The letter arrived early yesterday by Federal Express. The writer was appreciative of the consideration he'd been given in the matter of his football career but said he wanted to work elsewhere, thank you very much. This was "The Boz," Brian Bosworth, telling the Redskins to butt out of his life.

Bosworth is peculiar in so many ways; kind of a character actor who specializes in punk roles and seems to need no rehearsal at all to play them splendidly. His apparent motto: Born to Provoke.

In his young life, Bosworth has publicly questioned the collective manhood of several collegiate opponents, flunked a postseason drug test, infuriated the NCAA and tried the patience of a coach actually comfortable with free spirits, Barry Switzer.

Linebacker Bosworth now is taking on the ultimate sporting giant, the NFL. One rogue versus 28 owners. Even if you don't like the man, you've got to admire his effort. And his cause. How it goes will become a bit clearer Friday, when the league holds a special draft in his honor.

The supplemental draft includes more than Bosworth, but no one apparently worth wasting a 1988 first-round draft choice on. The Redskins feel that way, at least. Yes, if they beat something like 1-in-100 odds, General Manager Bobby Beathard will select Bosworth.

"I feel pretty lucky," Beathard said.

Bosworth doesn't. That's why he told all but five teams (the two in Los Angeles and New York plus the Philadelphia Eagles) he will sit out the 1987 season rather than play for them.

By qualifying for the supplemental draft, Bosworth has shown colors more vivid and lasting than those on his burr haircut. His fairly well-kept secret is that he's a bright guy.

Lots of us worriers about college sport emphasize that so many big-time football schools fail to graduate a decent percentage of their players. Ever. Bosworth got his degree from Oklahoma, and on time.

By being held back a year for football, not his studies, Bosworth could have played another season for the Sooners. He chose to graduate after the regular NFL draft and thus be available for the supplementary exercise.

As they are for every gifted player, the odds will be stacked against Bosworth. The draft Friday actually has a basketball-lottery flair, weighted heavily in favor of the lousy teams. Here's how it works:

Team logos will be stuffed in envelopes and placed inside a large barrel. There will be 406 envelopes in all, with Tampa Bay allotted 28, the Colts 27, Buffalo 26 and so on, down to one for the Super Bowl-champion Giants. The Redskins have four chances.

The team with the best crack at Bosworth is Houston, with its chances plus the ones the Rams traded last year in the deal for quarterback Jim Everett. The Oilers will have 30 envelopes in the barrel.

Bosworth is trying to improve his position, by stating for whom he wishes to play and that he will play for no one if the wrong team happens to win his rights.

Beathard had heard the Redskins were not among the favored, but had not gotten any letter stating it by Tuesday. So he phoned Bosworth's agent, Gary Wichard, and left a message to please call.

The reply, Beathard said, was the long-anticipated letter saying Bosworth would sit out the 1987 season and make himself available for the 1988 draft if chosen Friday by the Redskins.

"I can't imagine him not wanting to play here," Beathard said. "We have a grass field {not to mention free sodas in a machine just off the practice field}. We're going to draft him . . . I think we'll get him."

Bosworth is said to be a pure middle linebacker capable of being all-pro. If the Redskins do draft him, and Bosworth balks, they can always trade him for value at least as good as what he cost: a first-round choice Beathard often trades, anyway.

"We think he's an exceptional talent," Beathard said. "We think he'd be terrific in our system. It's hard to find middle linebackers {with so many colleges playing two inside linebackers and two on the outside}."

Nobody gets into professional sports management without some enthusiasm for risk. Still, away from the decisions he makes for the Redskins, Beathard rarely gambles.

He did buy a lottery ticket last year in Carlisle, Pa., where the Redskins train -- and won. What he won was another lottery ticket, which proved worthless.

Beathard said he happened to meet Bosworth once, in a hotel lobby. "I said hello, and when he didn't acknowledge it I realized he had a headset on." The Redskins' chief thinker said it's less chancy to draft a smart character than a flaky "dumb-dumb."

Bosworth certainly is making all the right public moves, gaining as much leverage as possible in what usually amounts to a no-win situation. It's a rare professional player who can dictate the terms of his employment.

All Bosworth wants is the same chance given others in his Oklahoma graduating class. Even the oil barons never dictated to engineers where they could work; accountants aren't told: "You hitch on with Price Waterhouse, and in Cincinnati, or get into another industry."

Quarterback Bernie Kosar was able to determine his own team, the Cleveland Browns, through the supplemental-draft system. But it was structured differently, with a trade being made for his rights before the draft. Anything involving Bosworth will come after this draft.

"I don't think the letters will influence many teams," said Beathard. Unless he gets very lucky (the Rams don't even have an envelope in the barrel), Bosworth shortly will reveal another trait. Scouts already have decided he can play football. The major questions soon may be: is he any good at poker? Can he bluff?