Even without a first-round pick, the Washington Redskins yesterday got the one player they said they really wanted. But they had to pay quite a price.
The Redskins chose San Diego State cornerback Tory Nixon with the 33rd selection in the NFL draft after completing a last-minute trade that sent veteran running back Joe Washington, who gained 2,070 yards rushing and another 1,220 receiving in four seasons here, to Atlanta.
The Redskins also gave up their second-round pick this year and first-round 1986 pick for the Falcons' second-round pick this year (with which they selected Nixon) and second- and sixth-round choices in 1986. The Redskins later traded that sixth-round choice for a 1985 seventh-round pick.
"We hate to lose a player like Joe Washington," General Manager Bobby Beathard said moments after the trade was completed in the early afternoon. "But we got a real fine corner guy in Tory Nixon." The Redskins may find themselves in a fight to sign him, however. The Tampa Bay Bandits are interested in Nixon, according to Tim Ruskell, the U.S. Football League team's director of scouting.
"He is one of the top defensive backs in the nation. He can play corner or safety. He is the consummate defensive back," Ruskell said by phone.
He said the Bandits have their eyes on "five or six" defensive backs, including Nixon, the second player chosen in the USFL draft. "But it's not going to be serious until we determine he's the one." That would be sometime next week, Ruskell said.
Larry Muno, Nixon's agent, said Nixon wants to play for the Redskins.
"But if it's an incredibly high offer and we can secure the personal guarantees, we'd have to listen (to the Bandits)," Muno said. "It doesn't surprise me that they're interested," Beathard said. "But we're going to get him."
After waiting three rounds and about five hours for their second choice, the Redskins selected Hawaii quarterback Raphel Cherry -- "a very tough kid, a special teams guy," Beathard said -- in the fifth round. Cherry, 6 feet and 200 pounds, is expected to be tried as a running back, kick returner and defensive back, Beathard said.
In the sixth round, the Redskins took Danzell Lee, a 6-2, 234-pound tight end from Lamar. "He's quite a bit different from any of our other tight ends," Beathard said. "He has good hands, he can get deep . . . We also see him on special teams."
The Redskins had two seventh-round picks: kick returner Jamie Harris of Oklahoma State (5-6 1/2, 158 pounds), and fullback Lionel Vital of Nicholls State (5-9, 192).
In the eighth round, the Redskins selected Barry Wilburn, a 6-1, 188-pound safety from Mississippi, and in the ninth round they picked Mitch Geier, a 6-4 170-pound safety from Troy State. The 10th-round pick was Terry Orr, 6-3 227-pound fullback from Texas. The Redskins had two picks in the 11th and their first selection was Raleigh McKenzie, a 6-1, 270-pound guard from Tennessee; the other was Garry Kimble, a 5-10 1/2, 185-pound cornerback from Sam Houston State. In the 12th round, they chose defensive tackle Dean Hamel, 6-3, 275 pounds, from Tulsa, and Bryant Winn, a 6-3, 231-pound linebacker from Houston.
But the trade for Nixon was the talk of the day. The swapping of this year's second-round picks jumped the Redskins 18 spots. From their original position, picking 51st overall, the Redskins felt they could not get Nixon, whom Beathard rated as one of the top 28 players in the draft. They traded their first-round pick to New Orleans last week to obtain running back George Rogers.
"We did this to get (Nixon)," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "He's super-smart . . . really an intelligent guy . . . really polished at corner."
The trade of Washington's first pick in 1986 and Atlanta's second may mean a shift of only a few spots, if form holds and the Falcons have a poor season and the Redskins a good one.
The Redskins could not have obtained the 33rd pick without giving up Washington, a source said. Atlanta Coach Dan Henning, a former Redskins assistant, would not complete the trade unless Washington was included. Faced with that demand, the Redskins asked for Atlanta's sixth-round choice in 1986, and the deal was completed.
"It got kind of hectic," Gibbs said. "Thirteen minutes, 14 minutes . . . we were almost out of time." (In the first two rounds, teams are allotted 15 minutes per selection, five minutes in rounds three to 12.)
The Redskins did not have time to call Washington before the trade, but the running back recently told the Redskins that if he wasn't going to play here, he wanted to be traded.
"I'm excited about it," Washington told a reporter in Atlanta. "If there's any place I want to be, it's with Dan Henning. I like his game plan."
Clearly, the acquisition of Rogers last week shoved Washington into the background. And Gibbs figured Washington, an eight-year veteran who missed nine games with a knee injury last season, wouldn't like that.
"I know Joe," Gibbs said. "I know Joe wants to play . . . Joe's the kind of guy who's not happy taking a lesser role. If he didn't play, he would have gotten upset."
Enter Nixon, 23, who said he expected to be picked by Chicago in the first round. Four defensive backs -- Wisconsin's Richard Johnson (Houston), Memphis State's Derrick Burroughs (Buffalo), Texas' Jerry Gray (Los Angeles Rams) and Purdue's Don Anderson (Indianapolis) -- were chosen ahead of him. "I was a little bit surprised," Nixon, who is 5-11 and weighs 172 pounds, said from his dormitory room in San Diego. "I thought I was rated ahead of (Anderson). It's fine with me, though. He can go to Indianapolis."
Nixon is considered a very quick, heady player and didn't go to college to play football. After breaking his ankle while playing football his senior year of high school in Phoenix, Nixon was not recruited and decided to walk on to the University of Arizona's basketball team without a scholarship. He soon transferred to Phoenix Community College, where he played cornerback and intercepted 11 passes in two seasons.
In 1983, he transferred to San Diego State, just as Gibbs had done two decades before, where he had nine interceptions in two years, including a 97-yard touchdown return against Air Force last season. "I wanted to go to San Diego State because I knew I'd face a lot of good passing teams," Nixon said.
Nixon's cornerback pedigree is superb. He comes from a school that specializes in defensive backs. Willie Buchanon, Nate Wright, Monte Jackson, Joe Lavender and Vernon Dean, among others, went there.
The Redskins have two other young cornerbacks -- Dean and Darrell Green. Tt's possible one might move to safety, although Gibbs, when asked if Dean would move, said no change was planned. The coaches do consider Nixon versatile enough to move.
"My only feeling is you never have enough cornerbacks," the assistant head coach, Richie Petitbon, said.