George Rogers, who arrived at Redskin Park yesterday saying that becoming a Washington Redskin "is just like a change of life to me," is expected to have an equal shot at becoming the team's top running back this season, Coach Joe Gibbs said.
"How are we going to handle (John Riggins and Rogers)?" Gibbs said, echoing a question at an afternoon news conference. "If they're both there (Riggins, 35, is expected to make a decision this summer on retirement), we'll flat let them compete for the job. As I told George, it's all based on competition."
The Redskins were positively giddy yesterday at the official announcement of their acquisition of Rogers for the Redskins' top pick (24th overall) in Tuesday's draft. It's deal that most NFL observers thought heavily favored Washington.
The Redskins also obtained the Saints' fifth-, 10th- and 11th-round picks in the draft. The Redskins will have a total of 11 picks next week, but only two in the first five rounds -- their own in the second, and the Saints' in the fifth.
"I just can't describe to you how happy we are to have George Rogers a Redskin," General Manager Bobby Beathard said.
"He's a heck of a back, a great athlete and also a great guy," said Gibbs, who announced that, in the past three days, the Redskins spoke with about 25 of Rogers' former teammates and coaches to check his background.
"The most impressive thing to me was that almost everyone started out by saying, 'George is a great guy,' " Gibbs said.
The trade is contingent on Rogers' successful completion of a physical, which will not include a urinalysis, Beathard said, in accordance with team policy. Rogers will take the physical at the Redskins' minicamp next month, Beathard said.
In July 1982, after an outstanding rookie season in which he led the league with 1,674 yards, Rogers admitted he used cocaine during that season, saying he "made a mistake and it will never happen again."
The Redskins believe him, and plan no test to check him.
"We're convinced that '81-82 is in the past," Gibbs said. "Our premise here is we don't have to test, that we get the right kind of person, that if we made the wrong decision, it doesn't have to show up in testing."
However, Gibbs did say he "reserved the right" to test a player, which is allowed once during the regular season under the players' collective bargaining agreement.
Rogers, 26, said he would undergo any tests.
"I promised I wouldn't do it (use drugs) again, and I haven't," he said after the news conference. "That's four years ago. I made a mistake and it won't happen again. What's in the past is going to stay in the past."
Rogers, who has gained 4,267 yards in four NFL seasons, couldn't have been in a happier mood as he met the media, holding his new No. 38 jersey high for photographers.
"I can't believe this has happened," he said. "In New Orleans, they just didn't play me, and it was killing me. I knew my days were numbered there. They just had too many backs.
"Coming here is going to help me so much as far as my career is concerned. I wish I would have come here from the start."
Rogers, whose middle name, appropriately enough, is Washington, got caught in a traffic jam in the Saints' backfield. They had a running back for each victory in 1984: seven backs, seven wins.
The key acquisition was Earl Campbell, who rushed just 50 times for 190 yards compared to Rogers' 239 carries for 914 yards, but was expected to start this season for Bum Phillips, his longtime coach of the Houston Oilers.
"I kind of figured with Earl coming to New Orleans, they can't play him and me at the same time," Rogers said. He didn't ask to be traded, he said, but he "wanted something to happen.
"For me, 914 yards just isn't enough," Rogers said. "My friends said, 'Yeah, but you're getting paid.' I said, 'That ain't enough.' "
In addition to the Redskins, Seattle, Kansas City and Miami were interested in Rogers, Beathard said. Although sources said the trade was completed earlier in the week, Beathard said it was not finalized until two hours before the official announcement.
The match with the Redskins seemed to be best for Rogers. The 1980 Heisman Trophy winner at South Carolina and first pick in the NFL draft of '81, Rogers is a back who can "knock people back" inside the 20-yard line, Gibbs said, and he likes that.
He also believes Rogers, primarily a tailback in New Orleans, will adapt well to the Redskins' one-back style.
"My experience in the past has been that putting a tailback strictly at fullback . . . you get better production out of him," Gibbs said, citing another Redskins running back, Joe Washington.
In many ways, Rogers, at 6 feet 2 and 228 pounds the same height and 12 pounds lighter than Riggins, is expected to play the same role as Riggins. In his 13th NFL season, Riggins gained 1,239 yards, despite playing -- and occasionally not playing -- with a bad back.
Whenever Redskins coaches have talked with Riggins, Gibbs told the news conference, he would ask about possible running back trades.
"How have things been coming on getting somebody else?" Riggins would ask. "How are we doing? Are we going to get anybody?"
Earlier this week, running back coach Don Breaux called Riggins, and Riggins again asked if the Redskins were making progress.
Now, Gibbs wants Breaux to call Riggins again.
"We were joking that we want Coach Breaux to ask him, 'Well, is that enough?' "
Gibbs laughed, then looked Rogers in the eye and slapped him on the back.
Then he said, "We may have overdone it."