Put yourself in Bobby Beathard's running shoes: As the Redskins general manager, you have invested hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours researching a veteran wide receiver who seems fairly close to flawless.

In the last two seasons, he has averaged 40 receptions and 17 yards per catch for an exceptional offense. But the team believes it has upgraded itself enough through the draft to make him expendable.

You call nearly everyone in football whose judgment you value, and some you don't. Then you sort of say to Al Davis over the phone: "It's a deal; we'll give you a No. 2 for him."

That was three months ago.

Yesterday, you swallow your pride in front of a thicket of microphones and say: "We have waived Malcolm Barnwell."

A veteran acquired for a second-round draft choice should be a starter 15 or 20 seconds after he arrives. Instead, you have exchanged something very valuable for a fellow who caught just three more passes than a blocking sled.

Ah, but the microphones, cameras, note pads and the humans jutting them in your direction have been drawn to Redskin Park yesterday to celebrate genius. Your genius.

The night before, a quarterback who came slightly cheaper and whose proven ability was much less than Barnwell's had become the toast of Washington.

How'd you find this Jay Schroeder, Bobby? What made him special? Why were you able to slicker everybody else in the NFL? Including, by the way, Mr. Al Davis, whose Raiders certainly could use a young quarterback with Schroeder's skills just now.

In the NFL, life is an educated crapshoot. Sometimes, you devour Al Davis. Sometimes, he devours you.

Of Barnwell, Beathard said: "He didn't work out from the start. And the one person to blame is me. Guess I belong to the Don't Outsmart Al Davis Club.

"He hasn't worked out in practice. He hasn't worked out in games. I'm responsible. It was an expensive mistake."

Barnwell is the latest expensive mistake this year. The Redskins gave Tony Zendejas a $150,000 signing bonus, then traded him to Houston for a fifth-round draft choice when Mark Moseley proved a better place-kicker. They also gave cornerback Tory Nixon a $200,000 signing bonus, then traded him to the 49ers for a medium-round draft choice.

Nixon also was a wasted second-round choice. Beathard has not been wildly successful with second-round draftees over the years.

If that is a constant concern among Redskins officials, the town could care less just now. For the moment, Schroeder is a gem mined in none other than the Raiders' backyard.

Actually, the Raiders were in transit, on the road from Oakland to Los Angeles, when Dwight Gooden and some less successful minor league pitchers convinced Schroeder he had a better future at quarterback than at catcher.

Everybody had a chance to observe Schroeder during tryouts at UCLA. Even Davis admitted not long after the 1984 draft that Schroeder might prove an uncommon steal.

In addition to the obvious qualities, Beathard and his scouts figured Schroeder's baseball experience could prove helpful in the NFL.

"He'd gained maturity in the minors," assistant general manager Charlie Casserly said. "And he'd learned to deal with failure."

If he were eligible for consideration, Schroeder would be the top-rated quarterback in the NFC this week and second in the entire league. In one magic night, he has vaulted from 30.8 obscurity to a 90.0 sensation.

Before he suffered close to the ugliest of broken legs, Joe Theismann had a 59.6 rating; Joe Montana leads NFC quarterbacks at 89.9. Atop the AFC is the once-undervalued Ken O'Brien of the Jets.

"What you never know, even with all the homework," Casserly said, "is here" -- he pointed to his heart -- "and here" -- he pointed to his head. "If you could measure that, you'd never make a mistake."

One of the appealing traits of the Beathard-Joe Gibbs management team is its willingness to risk failure. The general manager will take a chance on a Richard Williams, who wilts, and then again follow his convictions on a Jay Schroeder, who blossoms.

Like all coaches, Gibbs would run the fullback straight ahead 68 times each game if that would win. Unlike so many colleagues, he will gamble on a gadget play if he considers the risk worthwhile.

Special teams coach Wayne Sevier convinced him that a pass off a fake punt would work against the Giants Monday night. It did. Sevier also assured him the Giants were vulnerable to an onside kick. They were.

Even for NFL executives, speed is essential. That is why Beathard was itchy to phone Babe Laufenberg and guarantee his availability as a backup even as Schroeder was rallying the Redskins to victory.

But nobody had a working phone number. Later, when the brother with whom Laufenberg lives was contacted, in California, the Redskins learned the worst: the Babe was not waiting breathlessly for their call after all but was on vacation in Mexico.

He was due back yesterday.

"Hope he hasn't been eating," Beathard said, jokingly, "so he'll be able to practice."

For Beathard and Casserly, yesterday put their jobs in perspective: you win big and you lose big, sometimes on the same day.