The trouble with franchising players is that it can lead to hurt feelings and a bad situation.
The Chicago Bears have been front-page material ever since they placed the franchise tag on linebacker Lance Briggs and he voiced his displeasure to FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer saying he'll never play for them again. Although it hasn't reached that point in New England, it might be headed that direction after cornerback Asante Samuel - another franchise player - took the public approach in dealing with his dissatisfaction over his contract talks.
Samuel spoke with the NFL Network's Adam Schefter recently to voice his displeasure with the Patriots' approach to negotiations.
"This is to let everybody know that I'm not happy anymore and things are not going well," said Samuel. "At first I thought it was going well, but it's not."
Samuel, one of the top corners available in free agency, could have signed a lucrative contract with any team had the Patriots not designated him as their franchise player. The tag, which carries the price of two first round picks as compensation for any team willing to sign him to an offer sheet, is enough to deterrent to prevent other teams from actively pursuing him.
In Briggs' case, the situation has become so acrimonious that Chicago has entertained trade offers. The Redskins offered Chicago a first round pick (6th overall) for Briggs, and negotiations are ongoing.
In Samuel's case, the Patriots are faced with two problems they knew were coming when the off-season arrived. The first is the cap, which jumped $7 million over last year's $102 million mark. The second issue for the Patriots is there are no top tier corners available on the market and a number of teams have a pressing need for help at the position.
|New England Patriots corner back Asante Samuel (22) picks off a pass intended for Detroit Lions wide receiver Corey Bradford (17) late in the second quarter of their NFL game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday afternoon, Dec. 3, 2006. The play lead to a Patriots field goal. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)|
Samuel and his agent undoubtedly heard what other teams believe to be his worth on the open market, and it has affected negotiations. Armed with an additional $7 million in cap space, teams with a need at a particular position have extra room to sign a top free agent. Many teams have done so, by signing good players to top tier contracts because they had the room to do accommodate even if the player's performance didn't warrant a top tier deal.
Teams looking for a corner like the 49ers and the Browns had plenty of room to sign Samuel at the start of free agency. San Francisco opted to sign Nate Clements -- the other top free agent corner who wasn't' franchised - to a whopping 8-year $80 million deal ($22 million guaranteed) that set a new precedent for the pay scale for corners in the league. It is the type of deal that throws the Patriots' position values out of alignment with league salaries. Clements' contract is also a deal Samuel is sure to reference in his negotiations with New England.
"We have a difference of opinion in my value," Samuel said. "[The Patriots] think I'm worth one price and the other teams think I'm worth a lot more. If a long-term deal can't be done at fair numbers for me and New England, then I want to be traded."
The Patriots had over $26 million in cap space available before signing Adalius Thomas, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, Sammy Morris and Kelly Washington as free agents. Now they're reportedly down to around $10 million and have to address their 2007 Draft class with part of that money. Before going on their spending spree, New England reportedly offered to work out a deal with Samuel, which would provide him with an "elite" contract.
A quick look at the top compensated corners in the NFL who have elite contracts ( Insider analysis ) show why Samuel believes that he's worth a hefty contract. The Franchise tag is based on the average of the top 5 paid players at a given position, and in Samuel's case that means $7.9 million. If Samuel believes he belongs in the middle of that top group, then he would be looking for a deal in the vicinity of Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister and Charles Woodson's deals.
One recent top corner who renegotiated his deal is Dre' Bly. The Detroit Lions traded Bly to the Broncos who turned around and negotiated a new deal for the pro bowler. Bly's deal was a five-year, $33 million contract. The deal included $18 million in bonuses and had $16 million guaranteed.
Although Samuel's numbers (64 Tkl., 10 Int., 14 PD) are on par or better than Bly (54 Tkl., 3 Int., 15 PD) or Clements' (70 Tkl., 3 Int., 16 PD) last season, he does not have the same history of that level of performance, Samuel has never been to the Pro Bowl, and has only put those numbers up once in his career.
New England isn't blameless in the scenario; they had the chance to sign Samuel to a long-term deal last season when it could have been less expensive, and they chose not to. The bottom line for Samuel and the Patriots is that this situation can turn into another Deion Branch scenario if New England opts to hold their ground, or it can turn into more positive solution if the team pays Samuel along the lines of the current market value set by others. New England has been scouting the top draft prospects at corner in preparation for the scenario, which just unfolded with Samuel.
If the Patriots cannot reach a new deal with their former fourth round pick, then expect them to use one of their two first round picks on a top corner. They've already met with most of the top prospects and have another one coming for a visit, so uncertainty over Samuel's future will prove to be time well spent.Career Stats: Asante Samuel