October 3, 2004

Saints Acquire McKenzie: O'Sullivan, second round pick are the bounty for the long-awaited trade

Mike McKenzie's prolonged holdout finally accomplished its mission.

The New Orleans Saints finally completed a trade Monday that had been rumored for weeks, if not months.

The two sides finally were satisfied when the Packers backed off their demand for a first round pick and accepted the Saints' second round pick and backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan in exchange for McKenzie and a conditional sixth round pick.

"It's a great move," said Jim Haslett.

"Mission accomplished," said McKenzie's agent Drew Rosenhaus.

"A good move for us," said GM Mickey Loomis.

"We wish Mike the best," said Packers safety Darren Sharper.

"It's time to move on," said Packers coach Mike Sherman.

Much has been made of McKenzie's holdout, which had its seeds in early 2004 and culminated in an official holdout when training camp rolled around. The fan-favorite turned fan-whipping boy ended his holdout after the first regular season game, returned to play limitedly in week two and then generated a mysterious hamstring injury that kept him out of weeks three and four. While the Packers aren't blaming their 1-3 start on McKenzie's presence, the Packers won their opener and went 0-3 since the star returned.

Sherman made sure to minimize the distraction that McKenzie had become, insisting that McKenzie himself wasn't a distraction but that all the media and fan talk about him and his inevitable divorce from the team had created a disruptive presence in the locker room.

It's not like the Packers couldn't use their best defensive player on the field. The Packers were lifeless in a week two loss to the Bears, answerless against the Colts, and this past week punchless against the Giants. McKenzie was a five-year starter for the Packers including his all-pro rookie season in 1999 as a third-round pick out of Memphis. His jersey was as popular as any on the team since, but now will be given away at merchandise stores.

The source of McKenzie's dissatisfaction with the team is twofold. The line the McKenzie camp has been toting since January is McKenzie's disgust with team coaching moves, highlighted by the firing of Ed Donatell for Bob Slowik as defensive coordinator. McKenzie's contract, a new $17 million deal through 2006 signed in January of 2002, was also apparently a source of dissatisfaction. That arose when several players, most agreeably of lesser value, this offseason landed bigger contracts.

While the Saints have already said that they won't be giving McKenzie a new contract immediately - at the soonest this offseason - they are offering McKenzie a new home and a shot to compete for a starting position. Rosenhaus has agreed to as much, insisting that his side wouldn't "squeeze" the team for a new deal. It will be an issue this offseason, for sure.

For the Packers, the decision to get rid of McKenzie was not a tough one. They had their fill of his disgruntled nature, and if he was going to exaggerate, even fein, a hamstring injury the decision was even easier. But the Packers had demanded, and rightfully so, a first round pick for their start cover corner until now. When the Saints finally put O'Sullivan on the table, the Packers settled for a second round pick.

There won't be another dread-locked #34 on the field for the Saints immediately. Going along with their new man's story, Loomis indicated that they would assess the situation of the injury before this weekend, but also comforted "we're not going to trade for a guy who's going to be on the shelf." Depending upon his "injury" and his ability to pick up the Saints' playbook, McKenzie should be on the field soon as part of the cornerback rotation and should be starting by midseason. Its clear that he is the most talented cornerback on the roster, with his excellent combination of speed, size and quickness. It's only a matter of time before he bumps Ashley Ambrose or Fred Thomas.

The pick sent to Green Bay is the Saints' second round pick. The Saints still own the Redskins' second round pick, the product of a draft day trade back in April. The pick sent to the Saints is the Packers' sixth round pick. Mickey Loomis declined to say the condition of the pick, or whether it was based on the performance of O'Sullivan or McKenzie.

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