The plot thickened for the New York Jets' wide receivers early last week when the club announced it had agreed to contract terms with United States Football League standout Jojo Townsell, who was drafted by the Jets in 1983 but signed with the Los Angeles Express in the rival league.
Jets Coach Joe Walton denied a report by a telephone sports news service that the Jets are close to trading veteran wide receiver Wesley Walker and a No. 1 draft choice to Cleveland for outside linebacker Chip Banks. However, the Jets' growing stockpile of wide receivers may invite a trade before the regular season.
"I would think the rest of the teams in the league would know what we have," Walton said. "I'd be willing to listen to whatever anyone wants to talk about."
If the Jets were to trade Walker, it would mean going into the season without either of the two wide receivers who have been the regular starters for the past five seasons. Lam Jones underwent finger surgery Friday and is not expected to return until mid-October.
Asked about the continuing possibility of a Walker trade, Walton said, "I'm not going to jump off into anything unless it's going to help the New York Jets a lot. I feel we're going to go into the season with four or five good receivers. Wesley Walker is having a very good training camp, and I'm not going to do anything to hurt our team. I'm comfortable with it right now."
When the Jets used their No. 1 draft pick to select Al Toon and added Doug Allen, Tony Smith and Bill Wallace in the fourth, fifth and 12th rounds, Walton mentioned injury problems experienced by Walker and Jones and a need to improve the position as reasons for drafting so many wide receivers. Walker's status has been in doubt ever since.
But the premature rumor of his trade and the acquisition of Townsell caused Walker no undue alarm. "It's beyond me," Walker said with a shrug. "I'm getting used to it now. It's a business. I try not to concern myself with it. Competition is good. Walton's trying to get people to play, and I want to play."
Walton reported no further progress in negotiations with Toon, but if the Jets sign him anytime soon, the competition could really heat up. Jones likely will be on injured reserve when the season opens, which would leave Walker, Toon, Townsell, Allen, Smith and veterans Kurt Sohn and Bobby Humphery, who led the NFL in kickoff returns in 1984, to compete for four or five roster spots.
The Jets in another acquisiton re-acquired defensive end Ben Rudolph, who played out his option with the Jets in 1984 and joined the Express for the 1985 USFL season.
Both Townsell and Rudolph became available when the Express, a team that was taken over by the USFL, decided not to put them on a list of protected players. Rudolph simply was given his release, but Townsell, who has agreed to a three-year contract with the Jets, had to buy out of his Express contract for more than $50,000.
Walton said Rudolph should slip comfortably into his previous role as a pass-rushing specialist, while Townsell will be tried first at the flanker position played by the injured Jones. The 5-9, 180-pound Townsell, who joined the Express for the last five games of the 1983 season, caught 126 passes for 1,992 yards and 16 touchdowns in his two and a half seasons. He set a USFL single-game receiving yardage record of 249 yards on eight catches against Memphis in 1984.
"We felt strongly about Jojo when we drafted him," Walton said. "He's an acrobatic receiver with good jumping ability. He's clever, and he has a good pair of hands."
Jersey tackle--New York jet quarterback Ken O'Brien is sacked by cincinnati's Eddie Edwards.