Asante Samuel: Gun For Hire

New England Patriots defensive back Asante Samuel is ready to "Get paid." Samuel will become a free agent at midnight tonight. Jon Scott takes a look at the Patriots top defensive back and the interest he's expected to gather in free agency. Will Samuel return to Foxborough? Don't bet on it according to Scott.

New England defensive back Asante Samuel isn't new to the free agency process; only this time he can enter it without being concerned about the Franchise tag. Last year, the Patriots designated Samuel as the team's Franchise player, effectively locking him up for another season.

Samuel joked with the media at Patriots training camp last summer when he finally did report. After talking about playing the 2007 season under the Franchise tag, someone asked about the now-famous tattoo he has. Samuel was asked about the words behind the tattoo.

"It's nothing, just lyrics from a song," the Patriots defender said.

Those lyrics?

"Get rich to this."

New England Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel (22) returns an interception for a TD vs the Indianapolis Colts Jan 21, 2007 (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

The humor was not lost in the moment. Media members who are familiar with the encounter still recollect the moment with a sly grin. He's going to finally get paid is the consensus opinion.

Prior to reporting to camp last year, Samuel and the team had been in negotiations over a new deal. Samuel was a free agent, and wanted to be paid like one of the top corners in the league. The Patriots didn't want to lose one of their best playmakers in the secondary. Discussions went from amicable to contentious after the team offered the Central Florida product a deal Samuel's camp deemed below market value. When negotiations broke down, the team placed the Franchise tag on Samuel in order to prevent him from becoming a free agent.

The league leader in interceptions (10) for 2006 refused to report to mandatory OTA's and training camp in protest. Samuel only agreed to end his holdout after receiving a guarantee from the team that he wouldn't be franchised again in 2008. For his troubles, he was able to report in time for the season and was paid $7.79 million for the year, although Randall Gay began the year as the starter in Samuel's spot. Samuel is now free to pursue any opportunity he desires this Friday, once free agency begins.

Word around league circles is that Samuel will command about $26 million in guaranteed money, surpassing the $22 million Nate Clements received when he signed a record-setting 8-year, $80 million (really just 6-years $74 million) deal with the San Francisco 49ers last year. Reports indicate Samuel will receive $10-11 annually from his next employer. If that's the case, you can rule out the Patriots as the ones possibly re-signing him despite what Samuel's agent Alonzo Shavers' might claim otherwise.

Shut down corners are a rare breed in the NFL. Few have the talent to matchup with the opponent's best receiver, trailing them all over the field in one-on-one coverage. Champ Bailey is considered to be one of the current ones. Ty Law was considered one when he was in New England. Samuel and his agent believe he deserves the same kind of deal Bailey and Law received when they signed their first big blockbuster free agent contract. Clements was 27 when he signed last year, Samuel is

Bailey shared the league lead for interceptions with Samuel in 2006. The 7-year $63 million deal Bailey signed in 2004 made him the highest paid defensive back in the league at the time. Bailey is surely hoping whatever deal Samuel reaches, sets the bar high. For Bailey, that bar was over 10% of the salary cap at the time.

Some of the numbers being thrown around in discussions to land Samuel are mind-boggling: $5 years $55 million, or 10 years $100 million.

Head coach Eric Mangini of the New York Jets looks on against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Giants Stadium November 18, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Steelers 19-16 in overtime. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Where Will He Land?

Samuel is unlikely to re-sign in New England. With his salary demands skyrocketing, there's little chance the team is interested in talking seriously with Samuel's agent if the $10 million per year asking price is real. According to league insiders Samuel isn't considered a "shut down" corner like Bailey. The Patriots defender is often the beneficiary of the defensive scheme the Patriots employ with safety help over the top enabling Samuel to aggressively jump routes.

Reports have surfaced connecting some teams to Samuel already. The Jets, Eagles, Saints, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Browns have all been mentioned as possibilities. Two of those connections make sense. Eric Mangini (Jets) and Romeo Crennel (Browns) are familiar with Samuel's style of play. Both coaches held the position of defensive coordinator in New England prior to leaving to become head coaches. Both coached Samuel.

The Jets would love to pair Samuel with 2007 first round pick Darrelle Revis, strengthening their secondary while weakening their division rival Patriots. The Browns would like to pair Samuel across from their own talented 2007 Draft pick, Eric Wright. The Saints, desperate for defensive help, are most likely to be the ones to overpay for Samuel's services, while word out of Miami is that the Dolphins are likely going to drop out of the race due to the cost.

Life Without Samuel

New England won't be able to count on solid coverage from the secondary without adding another cornerback. Randall Gay, a part-time safety / part-time cornerback, is a free agent. He could be re-signed, but it's no guarantee yet. Defensive back Eugene Wilson doesn't expect to return to Foxborough according to an interview he conducted with the Boston Globe recently. That leaves Ellis Hobbs and Antwain Spann as the only cornerbacks with experience on the roster. Tim Mixon and Gemara Williams could return, but both are practice squad players. Chad Scott, isn't expected back after ending the season on I/R. 2007 first round pick Brandon Meriweather is coming back, but he's more of a safety, as is Willie Andrews, who may have some legal issues to deal with before he can play again.

To say the Patriots need help at corner is an understatement. If they want production similar to Samuel's they're going to have to fork over some cash to get it done. As Samuel's tattoo indicates, all most of these players really want is to get paid.

At least he'll be smiling all the way to the bank.


Patriots defensive back Asante Samuel takes a break during practice at New England Patriots training camp.
File photo August 2006 (Photo Kevin Saleeba / Patriotsinsiders.com)

 

Career Stats: Asante Samuel
YearGamesStartsTacklesSoloSacksPDefINT
20031613430052
200413836340111
2005151554440133
20061515645901410
2007161444410186
TOTAL755323220806122

Jon Scott has been a long time contributor to a number of publications on the Scout.com network including Patriots Insider, Warpaint Illustrated and The Orange and Brown Report. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Jon has covered the NFL for over a decade appearing as a featured guest on numerous sites and radio programs around the country. You can reach Jon via this link:

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