The Washington Redskins began this season not knowing whether they were good enough to get back to the playoffs. By that yardstick, this campaign, that included a 10-6 regular season and a first-round wild-card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, was a success.

Not a rip-roaring success, but a modest one for a team that hadn't played a postseason game in three years. Along the way, the Redskins again proved they could run the ball and stop the run, and that they were capable of beating good teams.

They defeated Miami, Chicago, Buffalo and Philadelphia over the final six weeks before being eliminated by the San Francisco 49ers, 28-10, Saturday at Candlestick Park.

But while answering some questions, they raised others. Beginning today, Coach Joe Gibbs, General Manager Charley Casserly and their staffs will begin meeting to talk about their priorities for next season.

Quarterback may not be the top priority, but it is where the discussions will start.

Gibbs said Saturday that Mark Rypien would be his starting quarterback when the Redskins report to training camp in July, and team officials spent a large part of yesterday defending him.

Rypien was at times brilliant and at times awful this season (19 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions), as he was against the 49ers. He passed for 361 yards on Saturday but also threw three interceptions, including two that stopped serious scoring threats.

One of the interceptions was tipped at the line of scrimmage, another came when he was hit while passing the ball, but one was a bad throw into the end zone that could have gotten the Redskins within 21-17 in the third quarter.

Gibbs pointed out that though Rypien is 28, he has started only 32 games -- two fewer than Jay Schroeder and 44 fewer than Joe Theismann.

The Redskins are 13-4 in Rypien's last 17 starts and he has shown the ability to make big-time plays. Gibbs also reminded anyone who would listen that this was only Rypien's second full year as a starter, and it was interrupted six weeks by a knee injury in Week 3.

Rypien finished as the NFC's seventh-rated quarterback, but in getting points on the scoreboard, he played better than No. 7, because the Redskins were No. 2 in the NFC in scoring.

"He's still learning and growing," Gibbs said. "It was a tough year for him. He gets hurt for the second year in a row and that had to set him back. But he showed great toughness in coming back and winning some games. He's a tough guy. He had a sore ankle {against the 49ers} and had to get shot up {a pain-killing injection} before playing. Yes, he's our starter."

Casserly agreed with Gibbs, saying he realized Rypien had made some mistakes but that "Rip . . . helped get us to the playoffs. He'll get better next year because of experience, and he learns things methodically and gets better. He's not a natural athlete, not an escape guy, but he made some plays for us."

Not that the Redskins wouldn't like to have Joe Montana or Dan Marino. Over the last year, they have discussed almost every starting quarterback and most of the backups.

Their opinion is this: No one better than Rypien is available from another team, and no one better is available in this year's draft. That opinion could change as scouts get further into their evaluations, but no one expects quarterback to be a prominent position in the draft.

Even if one were available, one of the asking prices likely would be a first-round draft choice, a pick the Redskins consider virtually untouchable, since they haven't had a No. 1 since 1983 (Darrell Green) and dream of using it to add an impact defensive player.

There are two other factors. One is Rypien's contract. His agent, Ken Staninger, and Casserly broke off negotiations early in the season, and Rypien promised to play out his option and seek other offers.

When negotiations ended, the Redskins were offering a three-year, $2.4 million deal loaded with incentives, and Rypien was seeking a two-year, $3 million contract.

The last days of negotiations were bitter, and Casserly and Staninger haven't spoken since. Owner Jack Kent Cooke reportedly isn't thrilled that Staninger made the dispute public, and the upcoming negotiations could become important, especially if Rypien is not signed by the start of training camp.

Stan Humphries, having started five games in relief of Rypien, and rookie Cary Conklin, who spent this season on injured reserve, will get long looks at training camp.

Even if Rypien is signed, Humphries has designs on the job and will get enough preseason playing time to prove he deserves it.

Rypien has taken all of this in stride.

Asked how much a loss to the 49ers would affect his negotiating position, he shrugged.

"That'll be settled down the road," he said. "It was important to do well in the playoffs for all of us, not just me. I didn't do too many things wrong, but there were some mistakes I'd like to have back. This would have been a big step for me, for all of us."

Meanwhile, Gibbs gave his players yesterday off and asked them to report to Redskin Park for an end-of-the-season meeting this morning.

But if it is vacation time for the players, it is the beginning of the busy season for Gibbs, Casserly and the assistant coaches and scouts, who fly to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl this week, and then go to the All-American Classic in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Then they will begin arguing over which 37 players to protect in Plan B and what the priorities are for next season. Yesterday was for getting over the 49ers.

"You're really disappointed and it always feels worse the second day," Casserly said. "You've just got to get back up and deal with it. We had a good season, but we came up short against what's probably the best team in football. We played a heck of a game, but we didn't deserve to win because we didn't make the plays when it counted. We'll try to go from here and keep getting better."

Press the Redskins and they probably would admit to a long draft wish list, beginning with:An impact defensive player. The Redskins have only two defensive starters 30 or older and Casserly traded for a pair of defensive linemen, Eric Williams and Tim Johnson, who played very well. What he also would like is a big-play guy, who could be a safety, linebacker or lineman.A pass-rushing lineman. Every other team wants one too.A cornerback. The front three of Green, Martin Mayhew and A.J. Johnson are solid, but the Redskins have three run-and-shoot teams on their schedule next year.Speed -- at any position.

"You don't just go in and rebuild," Casserly said. "That's not our philosophy here. What you do is keep reloading along the way. We've done some of that and need to keep adding better players."