LA JOLLA — Because their third-best wide receiver is a coach, the Chargers on Thursday traded an undisclosed 1988 draft choice for New York Giant receiver Bobby Johnson.
Johnson, 25, caught 31 passes for the Super Bowl champion Giants last season, but the Giants took three receivers in the first four rounds of this year's college draft. In the meantime, Johnson ignored all off-season workouts at Giants Stadium, so the Giants had no qualms about dealing him Thursday for a lower-round pick.
The Chargers' receiving corps was depleted when Charlie Joiner retired after last season. Joiner eventually joined the team as receivers coach, but Timmie Ware, Jamie Holland, Eric Mullins and Tag Rome haven't exactly filled his shoes. People in the organization still think Joiner, who will be 40 in October, could make the team as the third receiver.
The first two receivers are Wes Chandler and Trumaine Johnson, but the Chargers say they wanted more depth. Trumaine Johnson suffered a mild ankle sprain Thursday during practice.
"Bobby Johnson is a quality receiver who has played in big games in this league," said Steve Ortmayer, director of football operations. "He's had big catches, big games and he's scored touchdowns (20 in the last three seasons). We just felt it was an opportunity to pick up a solid receiver."
In another personnel move, the Chargers claimed former Raider defensive back Gardner Williams off the waiver wire. Ortmayer--a Raider assistant last season--knew of Williams and wanted to take a look.
Coach Al Saunders suggested that more personnel moves are on the way.
"Yes, the door is wide open," Saunders said Thursday. "We want the best 45 players available to us by Sept. 13 (when the Chargers open the season in Kansas City)."
Johnson knew the Giants were showing him the door when they drafted Mark Ingram of Michigan State in the first round, Stephen Baker of Fresno State in the third round and Odessa Turner of Northwestern Louisiana in the fourth round of April's draft.
"That was a sign right there," he said Thursday in a telephone interview. "I kind of felt (the trade) coming. I was getting less and less playing time in practice."
Johnson's rookie season in '84 was his best, when he caught 48 passes for 795 yards (16.6 average) and 7 touchdowns. He caught 33 passes for 533 yards (16.2 average) and 8 touchdowns in '85.
In last season's opener, he caught eight passes and scored twice against Dallas, but made perhaps the biggest catch of the Giant regular season in Week 11 against Minnesota. The Giants trailed by a point and faced a fourth-and-17 with less than a minute remaining. Against a seven-man prevent defense, Johnson caught a 22-yard pass for the first down, and Raul Allegre won the game with a 33-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.
From there, the Giants won eight straight games and the Super Bowl.
"Fourth and 17 . . . it seemed impossible," Johnson remembered.
Still, the Giants started Lionel Manuel and Stacy Robinson at wide receiver in the Super Bowl, and Johnson didn't catch a pass.
Johnson, who has been labeled a possession receiver, is probably not as fast as Trumaine Johnson, but he says he runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
"This is a fresh start, man," Johnson said. "Of all the places I wanted to go, San Diego and Miami were probably the top ones. I love warm weather. I can't play unless the sun shines."
Saunders heard Johnson's quote and said: "We've got the weather for him. But wait a minute. . . . Our last game's in Denver. Will he come?"