Is It That Time Already?

Patriots defensive back Asante Samuel is expected to re-join the team as early as today. The fifth-year veteran corner has been staying away from camp over a contract dispute. It appears Samuel is ready to put that behind him to get ready for the season.

Reports indicating Asante Samuel will be in town and could be back on the practice field as early as today are prevalent in today's newswire. Samuel, who threatened to hold out until week 10 of the season over a contract dispute, may end up signing his one-year Franchise Tag tender today instead.

The reports confirm what Patriots Insider and Scout.com insiders said months ago - that Samuel would report about a week before the start of the regular season. When word that Samuel threatened to hold out until week 10 of the season first surfaced, Scout.com insiders Tom Marino and Adam Caplan indicated that the disgruntled cornerback would report in time for the start of the regular season

Under the Franchise tag rule, Samuel is set to earn a guaranteed $7.79 million this year, the average of the top 5 players at his position. Samuel was looking for a long-term teal with more guaranteed money up front, but once the deadline to sign a new deal passed in July, the point was moot. Samuel's representatives cannot negotiate a long-term deal with the Patriots at this time because, under the rule, the Patriots would lose their ability to use the Franchise tag again for the life of Samuel's contract.

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

Samuel has reportedly been working out on his own in Florida, something the defensive back had done in the past prior to the start of the preseason. This time, that conditioning and workout routine will come under more scrutiny as the Patriots look to put Samuel back into the mix right away rather than force him to sit out as some form of punishment for his contract holdout. Technically, Samuel wasn't a hold out as he had not signed the tender, and had no legal obligation to report.

When Samuel returns, he should move back to the left cornerback spot, the same position he held throughout the 2006 season. That would allow the Patriots to move Randall Gay from the left corner position to the right side, either as a corner or a slot cover corner. Ellis Hobbs had manned the right corner position throughout the preseason, and could conceivably move inside if the team deems the bigger, more physical gay a better fit for the out side position.

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