The Redskins used their first pick in yesterday's NFL draft to select 5-foot-9 cornerback Darrell Green, whose coverage ability and kick returning skills indirectly could help settle difficult contract negotiations with two of the team's veteran free agents, cornerback Jeris White and return man Mike Nelms.
Starting with the selection of Green, a standout at Texas A&I and a world-class sprinter, Washington used its first three picks to fill its most obvious needs. In the second round, the Redskins took running back Richard Williams of Memphis State and on the third, defensive end Charles Mann of Nevada-Reno.
None of the players is famous. But General Manager Bobby Beathard said he was satisfied that the Redskins were successful despite having the last pick in each of the early rounds and not having fourth- and fifth-round selections.
"In the case of both Green and Williams, the players we wanted were there," Beathard said. "At one point, we had considered taking (Williams) in the first round if Green wasn't there, then we felt if we could get him on the second, we'd be happy."
Green, who has run the fastest 100 meters in the United States this year (10.08), is a well-regarded prospect who will be the fastest and quickest player on the team. His major drawback is lack of size. He weighs only 170 pounds.
The Redskins liked him so much they spurned two trade offers, including one in which the Colts would have swapped their first and second 1984 picks for Washington's first-round 1983 pick.
The Redskins made a surprise selection in round seven, choosing running back Kelvin Bryant of the Philadelphia Stars, one of the U.S. Football League's top rushers.
"There was no one that we thought was a lock-cinch to make our club in that round," Beathard explained. "It was a shot in the dark. We won't worry about it and we'll see what happens."
The New England Patriots were also interested in Bryant. Afterward, Beathard said they offered the Redskins two 12th-round picks for him, although Beathard said he understands Bryant has a five-year personal services contract with the Stars.
In drafting Williams and Mann, Beathard typically went against the prevailing ratings and selected them higher than they had been projected.
Williams (6-0, 217) barely gained 1,000 yards in four years at Memphis State. But the Redskins were impressed with his strength, quick start and ability to catch passes. He also broke his left leg in 1980 and '81, which hindered his progress, although he said yesterday, "I've forgotten about that. I started all the games last season."
Williams said he did not expect problems reaching contract agreement with the Redskins, and that it would be "a challenge to show how hard I can work to fit in" on a Super Bowl team.
"We felt exposed at running back," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We could be very strong there next year or very weak, depending on what happens with Joe Washington and Wilbur Jackson." Washington is coming off two knee operations and Jackson is a free agent not close to re-signing.
Mann was impressive in a number of late scouting workouts and his stock rose considerably the last month. He played part of his career as a linebacker and Beathard describes him as a "late bloomer." But at 6 feet 6, 245 pounds, he has the size and quickness that could make him a pass-rush specialist. The Redskins are looking for a youngster to take over eventually for veteran Tony McGee as a pass rusher.
In two recent drafts, Beathard has picked defensive ends in early rounds. He selected Mat Mendenhall, now a starter, in the second round of the 1980 draft and Todd Liebenstein in the fourth round last year. Liebenstein will be a legitimate candidate for more playing time this season.
Still, most of the interest in yesterday's decision-making by the Redskins centered around Green, only Washington's third first-round pick in 15 years.
Beathard maintained that Green was chosen first as a cornerback and second as a kick returner. But there is no doubt the Redskins feel they are better protected now in both areas if White and Nelms become prolonged holdouts.
Nelms and the Redskins are far apart in negotiations and both sides say they don't know if he can be re-signed. There is also concern within the organization that Nelms, 28, is on the downside of his career as a return man, although he has gone to the Pro Bowl the last three years. The Redskins could also trade Nelms, although Gibbs is vehemently opposed to dealing off members of the Super Bowl roster.
White, 30, held out during the entire 1981 training camp before signing. The Redskins are expecting another difficult time settling with him this spring.
Wayne Sevier, the special teams coach, likens Green to "a Terry Metcalf-type return man. He's that kind of elusive, quick guy. But this guy has so much speed. He's too fast to time."
Green will take over Joe Lavender's role as nickel back and will compete with White for a starting spot opposite last year's rookie standout, Vernon Dean. He also will compete with Nelms for the return job.
"I'm not concerned about my size," Green said. "I'll let other people worry about that.
Despite his sprinting ability, Green said he will sign a pro contract and bypass a chance at the 1984 Olympics. He said he would like to compete in the NCAA division I and II track meets this spring--he won both the 100 and 200 in Division II last year. He had a wind-aided time of 9.9 in the 100 meters, which would have been a world record under allowable conditions.
As a freshman, Green played behind ex-Redskin cornerback Ray Waddy. He said he realized late yesterday through phone calls with Beathard that the Redskins were interested in him, and wanted to select him in the first round.
"When it got to the 27th pick, I said to myself that I had faith in Mr. Beathard and he said he would pick me, so I knew he would," said Green, who listened to the draft with his brother.
In the sixth round, Beathard traded a 1984 fifth-round pick to gain an extra pick in this year's sixth. He used that selection to take Bob Winckler, a 6-4, 290-pound offensive tackle from Wisconsin. He used the Redskins' sixth-round choice to take quarterback Babe Laufenberg of Indiana, a two-year starter who also made college stops at Stanford and Missouri.
Other Redskins' selections: in round eight, Todd Hallstrom, Minnesota, 6-5, 265-pound offensive tackle-guard; in round nine, Marcus Gilbert, running back, TCU, 5-11, 185, and in round 10, Geff Gandy, Baylor, 6-1, 230, linebacker.