INDIANAPOLIS - Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel is prepared to explore the free agent market starting Friday, which will likely result in his five-year run in New England coming to an end.
Looking back, the defining moment in negotiations came in 2006.
At the time, the difference in opinion on Samuel's worth was about $2.5 million in bonus money. But a compromise couldn't be reached, and from there the gap widened.
Samuel's agent, Alonzo Shavers, said yesterday he wasn't expecting any last-minute negotiations with the Patriots. At this point, it seems, there is no reason to talk.
"We are either fitting into their numerical category or we're not," Shavers said, hinting that there has been little negotiation of late. "That is the issue we run into, which is fair. It's just the nature of the beast."
The key time to sign Samuel to an extension would have been October 2006, when the club was negotiating with a handful of players, a group that included center Dan Koppen, tight end Daniel Graham, and Samuel (only Koppen inked an extension).
Samuel was in the middle of his fourth year in the NFL and headed toward unrestricted free agency after the season. He was seeking around $10 million in bonuses on an extension. The Patriots were offering around $7.5 million.
"At that time, we weren't that far off because of where the market was," Shavers said yesterday at the NFL Combine. "But anything you do is a gamble. A player can gamble on his situation. A team can gamble on a situation.
"Maybe the team didn't have the time into the player that they wanted to feel comfortable. In that scenario, at that time, maybe I as a representative or Asante as a player didn't appreciate the hesitation by the team. But as you look back now, you not only appreciate it, but you almost thank them for that hesitation."
Samuel now figures to command more than double the $10 million in bonuses he was seeking in 2006. Samuel's gamble to play out his contract - and, more importantly, assume the risk to stay healthy and be productive - is paying off.
On the flip side, Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli has noted that deciding when to be proactive or reactive is one of the more challenging aspects of putting a team together.
Had the Patriots been more proactive with Samuel in '06, they might not be in the position of losing him. Of course, had the Patriots been able to project that Samuel would become a top playmaker - and go on to intercept 10 passes in 2006 and six more in 2007 - the decision would have been much easier.
Now Samuel is set to hit the market, and media speculation has identified the Jets and Browns as possible suitors. Shavers is restricted from speaking with clubs until free agency begins.
"We're kind of waiting on the 29th to kick in," he said. "This process is winding to an end and I think this situation has been pretty transparent for the last two years. It's been no secret where he's been and where he's trying to go and what he's trying to do. He's been playing himself into that top category for the last couple years now. Now is the time to be compensated at the level you're playing."
Shavers was careful not to rule out Samuel staying in New England, although that would have to be considered a long shot. He indicated that neither he nor Samuel has hard feelings toward the club.
"I don't ever think it was a personal attack," Shavers said. "They were doing what they needed to do for the franchise. I had to protect Asante's interest. Asante appreciates the opportunities that have been given to him. Now, he's excited about what's coming forward and he thinks he's put himself in a good situation, which I tend to agree with."
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com.