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Patriots Keep New Leader in D Backfield

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Franchising Samuel Is Brilliant
More Than Just a Logical Move

[OK. Time to play a little catch-up.]

It wasn't long ago that fans and media wanted to run Asante Samuel out of Foxboro. I went back to the old Patriots Pulpit at Blogspot and found a couple remarks -- especially following the Patriots' Week 8, 40-21 loss to Indianapolis -- mentioning that various mainstream sources (and fans) were condemning Samuel.

"He's too short." "He's too slow" "He can't cover top receivers." "He gets burned on the deep ball." "He's no Ty Law."

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what they expected of a 5-foot-10, third-year, fourth-round cornerback playing against some of the best receivers in the league. He showed flashes of, not mere promise, but utter brilliance.

Placing the franchise tag on Asante Samuel last month likewise was brilliant (if pretty obvious). While the local media pondered aloud whether New England would allow the Pro Bowl snub to test free agency, the Patriots front office ensured Samuel will remain in red, white and blue for at least a year so they can see what he is really worth.

The Patriots have no one to realistically replace Samuel (as some would have argued before the release of Ty Law), so if the team allowed Samuel to enter free agency, they would have had to "waste" a draft pick on a cornerback. It's likely they wouldn't have found an immediate impact player there, either -- obviously no one with NFL experience, and certainly no one versed in New England's defensive schemes.

The only other player deserving of the franchise tag could have been Daniel Graham, and with the Patriots moves of the last couple weeks, Graham wasn't needed, and he's off to Denver.

If the Patriots can convince Sameul to play this season under the tag and without a new contract (promising they won't franchise him again next year), they get him at a lower price than if they finalized a contract now after Samuel's 11-interception, 2-playoff touchdown performance.

While that would make 2007 another contract year for Samuel, New England can see if he can (reasonably) repeat his 2006 performance. I'd say Samuel has to have half the number of interceptions in 2007 and not give up too many huge, damaging plays, or the Patriots will have more leverage to negotiate a contract more favorable to the team.

The franchise tag means the Patriots will pay Samuel the average salary of the top five highest paid cornerbacks in 2006, which comes to $7.79 million, though it could be more. Nate Clements signed an 8-year, $80 million deal ($22 million guaranteed) with San Francisco, so expect Samuel will want to be compensated similarly.

The word from Samuel's agent, Alonzo Shavers, is that he and Samuel are satisfied with the franchise designation, but that they'd like to see a contract by late summer. Shavers said Samuel won't report to spring mini-camp without a signed deal.

For homself, Samuel is avoiding the adversarial stance Deion Branch assumed last year.

There's an outside chance negotiations could fall apart and Samuel could hold out. If there's no deal by draft day, the Patriots could seek a cornerback, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

New England needs consistency (if nothing else) in the defensive backfield. Samuel has provided that, and he's one of the few players who has. He's skilled, and now that he has a few years in the league, he's a veteran and becoming a leader. With Rodney Harrison getting older and so many of the other starters either injury-prone or merely average performers, the Patriots need Samuel to be that new rock -- a solid performer and leader, that field general.

Samuel has that Harrison mentality, too. Yes, sometimes I'd rather see him make the textbook tackle or pass knockdown instead of going for the knockout or spectacular-but-failed pickoff attempt, but you do see him "send a message" like he did on Jeb Putzier in Week 6 of 2006 or Ricky Williams in Week 10 that year.

Of course, the best result for fans would be if Samuel and the team can come to a reasonable long-term agreement -- something that keeps him in a New England uniform for 4 or 5 years with a couple option years at the end.

A Little Media Bashing

I love when mainstream media outlets pile on meaningless cliches. (Actually, I hate it. It's insulting to readers and viewers.)

Take wbztv.com's headline on the Samuel story: Patriots Slap Asante Samuel With Franchise Tag. The phrase "slap with" implies a certain negative connotation and makes the headline sound like "Patriots Slap Samuel with Restraining Order."

Poll

How important is it for the Patriots to keep Asante Samuel?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Of the utmost importance. He cannot be allowed to leave.
    (11 votes)
  • 63%
    Important. If he's reasonable about his contract.
    (23 votes)
  • 0%
    Not too important. Same as Milloy, Law, Vinatieri, Branch
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    Not important at all. When's the draft again?
    (2 votes)
36 votes total Vote Now