- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Redskins entered the 2014 NFL draft without a first-round pick, the final price for the 2012 trade with the St. Louis Rams that landed the second overall choice in the draft, which became Robert Griffin III.

It’s the second year in a row Washington wasn’t slated for a first-round selection.

This should be no big deal for Redskins fans, though. It’s not as if this is the first time they didn’t have a seat at the league’s big pick-‘em party.

The Redskins had a selection in the first round of the NFL draft just three times — three times — from 1969 to 1990. And they managed to do just fine without one.

With the opportunity to pick in the top round in the draft only three times, the Redskins had a remarkable record of 205-118. They went to the playoffs 11 times, winning four NFC East division titles, four NFC championships and two Super Bowl titles.

A first-round pick? Who needs one?

If you operate without a full deck, you better be a pretty good card player to consistently win. The Redskins had two over that span who had the eye for talent and the deft of hand to shuffle the deck to keep winning — George Allen and Bobby Beathard.

Allen was in total control of football operations, on and off the field, from 1971 to 1977, and, as has been well documented, saw draft picks as currency to get veteran talent, assembling the “Ramskins” when he came over from Los Angeles and the Over the Hill gang of veteran players. He assembled winning veteran teams, but when it came time to pick up the pieces after Allen left — without draft picks — it was Beathard, the former Miami Dolphins director of player personnel, who did that, as general manager of the Redskins from 1978 to 1988.

Charley Casserly, who was there for both of them before taking over as Redskins general manager in 1989, said it was the presence of Allen and Beathard that allowed Washington to succeed without the coveted number one pick during most of that time.

“You’ve got to give credit to George Allen and Bobby Beathard, who made the right moves at the time,” Casserly said.

But Casserly pointed out that circumstances also allowed the Redskins to flourish without a number one pick so often — three particular circumstances.

In 1976, the NFL had a brief, unusual window of free agency, which for George Allen was a gift. He used his so-called unlimited budget to sign running backs John Riggins and Calvin Hill and tight end Jean Fugett.

Then, in 1986, the United States Football League folded, and Washington cashed in by acquiring Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders, Kelvin Bryant and Doug Williams.

“That was like manna from heaven,” Casserly said. “The Redskins took full advantage of that time.”

Finally, in the final years of that run, there was Plan B free agency. In 1989, Washington signed 15 Plan B free agents, including defensive end Fred Stokes.

Of course, those were different times, a different NFL — the league before the salary cap. Draft picks are more valuable than ever, as teams try to manage their annual payroll.

Can you have the same kind success in today’s NFL that the Redskins had from 1969 to 1990 without the annual benefit of a number one pick?

“I guess it could happen today,” said Casserly, who was the Redskins general manager from 1989 to 1999 and with the Houston Texans from 2002 to 2006 and now serves as an analyst for the NFL Network. “The difference is the salary cap. Having so many veteran players now would just squeeze you too much. Back when the USFL folded, the Redskins could go and get Doug Williams and pay him $400,000 to be a backup at that time and not worry about it.”

It also helped Washington that when you do have just three first-round draft picks, you make the most of them.

The Redskins had a first-round draft pick in 1980. They drafted Art Monk.

The Redskins had a first-round draft pick in 1981. They drafted Mark May.

The Redskins had a first-round draft pick in 1983. They drafted Darrell Green.

Two Hall of Fame players and a mainstay of the Hogs offensive line.

“We hit 100 percent on those first round picks,” Casserly said. “Monk was a consensus first rounder. May was a consensus first rounder. Darrell Green, if we hadn’t taken him, he would not have gone in the first round.”

The Redskins didn’t always make the most of their first- round draft picks after that — see Desmond Howard and Heath Shuler. It remains to be seen if they did so when they gave away three of them for a chance to draft Robert Griffin III.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com