SAN DIEGO — The Chargers, who neither wanted nor really could afford to trade Jim Lachey, nonetheless dealt the Pro Bowl left tackle to the Raiders Saturday.
In return, the Chargers received John Clay, a second-year tackle who started as a rookie for the Raiders but needs to improve, and a pair of high, undisclosed draft picks. Neither team would say how high the picks are.
"I think we made the best of a difficult situation," Charger Coach Al Saunders said. "Losing Lachey, of course, is going to hurt us because he was our best offensive lineman. It's very difficult to replace a left-side tackle, especially someone of his caliber."
The Chargers had to try to find a replacement because of Lachey's unwillingness to play in San Diego this season.
According to his agent, Leigh Steinberg, Lachey told the Chargers several weeks ago that he wanted to be traded. He was expected to report to the Chargers' training camp Monday but failed to show up.
"'The way I understood the situation was that we had two options," Saunders said. "Either he (Lachey) reports or he doesn't. When he doesn't, we've got a hole. It was in the best interests of this team to trade for a player rather than leave an opening altogether."
Clay, who played at right and left tackle for the Raiders last year and was the team's starting right tackle in training camp this season, will be asked to play left tackle for the Chargers.
Clay has proved himself as a capable run-blocker but is said to need work on pass-blocking. That skill is imperative for left tackles, who protect a right-handed quarterback's blind side. All the Charger quarterbacks are right-handed.
Clay, who is 6-feet 5-inches tall and weighs 295 pounds, was the first lineman and 15th player chosen overall in the 1987 NFL draft. He was a consensus All-American tackle in 1986, his senior year at Missouri.
"He's got a long way to go to develop into a great offensive tackle, but he certainly has a great deal of potential," Saunders said. "His strength is in his run-blocking, but he has the talent to turn into a good pass-blocker, too."
But the key to this deal may not be whether Clay comes around as much as the Chargers hope.
By obtaining two more draft picks, the Chargers could make a move to acquire some additional talent. Steve Ortmayer, the Chargers' director of football operations, said that may happen.
"We're not under a gun (to trade our draft picks)," Ortmayer said, "but we are looking to improve any way we can for the 1988 season. We would not be looking down the road. We will go through training camp and see where we need help."
With the loss of Lachey, a second-team All-Pro pick last season, it figures that the Chargers might need some more help on the offensive line. Saunders said the team is still looking in that direction.
Lachey was said to be hoping to stay closer to his Columbus, Ohio, home when he informed the Chargers that he wanted to be traded. Steinberg said that when Lachey learned the Chargers were close to a deal with another West Coast team earlier this week, he wasn't exactly thrilled.
But after talking to Al Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, and thinking it over a bit, Lachey became more receptive to the idea, Steinberg said.
"Jim wanted the Chargers to be able to make the best deal they could for him," Steinberg said.
As many as 10 teams were said to have expressed an interest in Lachey, but none offered as much as the Raiders did, Ortmayer said.
"The offer the Raiders made for Lachey was the best offer we got by far," Ortmayer said. "It had to be. Otherwise, we never would have traded within our own division."
Before Saturday, the Chargers and Raiders hadn't worked a trade since 1976, when the Chargers sent nose tackle Dave Rowe to the Raiders.
Raider Coach Mike Shanahan, at the team's camp in Oxnard, said the chance to get Lachey was too good to pass up.
"Left tackle is one of the toughest positions, and few players dominate on the offensive line like Jim Lachey," Shanahan said. "He has the ability to pass-protect as well as run-block. When you get a chance to acquire somebody like that, who wouldn't go for it?"
Lachey left Columbus Saturday afternoon and was due to arrive at the Raiders' camp Saturday night. Clay arrived in San Diego Saturday night and attended team meetings. He'll practice with the Chargers for the first time today.