What's next for the Redskins? Before the final piece of confetti had fallen on their parade last week, a couple of hours even before a reception at the White House, General Manager Bobby Beathard mentioned the pressure to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
Truth is, Beathard has been looking ahead for weeks. As players focus on the next snap from scrimmage and coaches look no farther than the next game, executives are paid to consider the next season before the present one ends.
That is why Beathard was on a flight to a college all-star game soon after the Redskins' playoff victory against the Bears; it is why his aides were preparing draft reports while the team was practicing for the Super Bowl.
For Beathard, Coach Joe Gibbs and their respective staffs, there are two ways of evaluating the 1987 team and planning for next season. One view is wildly optimistic, the other more cautious.
The obvious overview is to see the Redskins as a clear notch above everybody else in the NFL. Their conference certainly is superior, the Redskins and Giants having beaten the best in the AFC, Denver, by a combined 51 points in the last two Super Bowls.
Also, the Redskins' four losses were by a total of 11 points. Which suggests Beathard and Gibbs should not tinker a bit with the roster, that their hand is full of aces and deep-depth trump cards -- and should be equally strong for at least another season.
But one sober fact got trampled in the Redskins' stampede through the NFC playoffs and Super Bowl: five of their eight nonstrike victories were by a total of 19 points. This juggernaut did some serious sputtering.
Underappreciated until the 42-10 mauling of the Broncos is an edge no longer available to the Redskins: the U.S. Football League. Where would they be without four refugees from that failed folly?
Doug Williams, late of the Oklahoma and Arizona Outlaws, threw four touchdowns passes in Super Bowl XXII. Two of them were to a former Houston Gambler, Ricky Sanders, and another went to a former Jacksonville Bull, Gary Clark. To the Redskins two years ago, Kelvin Bryant brought spoils from helping the Philadelphia Stars to two USFL titles.
All these players cost the Redskins were low-round draft choices, a seventh in 1983 for Bryant, a fifth for Williams that Tampa Bay used on a defensive back no longer with the team and a third for Sanders that New England later peddled to the Raiders. Clark, signed as a free agent, cost the Redskins nothing.
Owner Jack Kent Cooke's willingness to pry open his wallet for those players was an even larger factor. That also will be important for the Redskins to keep looking down at the rest of the league.
Williams and the rest of us assume that Cooke will redo that $450,000 contract and make it at least even with the estimated $900,000 Jay Schroeder earned as the starter going into the 1987 season.
What does that mean for Schroeder? Does he stay? Or could he be traded, packaged even, for the means to shore up another position? Such as linebacker. Is Mark Rypien, after two years of seasoning, ready to be a full-time backup?
For Schroeder and some other players, namely Jeff Bostic and Russ Grimm, the Redskins' thinking before the 1988 season may well be similar to what it was prior to 1987.
What will have changed? The Giants loom again as the major competition, this time as the inspired challenger. The Eagles figure to be much tougher. Bostic won't be more bloated or taller next summer than he was before his sudden demotion last training camp.
There seems absolutely no reason to trade Schroeder, unless he wants it that way. After all, he has won nearly 80 percent of his games as a starter and took the Redskins to the NFC title game last year.
That fact reinforces the feeling that Gibbs and his offensive aides are far ahead of the competition. In six seasons, they have won two Super Bowls, lost another and gotten to the NFC title game four times with three different quarterbacks.
Let's say Schroeder is restless, as he ought to be, eager to reassume the starter status his numbers earned over nearly two seasons. Patience is not one of the virtues pro football routinely rewards, as Williams knows even better.
Williams may own the town, and the team, as no one since Sonny Jurgensen. He surely will be given the benefit of even more doubts than was Schroeder last season.
So what should the Redskins do with Schroeder? Probably what they did with Williams under similar circumstances, shop him around but accept nothing less than full value.
Gibbs told Williams last season he would only be traded to a team for whom he would start, and bring the Redskins what amounted to a starter in return. Schroeder should be even more valuable.
Not that this is league-wide opinion, but one AFC pass-offense assistant put Schroeder's worth in draft terms as low first round. Wouldn't the Raiders be inclined to offer more? Or the Packers, with their pass-oriented new coach, Lindy Infante?
Some seasons two quarterbacks are one too many. This year it was just right. Who is to say Williams and his gimpy knees cannot stay productive behind the Hogs for another few years?
Maybe the coaches believe Rypien is where Schroeder was before the 1985 season, when he assumed command after Theismann's broken leg Nov. 18.
In Timmy Smith, the Redskins have a gifted runner for whom the remainder of his career will be at least slightly downhill. Unless he gains 204 yards next Super Bowl. Or eventually dashes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Even with Smith, there is one major question: His health. He missed his junior and senior seasons with injuries. Might extended duty repeat that pattern? Or, like Wilbert Montgomery with the Eagles in the late-'70s, might he overcome that collegiate damage and become very productive?
If looking ahead for each team always is interesting, even the most thoughtful forecast should not be taken too seriously. Before last season, the Redskins could see themselves winning Super Bowl XXII -- but not with Williams throwing all the touchdown passes, not with Sanders catching two of them and especially not a Mr. Smith coming to Washington and eventually running Hog-wild.