UPDATE: Packers make McKenzie's wish come true

In a battle of wills that started in April, Mike McKenzie emerged victorious.

The unhappy cornerback who demanded a trade shortly before the NFL draft finally got his wish Monday when Packers coach-general manager Mike Sherman shipped McKenzie to the New Orleans Saints.

Sherman had been seeking a first-round pick or a player of comparable value but had to settle for a second-round pick in the 2005 draft and backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan. In addition, the Packers will have to give the Saints a conditional sixth-round choice in 2006.

Saying again and again that it's time to move forward, Sherman finally rid himself of McKenzie in large part because the media's intense focus on the issue was becoming a distraction far more so than McKenzie himself.

"It was getting to the point where I felt like as long as it worked out in the locker room, as long as it was working out there, fine," Sherman said Monday. "He might pose no distraction in the locker room in regard to his behavior, or whatever. I constantly had contacted players to see if it was an issue, and it was not.

"But I just felt from a focus from the outside in, it became a distraction because of the recognition and the attention that it was getting. In an indirect way I think it became a distraction. As far as daily life in the locker room, life went on as usual and it was not a factor."

The players echoed Sherman's belief that McKenzie was not a distraction, despite the trade demand that never went away and the hamstring injury that wouldn't go away, either.

"I think all of the players kind of felt he is a good player and has been a good player for us. But, if he doesn't want to be here, there's no reason to keep him around," said left guard Mike Wahle. "On a professional level, it's unfortunate. But, if the guy doesn't want to be here, then you have to do something."

Something, indeed, was done. After seeking a first-round pick for nearly six months, the Packers backed off that demand. Sherman also backed off a wish to get someone of McKenzie's acumen for immediate help, despite "numerous, numerous inquiries on different players throughout the league."

In the end, the Saints — the long-rumored destination for McKenzie — gave Sherman a second-rounder and a quarterback the Packers were interested in drafting in 2002 and likely would have pursued during free agency this spring.

"He is somebody that we have had our eye on," Sherman said. "Watched him during NFL-E. Watched him during the preseason and studied him, as we study a lot of players in this league. Certainly it was compensation above the second-round pick that we were looking for."

O'Sullivan was the Saints' sixth-round draft choice in 2002 out of Cal-Davis. Like Green Bay's No. 3 quarterback, Craig Nall, most of O'Sullivan's professional resume consists of a spectacular season in NFL Europe. O'Sullivan, 6-2 and 220 pounds, led the Frankfurt Galaxy to the World Bowl championship game this spring. The 25-year-old compiled a solid 91.9 passer rating on 120-for-196 passing (61.2 percent), 1,527 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.

He has yet to take a snap in a NFL regular-season game but led the Saints in preseason passing the last two years. This summer he completed 31 of 60 passes (51.7 percent) for 471 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a rating of 75.1. Against the Packers in the second preseason game at Lambeau Field, he was just 7 of 20 for 132 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The touchdown came on a short pass and long run by Devery Henderson, who broke a Joey Thomas tackle and sprinted untouched down the sideline for a 70-yard score.

That play isn't the one that stuck in Sherman's memory, however. Sherman recalled watching the nimble O'Sullivan scrambling and unloading a pass as he slid to the turf.

"Like he's sliding into second base," Sherman said. "He claps his hands, gets up, kind of cocky a bit. I remember that part of him."

The trade, however, is hardly about O'Sullivan. McKenzie is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and he knew it. That's why he became so embittered after seeing other, lesser cornerbacks cash in on heftier contracts than the five-year, $17.1 million contract he signed in January 2002. The unhappiness with the contract, along with other issues possibly involving his dislike for Sherman and his coaching ability, led to McKenzie's demanding of a trade.

When neither a trade nor a new contract was forthcoming, McKenzie began his holdout. He skipped both off-season minicamps, all of training camp and finally the first game of the season. From Day One of camp to his arrival, McKenzie had held out for 46 days.

McKenzie reported to the team on Sept. 15 after forfeiting the first of his 17 weekly paychecks of $161,764, and played against the Bears on Sept. 19. On the Thursday before the next week's game, at Indianapolis, McKenzie apparently injured his hamstring. He did not play in that game, and some members of the Packers have questioned whether McKenzie was seriously injured or just didn't want to potentially look bad against the high-flying Colts.

Against the Giants on Sunday, McKenzie was nowhere to be seen even while other injured players watched from the sideline. Even though he played just nine snaps against the Bears and was nowhere to be found for the Colts and Giants games, McKenzie collected three paychecks.

McKenzie, a third-round draft pick who is in his sixth season, started his first five seasons in Green Bay and has 15 interceptions in his solid career. Last year, he picked off four passes, including one he returned 90 yards for a touchdown to seal a victory against the Bears.

By unloading McKenzie, his $2.75 million base salary as well as his 2005 and 2006 salaries are eliminated from the salary-cap ledger, but the remainder of his signing bonus money is accelerated onto this year's cap. All told, with the addition of what's left of O'Sullivan's modest salary — about $290,000 — the Packers took a cap hit of about $100,000.


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