Pats to deal WR Johnson to Saints for DT Sullivan

Clearly frustrated by his dubious work habits and conditioning, the New Orleans Saints on Monday threw in the towel on defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, trading the team's first-round choice from the 2003 draft to New England in exchange for wide receiver
Bethel Johnson.

Johnathan Sullivan Sullivan

Bethel Johnson Johnson

Confirmed by both teams but still pending league approval, the trade essentially dispatches a pair of talented but disappointing players to new clubs, where they might be able to revive their careers.

The trade provides the Patriots another young and physically skilled defensive lineman in Sullivan, who was the sixth overall choice in the 2003 draft. But the Patriots are also taking on a player whose desire to fulfill his enormous potential has now been questioned by two different New Orleans coaching staffs.

Sullivan, 25, struggled with weight problems during the three years he played under coach Jim Haslett and did not gain favor with first-year coach Sean Payton and his staff this spring. Although he reportedly lost about 20 pounds in recent weeks, dropping his weight to 328, Sullivan's stamina was a problem at the Saints' three-day mini-camp that concluded Sunday.

Given that the current coaching staff has no inherent loyalty to Sullivan, since it didn't draft him, the deal was not altogether surprising. Payton is attempting to set a new standard with a franchise that has suffered discipline problems in the past. Cutting ties to such a high-round draft choice, and a veteran who is still young enough to turn around his career, will certainly send a message.

Whether the Patriots staff can motivate Sullivan remains to be seen. New England has a strong nucleus of outstanding young defensive linemen -- starting with Richard Seymour and including Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green and Marquise Hill -- and Sullivan will have to fight for playing time. Also, Sullivan has always been a 4-3 tackle, and the Patriots' base defense is a 3-4 alignment.

In three seasons with the Saints, the former University of Georgia standout appeared in 36 games with 17 starts and had 102 tackles, 1½ sacks, one forced fumble and four pass deflections. He did not start a game in 2005 and posted 42 tackles.

As a first-rounder in 2003, Sullivan signed a seven-year contract in which the final two seasons voided. He received a signing bonus of $7.4 million and a second-tier option bonus of $4 million. New England will inherit the final two seasons of that contract, at base salaries of $698,083 in 2006 and $901,333 in 2007.

Johnson, 27, was nearly as disappointing to the Patriots as Sullivan was to the Saints organization. Often beset by injuries and never really the kind of contributor the Patriots hoped he would be on offense, he had only 30 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons.

One of the fastest players in the NFL, Johnson, a second-round pick in the 2003 draft, was principally used as a kickoff return specialist. The former Texas A&M star averaged 25.1 yards on 102 kickoff returns and had nine runbacks of 40-plus yards, including two for touchdowns.

The Saints, who have been looking for a veteran wide receiver to fill the No. 3 slot behind starters Joe Horn and Donte' Stallworth, pick up the final two years on Johnson's original five-year rookie contract. He is due to make $500,000 in 2006 and $546,000 in 2007.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.