Asante Samuel made sure the Patriots can't use their franchise tag on him again this offseason, but that doesn't mean the team can't stop the coveted cornerback from reaching free agency, which begins Feb. 29.
Samuel staged a de facto holdout during last season's training camp by refusing to sign his $7.79 million franchise tender until the team included provisions (12 or more wins by the team or his participation in 60 percent of the defensive snaps) that would allow him to avoid the franchise tag. What if the Patriots offered Samuel the contract he wants prior to the free agency period?
Samuel's agent, Alonzo Shavers, didn't rule out such an option.
"There is always an option, without saying yea or nay, we're not opposed to anything," Shavers said yesterday. "All he did was work to get himself an opportunity to be able to make some decisions. He's not hellbent one way or the other. He just wanted to make sure he had an opportunity to pursue his options as a player in a timely manner, no more, no less."
In his fifth season, Samuel was selected to his first Pro Bowl. He finished the regular season with team highs in interceptions (six) and passes defended (18) after tying for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions and leading the league with 24 passes defended in 2006.
What would it take to sign the 27-year-old Samuel?
Last year, Nate Clements was the top free agent cornerback and received an eight-year, $80 million deal from the San Francisco 49ers that included a $10 million signing bonus and a $10 million option bonus due this year.
But the key to Clements's deal with relation to Samuel is the $28.9 million in base salary and bonuses Clements can make in the first three years. It will likely take something in that range for the Patriots to retain Samuel, although Shavers said he and Samuel haven't settled on numbers yet.
"We haven't dabbled off into where we can go. We know what Nate got. Where he is is where we want to be," said Shavers. "They're in line. We'll actually start doing that now, start putting together numbers and then we'll have a better idea. Free agency isn't for another two weeks."
Samuel, who had one postseason pick, may have been able to increase his free agent buzz if he had been able to hold on to a potential Super Bowl-sealing interception in the Patriots' 17-14 loss to the Giants. But despite fans' laments, that isn't likely to hurt his value, according to Shavers.
"It was said that [the Giants' David] Tyree gained money by catching that ball on his helmet. This is football; it's a game of inches," said Shavers. "I don't look at one play or one ball summing up a man's career and potential. We would have loved for him to hang on to it. But you can't replay the game, and you have to move forward.
"I think he's done enough and proven himself from that standpoint. I'm sure no one wanted to hang on to that ball more than he did."
Now, the question is can the Patriots find a way to hang on to Samuel?
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.