The Washington Redskins, who have been searching for an established young running back for the past four months, have obtained George Rogers of the New Orleans Saints in exchange for the Redskins' first pick in next Tuesday's National Football League draft, sources said yesterday.
In addition, the deal calls for the Saints to send their fifth-, 10th- and 11th-round picks in the draft to the Redskins. The Redskins' first-round pick is the 24th overall.
The trade was agreed upon Tuesday, sources said, pending Rogers' successful completion of a physical. The Redskins and Saints had planned to announce the trade on draft day, sources said.
Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard and Coach Joe Gibbs could not be reached for comment last night. And Pat Peppler, the Saints' director of football operations, refused to confirm the trade. No other Saints officials could be reached for comment.
The addition of Rogers, a four-year NFL veteran who won the 1980 Heisman Trophy, would give the Redskins exactly what they want -- security at a position that has produced nothing but question marks in the offseason.
Rogers, 26, who is 6 feet 2 and weighs 229 pounds, is expected to fill one of two roles for the Redskins this season. If 13-year veteran John Riggins retires, Rogers, who has gained 4,267 yards in the NFL, would be expected to replace him. If Riggins returns, Rogers probably would assume a key reserve role.
Beathard said earlier in the week that "the type of running back we're looking for is the kind of guy who will give John Riggins a break."
Until Tuesday, Beathard was hoping to find that player in the draft. But he was not encouraged by the prospects.
"There is a scarcity of super running backs in this year's draft," he said. "This is not a year with great running backs, but good running backs."
That was why he continued to pursue a trade. He has called every NFL team since January, many more than once, to check on trade prospects at running back.
Riggins, 35, was bothered by a back injury most of last season, during which he gained 1,239 yards. All indications are he will not make up his mind on his future until the Redskins' training camp in July and August.
It was uncertain last night if the acquisition of Rogers would affect Riggins' plans. But the trade does add considerable depth to the Redskin backfield of Riggins, eight-year veteran Joe Washington (who missed nine games with a knee injury last season) and second-year man Keith Griffin.
The Redskins did not have to give up much for Rogers, leading to speculation that the Saints were trying to get rid of him.
Jack Mills, Rogers' agent, said yesterday that "four or five teams were talking seriously" to the Saints about Rogers.
Last season, New Orleans Coach Bum Phillips traded for Earl Campbell, whom Phillips coached in Houston, and it became apparent that Campbell, not Rogers, was going to be the leading contender for playing time this season, according to those close to the New Orleans situation.
Last year, Rogers and Campbell shared playing time during a 7-9 season. Rogers gained 914 yards on 239 carries for a 3.8 average, the same as Riggins. But Rogers was held to two touchdowns, both of which were scored in the first game of the season.
Rogers, the Saints' top draft choice in 1981 out of South Carolina, burst into the league with a superb rookie season. He gained 1,674 yards on 378 carries in 1981 to lead the NFL in rushing and break the league's rookie rushing record. He won the league's offensive rookie of the year award and was named to the Pro Bowl. He also scored 13 touchdowns, a team record.
His totals fell drastically during 1982 (122 rushes for 535 yards), the year of the players' strike and a year of personal hardship for Rogers.
In July 1982, he admitted he used cocaine during his rookie year, saying he "made a mistake and it will never happen again."
He had undergone three days of tests and treatment at the Palm Beach Institute, a drug-treatment clinic in Florida, prior to that news conference. Tests showed there was no evidence of any drug use since January 1982.
He was linked to drug use when he testified before a grand jury investigating charges of drug trafficking against former Saints running back Mike Strachan.
"I'm sorry for what I did," Rogers said at the July 1982 news conference. No criminal charges were brought against him.
As Rogers was one of the running backs the Redskins have had their eyes on for some time, Beathard was familiar with this issue.
"To do anything (make a trade) with anybody, we will make a thorough check," he said earlier. "There are no problems (with Rogers)."
Despite torn knee ligaments that kept him out of three games in 1983, he gained 1,144 yards on 256 carries for a 4.5 average, his best single-season average in his four-year career.
Also used as a receiver out of the backfield, he has caught 44 passes for 292 yards.
The Redskins are left with two draft selections in the first five rounds -- a second-round pick (where the Redskins will pick the 51st player overall) and the fifth-round pick obtained from the Saints.
The Redskins' third-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks already have been traded. The third-round pick went to Houston for a fourth-round pick in 1984, with which the Redskins chose running back Jimmy Smith. The fourth-round pick went to the Raiders for wide receiver Calvin Muhammad; the fifth-round pick went to Pittsburgh for lineman Rick Donnalley.