New England's Asante Samuel will be one of the hottest players in this year's free agent market that opens on Friday, February 29.
While many teams will inquire about his services, the buzz that I've heard is that the three teams expected to be the most aggressive right out of the blocks in pursuing him are the New York Jets, the
Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Veteran Hank Poteat was paired up with talented rookie Darrelle Revis in New York for the second half of the 2007 season, but Poteat is an unrestricted free agent as well, and Samuel would be a huge upgrade. Just as important to the equation is that Samuel could help mentor Revis. The rookie's 59.1-percent burned rate (completions allowed) was the fourteenth worst in the league. That's not anything for a rookie to be ashamed of by any means, but the Jets could accelerate his adjustment to the pro game by pairing him up with Samuel, eventually providing the Jets with one of the top cornerback tandems in the league. And can you imagine the satisfaction New York would get out of making Tom Brady throw against his old teammate twice a season in the AFC East?
While that may add some fuel to the fire, the Jets have other needs in free agency, such as bolstering their offensive line, linebacker corps and wide receiver talent. They may not be able keep pace with bids from other teams if they want to seriously address what are arguably more pressing needs since they are roughly just $17 million under the cap.
Asante Samuel signs autographs during Pro Bowl week.
AP Photo/Marco Garcia
Some may wonder why the Bengals would be interested in Samuel when they have their 2006 first-round pick, Johnathan Joseph, at right corner and their 2007 first-round pick, Leon Hall at left corner. Cincinnati also has former starter Deltha O'Neal as their top backup.
Just over a year ago, Joseph was arrested for marijuana possession and he agreed to enter a diversion program for first-time drug offenders. As a result, he poses a slight risk for the Bengals should he lapse into that behavior again.
As for Hall, out of the cornerbacks who had at least five passes targeted to their area in 2008, he had the fifth-worst burned rate in the league at 66.3 percent. He also ranked third-worst in the league with nine touchdown passes allowed in 2007.
While both players have plenty of potential, a high-performance veteran like Samuel would provide the Bengals with some immediate help in their passing game while the young pair of cornerbacks develop. The Bengals pass defense was ranked 26th in the NFL last year.
O'Neal is heading into the final year of his contract and is due to hit the team for approximately $2.2 million in cap space. If they opt to release him instead, they'd only take a $400,000 prorated bonus hit, saving close to $1.8 million that they could put towards Samuel's anticipated blockbuster deal. Cincinnati wouldn't need to make that move to afford Samuel, as the Bengals are approximately $23 million under the cap right now.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Samuel was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and has a house in south Florida, so if the Dolphins can come in with a strong bid, they will have a real edge in winning any negotiations for his services — despite the fact that they were the league's worst team in 2007. While it's been noted that Samuel would like to stay with a winning team, the addition of Bill Parcells as Executive Vice President of Football Operations increases the odds that Miami will be back in that category in the not too distant future.
Also working in Miami's favor is that they currently have more cap space for 2008 than any other NFL club as they are roughly $35 million under the cap as they enter the free agency signing period.
The Dolphins had Will Allen and Michael Lehan manning their corner spots in 2007. But Lehan, who had only started six games during his career prior to 2007, is also an unrestricted free agent and has marginal starting talent. So Bill Parcells not only has a huge need at the cornerback position, but also has plenty of money available to address it.
Bottom line? If Miami truly wants Samuel, there's little reason for them not to be able to reel him in. They've got the money to do it and a location that no one else can offer Samuel.
In 2007, Samuel started 14 of 16 games, making 46 tackles (43 solo), six interceptions and defending 18 passes. During his five-year NFL career he has started 53 games, made 235 tackles (210 solo), 22 interceptions, defended 29 passes and forced four fumbles.
The former fourth-round pick out of the University of Central Florida just turned 27 years old in January.
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