It always has been Joe Washington's way to sidestep controversy, even if it means he is doing a slow burn inside.

Tuesday, the Redskins traded Washington, their nimble veteran running back, to the Atlanta Falcons for a second-round draft pick that enabled them to select cornerback Tory Nixon from San Diego State. The Redskins also traded their first-round pick in the 1986 draft and received the Falcons' second- and sixth-round picks.

Now, typically, Washington is seething.

"I'm not bitter about being traded, but I am bitter about a lot of things that I don't really care to go into," Washington said yesterday. "The Redskins are a good organization; they have treated me well and the fans have been great. But I have a few complaints and Coach Gibbs and the rest of them know what they are. I don't need to air that now."

Washington, who will turn 32 in September, has had several knee injuries during his eight-year professional career. The highlights came in 1979 when he caught 82 passes and ran for nearly 900 yards for the Baltimore Colts and then in 1981 when he was named the Redskins' most valuable player after rushing for 916 yards and catching 70 passes.

However, there were few highlights for Washington last season, when another knee injury forced him to miss nine games. He ran just 56 times and caught only 13 passes.

Now, Washington says his knee is fine and he feels he could play three more years "if I wanted to."

"The question with me has always been, 'Can he come back?' Well, he always has," Washington said.

"In other folks' circumstances, if they had a situation where they were injured, they were always given the chance to come back. I guess I'm a little disgusted with that. Other guys have missed whole seasons themselves and haven't been able to come back. I have been able to do it.

"(The Redskins) decided I was expendable. I wouldn't say I'm bitter, but I am disappointed in them."

General Manager Bobby Beathard responded to Washington's remarks by saying, "I still stand by what I've said. I thought that one of the best trades we've made since I've been here was to get Joe Washington in 1981 (for a second-round draft pick). We felt he was such a valuable part of our team . . . It was a tough decision to make. We felt that we had to go with a younger guy."

Washington said he has talked with Atlanta Coach Dan Henning, a former Redskins assistant who deploys a one-back offense that is similar to the Redskins'. With William Andrews not expected to return from his knee injury until late in the season (there is also the possibility Andrews won't play again, team doctors have said), Gerald Riggs is the Falcons' leading runner.

"I'll be doing basically the same things in Atlanta that I've done here. I'm sure I'll be put in motion. I'll block in the backfield, without being a sitting target. You know, second and long and third and long," said Washington. Henning already has talked of how Washington also will be a valued asset as a team leader.

Washington said he "suspected" he might be traded. The recent acquisition of running back George Rogers did not affect him, Washington figured, "because George Rogers doesn't do the same type of thing that Joe Washington does.

"When I checked with my phone answering service (on draft day), I heard that Coach Gibbs had called," Washington said. "I figured that more than likely he had called to say I had been traded. I mean I was acquired in a trade on a draft day, too, right?"

Washington said he returned Gibbs' call, but the coach was not at his office. He spoke to team strength coach Dan Riley. "Dan said, 'Haven't you heard?' " Washington recalled. " 'You've been traded to Atlanta.' "

Beathard, who said he would not have traded Washington to a team that did not play its home games on the grass surface that Washington loves, said the Redskins tried to notify Washington as soon as the trade was made Tuesday.

"We certainly did try to get a hold of him. That part of the deal was made with 25 seconds left on the clock," Beathard said. "It was impossible to stop the clock and call Joe. We went to find Joe immediately, but we couldn't get a hold of him. That's not our way of doing things." The Redskins announced the signing of six free agents yesterday: wide receiver Joe Phillips, Kentucky; running back Vincent Hall, Middle Tennessee State; linebacker Kenny Ford, Texas A&M; cornerback Joby Branion, Duke; tackle Thomas Hartman, Virginia Tech, and running back Reggie Branch, East Carolina.

Hall gained 1,439 yards last season, second in NCAA Division I-AA. He had a career total of 3,075 yards. Phillips caught 75 passes in his four-year career for 935 yards and nine touchdowns. Ford, second on the Aggies with 145 tackles, was honorable mention all-Southwest Conference.