Patriots Tag CB Asante Samuel

NFL teams have until this Thursday, February 22nd, to put a franchise or transition tag on players they don't want to expose to free agency. The Patriots decided not to gamble with Asante Samuel, placing the franchise tag on him on Friday.

By designating cornerback Asante Samuel as their franchise player on Friday, the New England Patriots have taken one of this year's top unrestricted free agents off the market.

Without the franchise tag, Samuel would have joined the rest of this year's free agents on March 2nd, free to negotiate his best deal with any of the NFL's 32 teams. But with this move, New England has guaranteed Samuel a one-year contract worth $7.79 million for the 2007 season, equivalent to the average of the top five players at his position. They can also continue to negotiate a long-term deal with him.

The 26-year old cornerback has played in 59 regular season games and 11 playoff games for the Patriots since being drafted in the fourth-round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Over the past two seasons, Samuel has started in 30 games, but it was this season's ten interceptions and 24 pass deflections that raised his stock immensely heading into free agency.

And as if that wasn't enough, he further boosted his profile with two interceptions in the playoffs, both of which he returned for touchdowns. Samuel has four career postseason interceptions, three of which he's returned for touchdowns.

During his four-year career, Samuel has made 184 tackles (162 solo), deflected 63 passes and forced three fumbles.

"Asante Samuel is an outstanding player who has been a consistent contributor for us for several years," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said through a statement released by the team. "We hope Asante remains a Patriot for many seasons to come."

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