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Johnson figured that the Falcons would unload Casillas before the start of the '91 season and that there wouldn't be much competition to sign him because most of the league thought Casillas was a fruitcake. Johnson wanted to move him to tackle in a 4-3 scheme, which would enable Casillas to lose a few pounds and become the quick upfield rusher Johnson wanted for his speedy defense.
At the start of the '91 preseason, the Cowboys got Casillas for low second-and eighth-round picks, and he has become part of a defensive-line rotation that's the envy of the NFL. On most first and second downs the Cowboys play, left to right, Tolbert, Casillas, Maryland and Haley. On obvious passing downs, maybe 35% of the plays, the line becomes Jeffcoat, Jimmie Jones, Leon Lett and Haley.
In the wake of his three-sack performance in the NFC title game, Casillas said, "I'd like to thank Jerry Glanville for putting me in his doghouse. I need to be in a system where I can get upheld and create havoc. Coming here has rejuvenated my career."
They came to Dallas after having been abandoned by other teams under Plan B, the league's now defunct four-year experiment with limited free agency. Backup free safety Ray Horton, who was left unprotected by the Cincinnati Bengals after he was beaten by 49er wideout John Taylor for the winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XXIII, was a Plan B signee in '89. A year later, coming off 1-15, "we used a fishnet approach," Johnson says. "We gathered 15 guys from Plan B and hoped a few would be good enough to make it." On defense Washington and Vinson Smith were good enough.
But the stigma of being a Plan B player stung Washington. After the Los Angeles Rams had drafted him in 1989, his nightmare of a life suddenly turned into a dreamworld—or so he thought. Washington grew up in South Central Los Angeles, somehow staying out of serious trouble while friends fell dead all around him. "My best friend, Keith Solomon, who kept me straight throughout my school years, was shot in the head and killed after getting into an argument with some guy," Washington says. "Another guy I knew, a running back on my high school team, got involved in drugs, and one day they found him with his head chopped off."
Washington, however, made it through UCLA, graduating with a degree in history. And he thought he was earning his keep with the Rams until the morning of Feb. 1, 1990, when a phone call woke him from a sound sleep. The Phoenix Cardinals were calling, and they wanted Washington to come work out for them. Classy people, those Rams. They hadn't even told Washington that they had made him a Plan B free agent.
"I was very depressed," Washington says. "I had given my all, and getting put on Plan B was like being cut. It was like, Was I that bad? I'm still not over it."
Dallas turned out to be the land of opportunity for Washington, as well as for Vinson Smith, tight end Jay Novacek and running back Tommie Agee—all Plan B signings by Dallas that year—and they haven't forgotten. After the NFC title game, Smith bear-hugged Washington and whispered in his car, "How 'bout those Plan B guys?"
They came—after the firing of coach Tom Landry, in '89—from a Cowboy regime that has conveniently been forgotten around Dallas. Jeffcoat, drafted in the first round in '83, had a team-high 10½ sacks this season, despite playing part-time. "This is the best thing that could have happened to my career," he says. "I'm fresh when I come in, and the guys who come out can stay fresh." Norton, Dallas's second-round draft pick in 1988, led them in tackles this year with 120.
Another UCLA product, Norton feels as if he has been around the Cowboys for 50 years, not five. He spent most of his one year under Landry on injured reserve with a broken thumb. After the Herschel Walker trade brought linebacker Jesse Solomon to Dallas in October 1989, Norton and Solomon split time at weakside linebacker; Norton played the first and third quarters, Solomon the second and fourth. "Every down I played was crucial," says Norton, "because you always felt you were one play away from losing your job."