His trade possibilities exhausted, at least for now, quarterback Joe Theismann most likely will return to the Washington Redskins if he is healthy this season, Coach Joe Gibbs said today.

"We're right back at a point now where I think that in all probability, there's not going to be a trade," Gibbs said after a news conference with NFC East coaches. "I think the odds are he will wind up with us."

Furthermore, if Theismann, who broke his right leg last November, is healthy enough to participate in training camp this summer, Gibbs indicated he would give his veteran quarterback an opportunity to compete with Jay Schroeder to regain the starting job.

"I'm not going to sit behind the scenes and try and orchestrate where we're going," he said. "I don't want to orchestrate that we're going to be a younger team. What I'm going to do is put our players on the field and let them compete. . . . It's competition. . . . I'm going to play the guy that performs better. I don't care if he's 38, or if he's 28."

Gibbs' remarks contrasted markedly with signals sent from the team all winter. Both sides have earnestly investigated trade options, and the Redskins are planning to renegotiate Schroeder's contract to make his salary more comparable to those of other starting quarterbacks.

"You know, trades are very hard to get across, very hard to do," Gibbs said. "I think it was all a rush, the press was on top of it . . . it was all premature. Joe's made some comments, but I think that was only a natural thing to happen."

Theismann was not available for comment today.

Gibbs said team doctors have told him Theismann, 36, has made an "absolutely remarkable" recovery, but that he will not be ready for the Redskins' May minicamp.

He might be able to play in June or July, Gibbs said. If he isn't available then, and has not been traded, Theismann could retire, be released, or be placed on injured reserve. If he is healthy, an interesting training camp quarterback duel is likely to develop, one that sources within the organization have said they hope to avoid.

During a meeting soon after the 1985 season ended, Gibbs said, he asked Theismann, a starter since 1978, if he could tolerate being the team's No. 2 quarterback.

"From talking to Joe, I do not have a feeling Joe would be very comfortable in that role," Gibbs said. "I don't think he fits very well in a backup role. . . . I think that would be our biggest problem if he came back. I don't think Joe thinks he ever would be a backup."

It's unclear whether Gibbs has decided how he would handle the situation, if it arose.

"What I want to do is have a team that's all together," he said. "In an open competition, Theismann's reaction to a backup role would be my biggest concern."

At their meeting, Gibbs also asked Theismann about his future.

"My question was, at this age, do you want to come back again and go through all this, retrain, go back out and try to play the game," Gibbs said. "He answered that by saying, 'I have a burning desire and want to play.' "

After discussing Theismann's feelings about a backup role, they decided he should investigate trade prospects, Gibbs said.

Theismann found little or no interest on the other end of the telephone. The Redskins contacted at least four teams about a possible trade, General Manager Bobby Beathard said last month, but could not cut a deal.

Two of those teams -- the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta -- recently signed quarterbacks: Steve Bartkowski and Turk Schonert, respectively.

"I think a trade is probably a remote thing," Gibbs said at the news conference today. "I talked to Joe a week ago and I think Joe is telling me, and it's the way I feel, too, that he'll be with the Redskins, he'll be there and play there, retire there, whatever happens. . . . I think he'll be there with the Redskins."

Gibbs said he is not worried about the effect of the prospective competition on Schroeder, 24, who led the 10-6 Redskins to a 5-1 finish. At the end of last season, Gibbs said Schroeder deserved a shot at the No. 1 job.

"If somebody gives somebody a job, that's the wrong way to approach it," Gibbs said. "I don't think Jay Schroeder would want me to say, 'Jay Schroeder has the job. We don't want to make this competitive.'

"I think they ought to compete. That's the way you win the job."