The New England Patriots agreed to a trade with the New Orleans Saints today, sending wide receiver Bethel Johnson to New Orleans for defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. Johnson, a former second-round draft pick (45th overall), was exchanged for Sullivan, a former first-round selection (6th overall). The deal is pending league approval.
The oft-maligned Johnson had trouble climbing up the Patriots depth chart at the receiver position in his three seasons in New England. Possessing superior speed along with decent size, expectations were high for the former Texas A&M product. Those expectations were never met as a receiver although Johnson managed to add excitement to the Patriots kick return unit.
Rumors circulated throughout the off-season that the team was looking to find a trading partner to deal Johnson. Although Johnson's speed was attractive, his inability to crack the starting lineup after three seasons made him a luxury the Patriots decided that they couldn't afford with roster spots at a premium.
In three seasons with the Patriots, Johnson's playing time has declined each season. He played in 39 of 48 games (not including playoffs), starting just 7 and amassed 450 yards in 30 receptions with four touchdowns and 21 first downs. In his kick return duties Johnson managed 2557 yards in 102 attempts (25.1 avg) with two touchdowns.
Sullivan is a former first-round selection of the Saints who has seen limited playing time as well. The Saints moved up in the 2003 Draft to acquire the former Georgia lineman by trading the two first-round picks before the Draft. A two-year starter at Georgia, Sullivan made the 2003 Pro Football Weekly all rookie team. Reportedly Saints head coach Sean Payton was disappointed in Sullivan's preparation and ability to attend meetings on time
After a strong rookie season and a disappointing sophomore slump, Sullivan's playing time declined in 2005 to the point where he never started a game. In three seasons Sullivan played in 36 of 48 games starting 17 and accumulating 102 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four passes defensed and a forced fumble.
A change of scenery was expected for Johnson who has been rumored to be available for trade deals each of the last two seasons. Sullivan, will get an opportunity to join fellow former Georgia lineman Richard Seymour on the Patriots defensive front. If he manages to make the team, Sullivan will be the team's fourth first-round draft pick on the defensive front joining Seymour (2001), Ty Warren(2003) and Vince Wilfork (2004).