Veteran free safety Mark Murphy, who has been engaged in a contract dispute with the Washington Redskins for several months, is not expected to attend this week's minicamp and may have played his last game for the team.

Murphy, a Pro Bowl starter in 1983 who last season missed nine games with a knee injury and never regained his starting spot, has been contemplating retirement during the offseason, sources said.

Along with other Redskins veterans, he is required to arrive at Redskin Park today for a physical. All indications are that he is not going to attend.

He and his agent, Donald Dell, asked the Redskins for a guaranteed contract in a meeting with Coach Joe Gibbs and General Manager Bobby Beathard at Redskin Park two weeks ago.

The Redskins refused to guarantee Murphy's contract, according to those same sources. Without a guaranteed contract, Murphy was not expected to play.

Murphy, reached at home last evening, refused to comment.

"I'd rather not say anything," he said.

Redskins officials, sources said, told Murphy to come back to the team and "prove himself."

Murphy, an eight-year veteran out of Colgate, complained in private about his lack of playing time last season after injuring his knee in the second game of the 1984 season against San Francisco. He believed, sources said, that he was healthy much sooner than the Redskins thought he was.

After coming off the injured reserve list with five games to play, he never displaced Curtis Jordan in the starting lineup and was relegated to the special teams.

Murphy privately blamed his situation on his activity in the National Football League Players Association, the players' union.

During the strike season of 1982, he was the Redskins' player representative and a member of the NFLPA executive committee. He now is vice president of the NFLPA.

Sources said Murphy believed team owner Jack Kent Cooke ordered the coaching staff not to play him because of his union activity. Beathard vigorously denied the charge. "That's ridiculous," he said. "That would never be allowed to happen here."

Yet Murphy persisted in his feelings that he was being unfairly treated and demanded in return a guaranteed contract, sources said.

Murphy, 29, one of the most visible Redskins, has been mulling several career options. He has been accepted to the law schools at Catholic University and George Mason University; he has considered a possible move to the U.S. Football League, sources said, and he has considered retiring.

As a free agent, Murphy was one of only two rookies to make George Allen's 1977 club. After playing on special teams and as a nickel back for his first two seasons, he replaced Jake Scott as the starting free safety in 1979.

For four consecutive seasons, he led the Redskins in tackles. In 1983, his fifth season as a starter and the Redskins' second consecutive Super Bowl season, Murphy led the NFL with nine interceptions and started in the Pro Bowl.

In last month's NFL draft, the Redskins chose cornerback Tory Nixon in the second round, the 33rd pick overall, leading to speculation that cornerback Vernon Dean might be moved to safety. Murphy refused to comment on that possibility or how it might reflect on his future with the club.

Although he has not yet signed a contract, Nixon is expected to be, at the very least, a nickel back this season with the Redskins.

Two days into his career, his presence already has been felt. The Redskins moved reserve cornerback Ricky Smith to wide receiver to give Nixon breathing room, and they are considering the move of Vernon from cornerback to safety.

Young, tan, handsome, blond and soon-to-be-rich, Nixon eased off the practice field into a small slice of shade yesterday and surveyed his broad new world.

"I've got a lot better start than any college degree can give you," he said, smiling.

He is one of the few 5-foot-10, 186-pound football players who stands out among his peers. On Monday, his first day in a mesh burgundy and gold jersey, he even felt awkward.

"I could feel the pressure more than I thought I would," he said. "Being their No. 1 pick in the draft, I knew all their eyes were on me. I think I worried about that."

He didn't like the way he played. "I felt lethargic," he said. But he was batting down passes and sticking with receivers yesterday, looking very much the "heady" cornerback Beathard trumpeted on draft day.

"He's the type of guy who will stand out in the team situation more than the one-on-one situation," Beathard said. "When we go to team workouts, he will look very good."

Minicamp is a one-on-one microscope. And guess who, along with running back George Rogers, gets loads of attention?

"I thought it would be easier for me to blend in, but it wasn't," Nixon said of his first day. "Now I have told myself to put all this, being the top pick, being noticed, out of my mind."

For the longest time, football and Tory Nixon didn't take to each other. He went to the University of Arizona to play basketball, and quit when he didn't make the team. He whiled away many of childhood's hot afternoons chipping over his backyard fence to the 10th green of the Biltmore Golf Course in Phoenix. And Christmas on the slopes at Tahoe often sounded better than any bowl game.

At age 18, spurned by basketball and antsy to play something else, he found football at Phoenix Community College. He had played in high school but didn't take it all that seriously. He never dreamed of turning pro.

"I still don't think it's hit me," he said. "But I know when it will. The first Monday night game (Sept. 9), when I walk into Texas Stadium in Dallas. It will hit me then."

Although the U.S. Football League's Tampa Bay Bandits have expressed lukewarm interest, Nixon and Beathard both say it's no contest: he's a Redskin.

After final exams next week, Nixon says he is going to fly back here to look for houses in rural Virginia with his fiance, Elizabeth MacDonald. Then comes the wedding June 29. Then, they live happily ever after.

"My fiance is a genius," he said. "I can't tell her anything she doesn't already know. She reads everything, she's really into politics. She's got it all."

When you try to suggest Nixon might, too, he squints and draws a deep, deep breath.

"I don't know how to answer that. It's a great opportunity for me. But I worked hard for it.

"Nothing comes easy."