Bethel Johnson Traded to Saints for Johnathan Sullivan

Teams Exchange Underperformers
Do the Patriots Need Sullivan At All?

The Bethel Johnson experiment is over in New England. After three years of underperformance, the New England Patriots said goodbye to one of the best raw talent receivers in a Patriots jersey in recent memory. New England sent Johnson to the New Orleans Saints in return for a three-year Big Easy disappointment in defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan.

Both Johnson and Sullivan were drafted in 2003, and neither has lived up to their billed potential. Johnson was taken in the second round and initially showed flashes of greatness as a kick returner, leading the AFC in return yards with a 28.2-yard average his rookie season, in which he also had a return for a touchdown (He had another return for touchdown the following year.).

But things never panned out from the line of scrimmage. He has several times been sat down healthy on the sidelines the last two years. Last season, Johnson, 27, had just 4 catches including a 55-yard touchdown, but only 12 yards otherwise. A career total of 30 receptions for 450 yards in three years wasn't enough to justify his presence on this team.

Johnson's desire to do what the team needs and his ability to learn routes and adapt to shifting positions within the receiving corps have been much bandied about in the public arena. Coaches kept typically closed-mouthed, but Bill Belichick several times hinted at personality issues with Johnson.

Bethel Johnson made one of the great catches I've ever seen against Seattle in 2004, but it was a rare glimpse of greatness that never persisted. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan comes to New England from New Orleans, a Big Easy disappointment of his own.

Bethel Johnson Photo Courtesy: Boston.com

Johnathan Sullivan Photo Courtesy: CNNSI.com

A former teammate of Richard Seymour at Georgia, the 25-year-old Sullivan was taken by the Saints with the sixth pick of the first round in 2003. Listed at 6 feet, 3 inches, 315 pounds on NFL.com, he has had recurring problems maintaining what New Orleans considered proper playing condition. Sullivan reportedly had problems dealing with the Southern heat this year in minicamp, despite coming in 20 pounds lighter than usual (at which time he was reported to weigh 328).

In his three years, Sullivan has a (nicely put) dismal 1.5 sacks in 36 games, including (a big fat) zero last year. His career totals also include a mere 77 tackles, 56 solo (25, 11 and 20), three passes defended and one forced fumble.

Like Johnson, Sullivan spent several games (seven of the Saints final eight in 2004) on the bench, despite being healthy.

Johnson's contract runs through 2007; Sullivan's, through 2009. Sullivan is slated to be paid $689,000 this year, followed by seasons of $901,000, $1.24 million and $1.45 million. But ESPN reported that the final two years of the seven-year deal were voided. Patriots.com said that other trades the Patriots made in recent season involved negotiations that could impact the dollar amounts.

The deal remains contingent on league approval. Both teams have confirmed the tentative deal, but the Patriots are waiting on the league before making an official announcement.

Commentary

Like in Adam Vinatieri's case, the few stunningly spectacular plays Johnson did make (like that mind-blower in the fourth quarter against Seattle in 2004 that sealed straight win No. 20) during his short tenure just aren't enough to justify his salary or his roster spot.

I don't know about this trade. I doubt it will come back to haunt New England, except in the case that they could simply use another warm body at receiver.

By the same token, I don't see their need for Sullivan. I can only assume Seymour somehow in some way had something to do with it. I mean, the Patriots have never been big on guys with conditioning problems, and with Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Jarvis Green and Marquise Hill -- five pretty darn good players -- already on the defensive line, what is Sullivan going to do?

Add to the equation that Sullivan has spent his career in a 4-3 alignment, whereas the Pats play a 3-4, which is far more demanding on the linemen, and I don't see the purpose.

Now, true, a change of scenery, a change of scheme can make a big difference in a player's development and performance. And the Patriots have brought in a limited number of "head cases" that have turned out well, at least temporarily, in the past (Brian Cox, Corey Dillon). I'm not holding my breath on this one, though.

On the other hand, both have potential to be Comeback Player of the Year, right?

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