It appears that we'll have Joe Theismann to bat around for the next couple of months. At the very least. And if he can put a tight rein on his ego, Theismann ought to stay where he belongs -- here, helping himself and the Redskins to more glory.

His leg apparently is mending nicely. His other vital signs are sharp as ever. Because Theismann may be even better at business than at football, many of us were wondering just how he might turn that broken leg into a profit.

A line of autographed bedpans, perhaps. Or crutches with springs, for hopping up stairs and over patches of ice on the street.

Sure enough. As the new year follows Christmas, Theismann came through with predictable flair: pitching a health-and-tennis club in sternly worded magazine ads and, with his leg propped on an easy chair, convenient banking on television.

Theismann's mouth also is running in overdrive. Again. At a dinner the other night, he trashed Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who has two things Theismann misses: an up-to-date Super Bowl ring and the limelight.

Sometimes, you get the feeling Theismann blurts out selfish wimpers and misguided moral judgments just to see if anyone is still paying attention to him. We are. Chicago columnist Mike Royko bit, and gave him a proper public spanking.

Those who have watched Theismann closer and longer were a bit more calm. If Washington got outraged every time Theismann did something silly off the field, the government would be in even sorrier shape.

Long ago, we sensed that Theismann never would replace Miss Manners.

Forecasts about his football future are less certain. Theismann's tibia has the most knowledgeable opinion just now, and it's not talking.

The people least excited at the moment very likely are the ones who will determine his destiny. Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs and officials from other teams talk about Theismann but say nothing, for a very good reason:

They don't know if he can play.

How can anyone seriously consider a trade while the bait is limping? Of course, the Falcons' Dan Henning would be interested. So would the Packers. So should the Rams, who misevaluated Dieter Brock. But Coach John Robinson insisted the other day that Brock still is his man. Neither are the Raiders interested, they say.

A healthy Theismann might keep a lot of coaches employed years longer than their incumbent passers will. This also is said to be a lousy draft for quarterbacks.

But the only person seriously shopping Theismann around the NFL these blustery days in February may well be Theismann. No sane coach is going to make a trade until he has seen Theismann's mobility for himself, during a long and tough workout.

Nothing like that will be close to possible before mid-April.

Assuming the best, that Theismann's leg mends totally, what might happen by late spring or training camp? The three most likely possibilities: he gets traded, he stays with the Redskins or he fades into an analyst's chair with one of the networks.

What are the chances of a trade?

Fifty-fifty, said a Redskins source.

What might the Redskins command for a man who will be 37 at the start of next season?

"Maybe a second-round choice," the source said. "Maybe something that's conditional, that would be upgraded if he played well."

But wouldn't the Redskins, as a practical matter, want to keep Theismann? Wouldn't he be preferable coming out of the bullpen to Babe Laufenberg?


Theismann must face -- and eventually answer -- a few more vital questions that include: can he tolerate being a backup to Jay Schroeder? Can he endure a training-camp duel, knowing going in that the younger Schroeder will win ties? Has he the patience to wait for Schroeder to falter, for the chance to reemerge dramatically and brilliantly?

Schroeder vs. Theismann during camp would be Moseley-Zendejas times 12. Those guys only kick the ball. The quarterback is a team's linchpin.

What has not been proven anywhere near conclusively is that: (a) Schroeder is capable of leading the Redskins to the Super Bowl and (b) Theismann is finished as a highly productive quarterback.

The cry last season, or at least the responsible one, was for Theismann to be plopped on the bench for a while, not kicked into an Old Quarterback's Home.

If Theismann, with two strong legs, truly is finished, it will have been the most rapid decline in memory. He owes it to himself to see if that's so.

More than almost anything, except possibly a one-year contract, a coach fears having a former Super Bowl quarterback as a bitter backup to a potentially glittering youngster.

The worry is not necessarily that factions might develop within the team, for most players are smart enough to block for whomever calls the signals. It's the likelihood of sly, nagging reminders that can erode the new fellow's confidence.

Such as: "I'd have seen the free safety (after an interception)." Or, to his longtime cronies: "You'd think the kid would recognize that kind of blitz formation by now."

This is a factor in every changing of the NFL guard.

You wonder: would Theismann react to Schroeder as Billy Kilmer once did to him?

Theismann is a No. 1 guy, not inclined to be the good-scout runner-up in anything. And if he can maneuver himself into being an instant starter somewhere else, no one can blame him.

Gibbs is correct to favor Schroeder. Ideally for the Redskins, Theismann will view that as a challenge instead of an insult.