In 30 minutes Thursday afternoon, Charger offensive lineman David Richards went from trade bait to the team's starting right guard.
That was the kind of unpredictable day it was as the Chargers moved their training site to Northern Arizona University for three days of practice with the Phoenix Cardinals.
One moment, General Manager Bobby Beathard was saying that negotiations with Richards appeared hopelessly deadlocked and that he was attempting to trade him. Thirty minutes later, Beathard was back in the same room, announcing that Richards had agreed to a one-year contract and would arrive in time to practice today.
That was followed later in the afternoon by the news that offensive tackle Broderick Thompson had agreed to a one-year deal and would join Richards in camp today, meaning that for the first time since training camp opened three weeks ago, the Chargers will have their entire starting offensive line in camp.
"I felt it was important to get my butt to camp," Richards said by telephone before he was to leave San Diego. "I was getting pretty irked, and I'm sure they were too. But that is part of the deal when you're negotiating. No one comes out with exactly what they want, but they come out with something they can live with."
Beathard declined to discuss financial details of the agreement, but Richards' agent, Randy Vataha of Boston, said that Richards could earn about $350,000, including salary, bonuses and incentives, if he starts for much of the season.
The agreement came after a what were some angry days for Richards.
The talks took a bitter turn earlier in the week when Beathard sent a letter to Richards saying that if he did not report by Wednesday, the team would reduce its offer by $5,000.
"The letter came out of nowhere," Richards said, "and I about went through the roof."
That was when the trade talk began to turn serious. Beathard said he gave Vataha premission to talk to other teams and inquired with some himself. But Beathard said he was asking for a third-round draft choice and found no takers.
A breakthrough finally came Thursday afternoon when Beathard softened his stance by offering $5,000 in additional base pay instead of the threatened reduction and added incentives if Richards would agree by the end of the day. Richards said he accepted the offer with some reluctance.
Richards, who has started all 32 games since the Chargers drafted him two years ago in the fourth round of UCLA, said the negotiations made him question his value to the team.
"I don't know what they think of me," Richards said. "But I'm a good football player."
Thompson faced a similar situation. He also was sent a letter telling him the team's offer would be reduced by $5,000 if he did not sign by Wednesday.
When the deadline passed, Beathard said he would reduce his offer, but he changed his strategy Thursday and offered Thompson the same kind of $5,000 increase he gave to Richards. That was enough to clinch the deal, Beathard said. Beathard declined to provide financial detail.
The agreements with Richards and Thompson reduced to four the number of Chargers without contract agreements.
Beathard said he has prepared his first formal proposal to the agent for linebacker Leslie O'Neal.
Beathard reported no significant process in talks with representatives of the other three holdout players--free safety Vencie Glenn, cornerback Sam Seale and linebacker Junior Seau, the team's first-round draft choice.
Coach Dan Henning said defensive lineman Lee Williams will not be fined if he returns to the team as planned Saturday. Williams left camp last Saturday in a contract dispute. Under NFL rules, he could be fined a maximum of $1,500 for each day of his absence. . . . The Chargers have been granted a roster exemption while Williams is out of camp, leaving the team one under the NFL limit of 80 signed players. That means if offensive linemen David Richards and Broderick Thompson sign today as expected, the Chargers will have to cut one player. . . . The Chargers had one scary moment in a punt drill when Jerry Mays, a rookie free agent from Georgia Tech, came running in to field a short punt and crashed into special teams coach Larry Pasquale, who had his back to Mays while he was talking to another coach. Neither player nor coach was hurt, and Henning was able to make light of it Pasquale's plight. "I don't worry about him," Henning said. "I worry about the guy who ran into him. He can always coach from a wheelchair." . . . Among the injured players left behind in San Diego by Henning were cornerback Joe Fuller (ankle), running back Darrin Nelson (thigh) and cornerback David Poole (hamstring). . . . The teams will conduct joint workouts at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m today. The Chargers' stay will conclude with a controlled scrimmage at 10 a.m. in Northern Arizona's Walkup Skydome.