Veteran Redskins kicker Mark Moseley kept his job yesterday when Tony Zendejas was traded to Houston for a fifth-round 1986 draft choice, but offensive tackle George Starke, kick returner Mike Nelms and defensive tackle Perry Brooks lost theirs as Washington cut its roster to 50 players.
In addition to the three veterans, who together had 25 years of service here, the Redskins waived five rookies: cornerbacks Kevin Williams and J.C. Pearson; running back Reggie Branch; center Mike Wooten, and linebacker Bryant Winn.
Rookie tight end Danzell Lee was placed on injured reserve with a strained back.
Five more players must be released or moved by Monday, when the roster is set at 45 players.
For Moseley, at 37 the second-oldest kicker in the National Football League, it was a satisfying victory in an often acrimonious, highly publicized preseason battle with the 25-year-old Zendejas.
"I'm a survivor," said Moseley, who in 1982 won a similar competition with rookie Danny Miller.
"This was the toughest preseason I've ever been through. This preseason has been so screwed up. In a way, I was kind of on the losing end to begin with (Zendejas received a $150,000 signing bonus; Moseley received no guaranteed money), but then, things came back to reality. It was evident I could still do the job. That was what I had to prove."
Moseley believed he won the job over Zendejas, considered one of the best young kickers in the game, when his 47-yard field goal sliced through the uprights in the third quarter of the Redskins' 37-36 victory over New England last Friday.
But Zendejas, who said he was anticipating a trade and was relieved the intense competition was over, wondered aloud if Coach Joe Gibbs didn't want Moseley to win the job all along.
"I felt a lot of negative vibes on behalf of maybe the head coach," said Zendejas as he left Redskin Park for his hotel, then the airport. "I just never thought that I was in a great opportunity to be the kicker. Something there was wrong. Maybe management wanted me, but the coaching staff, or Coach Gibbs, wanted to stay with the veteran."
Gibbs spoke with Zendejas after hearing about these comments yesterday afternoon.
"I probably made a mistake there by not talking to him enough, but I did it unknowingly," Gibbs said. "Obviously, he was given a lot of money with the preconceived idea he would make the club. I was just watching two guys compete for a job."
General Manager Bobby Beathard, who had high hopes for Zendejas, apparently disagreed with Gibbs' choice, although he went along with it.
In the end, the team went with a known quantity who performed better in the three preseason games (Moseley made three of five field goals; Zendejas, one of four) and in practice.
"I had to make a decision that I was going to hang my job and my future on," Gibbs said. "Sometime it's going to be cold and I'm going to be asking somebody to kick a 40-yard field goal in a driving rainstorm or an ice storm. It may be my job (on the line), and it may be the team depending on him putting them in the playoffs.
"In this case, Tony had been given a chance and in the end, Mark Moseley was the guy I wanted kicking for me when it counted."
Gibbs chose youth over age at several other positions yesterday.
Starke, also 37, had been with the Redskins since 1972. Nicknamed the Head Hog as the veteran leader of the offensive line, Starke was troubled by knee problems last season and finally lost his starting job.
His position was precarious, at best, when he arrived at training camp, and it worsened over the weekend with the Redskins' acquisition of Dan McQuaid, a second-year tackle, from the Los Angeles Rams.
Starke officially retired after meeting with Gibbs after practice.
"I'm not disappointed," he said as he walked across the parking lot to his silver Mazda. "I've been very fortunate. I've been to three Super Bowls . . . I have no regrets. When your year comes, you always want to have another year, but they need some young tackles. That's not that hard to understand, is it?"
Gibbs said Starke, the only Redskins player who actually lived in Washington, D.C., got caught in the numbers game.
"Obviously, he's been here a lot longer than I have," Gibbs said. "He's been such a part of the organization. But with these trades, winding up with some young players, for the future of the team, we had to make room for them."
Starke obviously understood. "Actually," he said, "that McQuaid looks good."
Nelms, 30, knew he would have problems making the team this year when the league cut rosters by four players to 45 per team. The Redskins were looking for players who could fill two spots, say, as a kick returner and wide receiver. Nelms, a three-time Pro Bowler in five seasons, filled one.
"When we go to 45, it makes it very hard to keep a specialist to run back kicks," Gibbs said. "Mike feels he still wants to play, and we'll help him find a place."
Gibbs said running backs Michael Morton and Keith Griffin will return kickoffs in the final exhibition game at Tampa Bay. Wide receiver Gary Clark, defensive backs Darrell Green and Raphel Cherry and linebacker Monte Coleman will work on punt returns, he said.
"It's the nature of the game," Nelms said. "It's not fair or unfair. How do you think (Lee) Iacocca felt when Ford told him he wasn't good enough?"
Brooks, 30, didn't make the team because of Steve Hamilton and Dean Hamel, two young linemen who have been impressive, Gibbs said.
"In competition, they were better players than Perry," Gibbs said. Brooks was unavailable for comment.
Since April, several other members of the 1982 Super Bowl team have left the Redskins: Joe Washington and Charlie Brown were traded to Atlanta; Mark Murphy and Alvin Garrett were waived; Tony McGee could not pass his physical.
But Gibbs said he was not making a conscious effort to break up the old gang.
"I do feel like we're a family," he said. "I think we have fewer trades here. Let each of these situations stand on its own."