June 5, 2006

Sullivan's Time Is Up: Overweight DT Shipped to NE

Saints acquire speedy WR Johnson straight up for former sixth-overall pick

In April of 2003, both the Saints and Patriots traded up for players they thought could solve their respectively permissions for years to come.

Today, the teams traded those two players for each other, an exchange of relatively low value and high salary that both teams can look at as a positive sign of moving on.

DT Johnathan Sullivan, the sixth overall pick of the 2003 draft and once thought of as the next in a line of big, athletic and disruptive defensive tackles. The Saints thought so highly of him that they passed on CB Marcus Trufant and other successful defensive linemen like Terrell Suggs or Kevin Williams. It was a shock at a time that the Saints would take Sullivan, especially when the "heavy lunch bunch" of Norman Hand, Grady Jackson and Martin Chase was intact.

But Hand would be traded the next day, Chase would be traded four months later and Jackson would be cut during the 2003 season, giving Sullivan a golden opportunity to start and excel as a rookie. But as early as his rookie training camp, his weight would be an issue. And in Week 2 of the 2003 season, Sullivan made probably the biggest play of his career. In sacking Houston QB David Carr, Sullivan dropped the opponent for an eight yard loss and then dropped to the floor with an injured knee.

Sullivan would recover and go on to become the talk of the town every offseason, as New Orleanians oogled over Sullivan's monumental weight scale metric. Regularly near 370 pounds, Sullivan's travails were well documented through his three and a half offseasons in New Orleans.

Graciously listed at 315 pounds, Sullivan collected 56 tackles and 1.5 sacks, missing 12 games over three seasons and starting 17. Sullivan has four years left on his rookie contract, which featured the largest signing bonus for a rookie in team history.

Despite being publicly defended and encouraged by team veterans, especially Joe Horn, Sullivan's maddeningly slow development and his conditioning problems in offseason practices convinced new Saints head coach Sean Payton to make an example of Sullivan. This comes on the heels of dumping three rookies at lunch on Friday and sitting WR Donte Stallworth out of Saturday's first practice.

WR Bethel Johnson arrives in a straight-up trade for Sullivan. Johnson was a second round pick out of Texas A&M by the Patriots, who traded up five spots with the Panthers to grab him, surrendering a third round pick for a player that many pundits hailed as a second day prospect. Johnson, like Sullivan, has been a disappointment for his first team.

Johnson's blazing speed - he ran a 4.24 40, making him the fastest player in the draft - just couldn't be tamed into consistent, disciplined route running. His hands were suspect but an aspect of his game that was improving before his trade. To say that the Patriots had given up on Johnson refining his game is to sum up the reason for his trade.

Johnson's attitude only compounded his on-the-field problems, a simple recipe for getting yourself off a Bill Belichick roster. Nevertheless Johnson's career at New England was filled with far more highlights than Sullivans, including a pair of kickoff return touchdowns and four touchdowns receiving. Johnson caught his first touchdown against the Texans in November 2003 in a game he started and collected five catches for 65 yards.

At this point Johnson looks at best like a dynamite special teamer and a situational receiver. At 5'11, 200 pounds he has size enough to start but doesn't seem to have the footwork to make his speed work for him. With inconsistent hands and attitude, Johnson doesn't appear to be a lock to make this team or any, despite having two years left on his rookie contract. Especially at this position on the team, where the Saints are loaded with viable players like Joe Horn, Donte Stallworth, Devery Henderson, Michael Lewis, Chase Lyman, Derrius Thompson and rookie draft picks Mike Hass and Marquis Colston.

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