffey and Laster, both still with the team, are promising prospects. Miller is now Baltimore's kicker.
Beathard would prefer to work a deal to get back fourth- and fifth-round picks in this draft. No. 4 went to New Orleans and No. 5 to Pittsburgh for quarterback Mike Kruczek, one of Beathard's worst trades. Washington also is without No. 11 (traded to San Diego for since-cut Gregg McCrary) and No. 12 (traded to the New York Giants for since-cut Kevin Turner).
"I'd like the fourth and fifth picks, no question," Beathard said. "There are a lot of good players out there and we'd like a shot at them. But it would be tough to pull off."
One way to do it would be to once again mortgage part of the Redskins' draft future by using a high 1984 or 1985 selection (say, No. 2 or No. 3) in exchange for the fourth and fifth this year. It's a technique Beathard has used before with success.
Entering the draft, the Redskins have three major needs: cornerback, defensive line and running back. But picking 28th and last in each round--their reward for winning the Super Bowl--makes it almost impossible to guess who will be available.
Beathard still is sticking to his long-held philosophy of taking the highest-rated player left on the board and paying very little attention to position.
Still, the Redskins would like a couple of cornerbacks to go with last year's rookie standout, Vernon Dean. With questions about Joe Washington's knees (he had offseason surgery on both) and with that position showing age (John Riggins is 33, Washington 28 and Wilbur Jackson 31), they want to develop a young back.
They also want a pass-rushing defensive end to compete for Mat Mendenhall's starting spot. Veteran Tony McGee took Mendenhall's place in pass-rushing situations last year, and the team also will take a good look at improving Todd Liebenstein (No. 4, 1982).
Matters are complicated a bit by the number of the Redskins' unsigned free agents (14). Both attorney Rick Bennett, who represents kick returner Mike Nelms, and Beathard say they don't know how the team will ever reach an agreement with the three-time all-pro, who wants a substantial raise over his $125,000 salary. And Beathard has yet to receive a proposal from agent Howard Slusher, who represents cornerback Jeris White. White sat out most of 1981 training camp over a contract dispute.
"You can't go into the draft thinking about whether you'll sign these people or not," Beathard said. "Things always look bad, but somehow we always manage to come to terms eventually."