This time, cutdown date came easily for the Washington Redskins. Even Coach Joe Gibbs, who faces roster cuts with the same icy intensity he might show before playing the Dallas Cowboys, managed a smile today.
The standard cut day trauma was averted today because management officials of each of the league's 28 teams voted in St. Louis this afternoon to increase league rosters from 45 players to 49 players (including a four-man inactive list). Consequently, teams had to cut rosters to 70 players today, instead of 60, which follows the same pattern of last year when there also were 49-man rosters. Next Tuesday, the rosters must be cut to 60, instead of the 50 scheduled before the increase.
So, as simple as sending John Riggins around the left side, the Redskins reached the 70-man limit by placing rookie linebacker Steve Booker (sprained left ankle) on the injured reserve list and by placing strong safety Tony Peters on a special reserve list with Commissioner Pete Rozelle's permission. Peters was indicted on a cocaine traficking charge and is on a paid leave of absence, preparing his legal defense.
And that was that.
"I think the 49-man roster is good for everybody," Gibbs said after this afternoon's practice. "Good for the players, good for the NFL. It makes for a better product."
The Redskins are strong proponents of the expanded roster because, most simply, they are a team of specialized role players. "You take a team with 10 Pro Bowl guys," Gibbs said, "and a 45-man roster would make them a dominant force. A 49-man roster makes things more creative."
"A 45-man roster would mean we would have to use more starters on special teams," said Wayne Sevier, special teams coach. "Last year, (center) Jeff Bostic was the only starter we used on special teams. He did the deep snaps. A 49-man roster means we can have a team with our own little identity, without using starters."
NFL teams hope to make one more alteration in the new roster of 45 active players and four inactive players, who can be activated on a week-to-week basis: they want to make all 49 players active.
In order to do so, the NFL Players Association must consent. The collective bargaining agreement signed after last year's players strike specifically states that rosters be set at 45 players with the possibility of clubs agreeing to add an inactive list.
"There would be no argument from us (NFLPA) about activating all 49 players; that's for sure," said free safety Mark Murphy, Redskins player representative. "That would be 112 more jobs. Obviously, it would be great for the players and it would improve the play in the game."
So on a cut day where frowns and suitcases usually tarnish the environs, players such as Pete Cronan and Stuart Anderson were smiling away. Cronan and Anderson are two linebackers whose professional livelihood depends, most definitively, on their special teams' performances.
In those competitive situations, where two players vie for the same position, the player who is the superior special teams man will usually get the advantage. And the special teams players often inhabit roster spots Nos. 46, 47, 48 and 49.
"Damn right I'm happy; this is the best thing that could have ever happened to me," said Anderson, a second-year player from the University of Virginia. Anderson has been getting rave reports throughout camp for his play at linebacker and on the special teams.
Cronan, a seven-year veteran, is the Redskins' descendant of such players as Rusty Tillman and Dallas Hickman. He is the 28-year-old special teams captain known as "Cronan the Barbarian," whose passion is fury and who says, "You go half-speed out there, they'll carry you off. I love to see a timid look in another guy's eyes. It's not the eye of the tiger. It's the eye of the butterfly.
"I think this (roster expansion) will help me. It will help all borderline players," Cronan said. "I believe it was George Allen who stated many years ago that special teams win you three games a year. People said he was full of bull. Then he proved it. All of a sudden, teams started putting emphasis on special teams . . .This is an age of specialization."
It's also a time when uncertain spots on the Redskins roster begin to crystallize. These are nine or 10 roster spots that are still unclear because of competition, injury, absence or a combination of these reasons.
At linebacker, for instance, Cronan and Anderson seem to be in near possession of the final two spots, ahead of rookie Geff Gandy and third-year veteran Quentin Lowry.
On the defensive line, the Redskins will likely keep seven players, possibly eight, according to coaches. Left end Todd Liebenstein grows more entrenched each day as the seventh lineman.
If the Redskins keep eight linemen, says Richie Petitbon, coach of the defense, the battle will rage for that spot between end Mat Mendenhall and tackle Pat Ogrin. If he wins that battle, Mendenhall would be the fifth defensive end on the roster. It seems unlikely the Redskins will keep more than four ends.
"I'm holding my breath," said Ogrin, who ranks behind tackles Perry Brooks, Dave Butz and Darryl Grant. "The last two years, I've been the fourth tackle and been cut in camp."
At least today, anyway, such worries were averted.
"(The expanded roster) just makes things a whole lot easier for us," Gibbs said.
Injury report: rookie tackle Bob Winckler suffered a sprain of his cervical spine during this morning's practice. His neck was placed in a brace. X-rays proved negative. Winckler is listed day-to-day. Offensive guard Mark May worked out today and, according to trainer Bubba Tyer, there was no swelling in his right triceps, which is a good sign. Meanwhile, wide receiver Art Monk, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee against Cincinnati last Friday, has had the leg in a splint. More intensive treatment will begin next week, Tyer said. After arthroscopic knee surgery, rookie cornerback Darryl Smith, out of the University of Virginia, is on injured reserve.