Occasionally, as he trudges up the front steps inside the main building at Redskin Park, veteran Pete Cronan stops and looks at the team picture of the 1982 Washington Redskins, the best professional football team of that season.

It's a huge picture, blown up to fill a white-painted cinder-block wall, with a burgundy and gold frame. Fifty-one players in uniform watch a visitor climb the stairs, but, three years after their picture was taken, 24 of them no longer enter the door below to go to work.

That team picture does more than bring back memories of a wonderful season. It tells of the ravages of time to a team.

"I'll start to count down a row: gone, gone, gone, here, gone, gone, here, here, gone, gone," Cronan, 30, said yesterday. "Then I just kind of grin. Hey, I'm still here."

Perhaps a more accurate way to measure the changes in the Redskins as they begin another season Monday night in Dallas is to look at their 49-player roster for the matchup with Miami in Super Bowl XVII, a 26-17 victory for Washington. Twenty-four players on that roster are gone and 25 are still with the team. (Wide receiver Art Monk, strong safety Ken Coffey and linebacker Stuart Anderson, all current Redskins, were on injured reserve for that game.)

But more significantly, all but seven of the 22 starters are here. Gone are wide receivers Charlie Brown and Alvin Garrett, right guard Fred Dean, right tackle George Starke, left defensive end Mat Mendenhall, left cornerback Jeris White and free safety Mark Murphy.

Among the reserves, the losses are higher. Not including punter Jeff Hayes and kicker Mark Moseley, there were 25 substitutes in that Super Bowl, and 17 of them are no longer with the team three years later.

Is this unusual? The average length of an NFL career is 4.5 years, and Murphy, who still is first vice president of the National Football League Players Association, said expectations are that figure will be reduced with the new 45-man roster.

So, statistically at least, a team roster should change by 22 percent a year and, in three years, by 67 percent.

The Redskins' roster has changed by 49 percent in these three years, and that includes the mandatory four-player cut to 45 this preseason.

Then again, traditionally, winning teams are slower to change. So what are we to make of the Redskins' transitions?

"In many cases, it was just natural attrition," said General Manager Bobby Beathard. "We had some players, especially some free agents, who were at the stage of their careers where they really can't help you any more. I certainly don't think it was a concerted effort to get rid of older players. It was just the natural transition in the NFL."

Redskins policy may actually still be dictated, at least to some degree, by George Allen's "future is now" trading of a decade ago.

When a new coach comes in and sees a lot of old players, as Coach Joe Gibbs did in 1981, it's logical that rebuilding will occur in a piecemeal, stop-and-start fashion.

"We picked up a lot of guys around 1981 who were not long-range-type players like the draft choices we had that year," said Charles Casserly, assistant general manager. "They were the kind of guys who will help you play a couple years, but that's it. They'll never get any better and then they're going to start diminishing.

"A lot of guys on that ('82) team, guys like (quarterbacks) Tom Owen and Bob Holly . . . you're talking about guys that filled in the roster. And we were getting guys all over the place age-wise. They weren't all drafted and all 22 years old."

Casserly said the Redskins' approach was very different from that of the Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers, in this way -- and still is, considering the team's penchant for trading a draft choice for a George Rogers, a Dan McQuaid or a Malcolm Barnwell.

"You have to analyze how a team is built," Casserly said. "Teams that were drafted and built like the Steelers were and the Cowboys were, you're probably not going to see that kind of turnover. Meanwhile, we had a lot of guys we got more mileage out of than anybody else did."

Still, there are those who wonder why the Redskins have changed this much.

"It's surprising it's changed as much as it has considering how much success we've had," said middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz, signed as a free agent from Maryland in 1979.

"Usually, the teams that lose change more than the teams that win. But a big part of it is the number of free agents we always have here, and the fact that maybe they feel they need more talent."

Murphy, 30, was signed as a free agent in 1977 and played here until he was waived in July after a contract-related dispute.

"I think it's just the nature of the game, although I've thought there has been a big turnover for a Super Bowl team. It's only been three years," he said yesterday.

"When you think back to 1982, one thing that was always said was there was a certain chemistry that season. That makes it kind of ironic, because any changes affect that chemistry."

Gibbs knows that, and says in some cases he "goes the extra mile" to keep a player who has a Super Bowl ring.

"You've got to consider everything about a guy," Gibbs said. "We've got an interesting blend, because we've definitely got some older guys here. But when you get that far along (in team age) and then you get a good crop of young guys, that's when you get the turnover."

Cronan says he hopes one of the reasons he made this team again is because he played in Super Bowl XVII.

"I would consider it a compliment if that's what they thought," he said. "This is a very transient business. Some guys don't transcend, others do. But I really think the changes help us talent-wise."