The Washington Redskins face this offseason without a single pressing need and say they'll use their first-round draft choice -- their first since Darrell Green arrived eight years ago -- on the ever popular Best Player Available.
If the Redskins had their way, that player probably would be a playmaking safety akin to San Francisco's Ronnie Lott or Denver's Dennis Smith.
After that, they'd wish for a cornerback, linebacker or defensive lineman, probably in that order. The position is almost irrelevant because on a defense that relies as much on platooning and Richie Petitbon's multiple designs as its personnel, the Redskins would like to add an impact player -- like a Charles Haley, Derrick Thomas or Bruce Smith.
Whether they can get that kind of player with the 20th pick on April 21 is another matter. But General Manager Charley Casserly and Coach Joe Gibbs say that even if the Best Player Available when their turn comes up is clearly an offensive lineman, they'd take him.
"I'd be comfortable taking almost anybody in the draft," said Gibbs. "We're not in a position where we have to have any one thing. I'd be comfortable on defense taking anybody, a quality linebacker, a secondary guy, a lineman, anything. We just want to add good football players. I felt a lot more pressure last year. This year I feel comfortable sitting back and getting the best players we can."
That philosophy is far different from a year ago when they were so desperate for a defensive lineman that "we would have done almost anything to get one," Gibbs said.
They did more than that, throwing about $300,000 at Plan B free agents Pat Swoopes, Milford Hodge and Alonzo Mitz. None came close to making the team, and the Redskins privately say they signed all three hoping for a pleasant surprise from one of them. No Plan B free agent had been a bigger surprise than defensive end Fred Stokes in 1989 and they hoped for a similar hidden treasure.
(The Redskins signed one other Plan B defensive lineman, but Jumpy Geathers -- $1.59 million over three years -- was much more of a known quantity, sought by the 49ers, Browns and others.)
Ironically, when the Redskins' turn came up in the second round -- the 46th pick overall -- they resisted going for a lesser defensive lineman and drafted linebacker Andre Collins. He started every game opposite Wilber Marshall.
Since owner Jack Kent Cooke forbids the "R" word -- rebuilding -- at Redskin Park, the Redskins would like to get another young player who could step in and play.
A year ago, it looked as if rebuilding was being forced upon them anyway. They'd missed the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in the Gibbs era and looked like a team badly in need of young talent. That talent has already begun to arrive and in their in-house evaluations the Redskins believe they're as well stocked for the '90s as any NFC team other than perhaps the Chicago Bears.
They began the 1990 season with everyone from Cooke to Casserly to Gibbs knowing there were potential problem areas: quarterback, cornerback and defensive line.
Six months later, the situation looks better. Although Mark Rypien's injury-interrupted season was a mixture of good and bad performances, the Redskins privately say he's likely to be their quarterback again in 1991. They say he's smart and hard-working and doesn't often repeat mistakes.
The remaining concern appears to be about his ability to survive physical pounding. He needed three shots of Novocain in his left ankle to play the playoff game against the 49ers, and in two seasons has had knee, shoulder and ankle damage.
The Redskins are much more comfortable with their cornerbacks and defensive line. With the emergence of Martin Mayhew -- a 1989 Plan B signee -- and the recovery from knee surgery of A.J. Johnson, they have three cornerbacks who could play for almost anyone.
They probably need a fourth because their 1991 schedule includes three run-and-shoot teams and they expect more teams to try run-and-shoot offenses.
Defensive line is where Casserly earned his stripes as a general manager, having traded for Eric Williams from Detroit and Tim Johnson from Pittsburgh. Both started parts of the season, and with Darryl Grant likely to drop to a backup role next year, both may start all of next season. With Charles Mann on the left side and Stokes and Markus Koch on the right, the Redskins average only 27 years of age in the defensive line.
The transition in the offensive line began a year ago, and next season's projected starters -- Jim Lachey, Raleigh McKenzie, Jeff Bostic, Mark Schlereth and Ed Simmons -- average 27 in age. That could change because Gibbs and his staff were so impressed with Joe Jacoby at left guard next to Sporting News offensive lineman of the year Lachey -- composite size: 6 feet 6 1/2, 300 pounds -- they'll take a long training-camp look at that setup.
The Redskins point to these 27-year-old lines when they talk about the '90s. Receivers Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders are both 28, and Mayhew, 25, and A.J. Johnson, 23, are still kids. Their biggest need, agewise, appears to be a versatile tight end to replace Don Warren, 34, and a running back ready to take over for Earnest Byner, 28, and Gerald Riggs, 29.
Meanwhile the Redskins believe others may have more serious problems. What will the Giants do when Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor depart? What will the 49ers do when Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig get their gold watches?
The one team that scares almost everyone is Dallas, young and loaded with draft choices.
Bobby Beathard left as Redskins general manager in part because he and Gibbs had annual arguments over whether Gibbs was too loyal to his older players. Gibbs bristles, saying:
"What I want is a common-sense approach. Here's a way to look at it: Either Art Monk did it, or he didn't. If he didn't, it's time to move Art Monk out. If he did, it would be stupid to get rid of Art Monk, wouldn't it?
"It's amazing to me that people will project that I like older players so we go with older players. What I like is a blend. The best example I could use is what has happened in our offensive line. I like good young players coming in and showing they can beat people out. That makes for a gradual, healthy transition and one that makes sense. We've had that happen in a number of spots.
"Then you'll have a team with older players for leadership and good young ones that add enthusiasm and make you better. That doesn't always happen in the real world, and to sit around and program things and say we're going to go with everyone under 28 years old, that would be stupid. Some of the guys who had their best years were Art Monk, Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby and people like that. They played some of their absolute best football.
"A football team is a process of working with people. You're battling human nature and trying to pick the ones that are the most competitive and the ones that are the brightest and give you the best leadership. I think we have a good core group of that, and now we're going to go out and through Plan B and the draft and add some more."
.....NFL DRAFT IS APRIL 21-22....
1. New England Patriots (1-15)
2. Cleveland Browns (3-13)
3. Atlanta Falcons (5-11)
4. Denver Broncos (5-11)
5. Los Angeles Rams (5-11)
6. Phoenix Cardinals (5-11)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10)
* New York Jets (6-10)
8. Green Bay Packers (6-10)
9. San Diego Chargers (6-10)
10. Detroit Lions (6-10)
11. Dallas from Minnesota (6-10)
12. Dallas Cowboys (7-9)
13. Atlanta from Indianapolis (7-9)
14. Dallas from New Orleans (8-8)
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
16. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
17. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
18. Houston Oilers (9-7)
19. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
20. Washington Redskins (10-6)
21. Chicago Bears (11-5)
22. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
23. Miami Dolphins (12-4)
24. Los Angeles Raiders (12-4)
25. San Francisco 49ers (14-2)
26. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
27. New York Giants (13-3)
*Used selection in the 1990 supplemental draft.