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Samuel gets tagged

Patriots, CB work toward long-term deal

After learning that a potential big payday as an unrestricted free agent was limited by the Patriots assigning him the franchise tag yesterday, cornerback Asante Samuel took the news in stride.

Samuel's agent, Alonzo Shavers, said last night Samuel expected the Patriots to take that course of action. Asked if Samuel planned on holding out, Shavers said, "That is not our intention at all."

Shavers said Samuel received a call from Patriots officials yesterday. The Patriots told Samuel they felt he was a crucial part of their team and hoped to work toward a long-term contract, according to Shavers.

"Right now it's very amicable," Shavers said. "We don't look at it as a bad thing. This is a step in the process in working toward a long-term deal."

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

Shavers had yet to receive the official paperwork of the specifics of the franchise tag, which is important because there are two levels of the tag -- non-exclusive and exclusive.

The non-exclusive tag is worth $7.79 million on a one-year deal, while the exclusive tag -- the amount of which has yet to be determined -- would be more.

If the Patriots placed the non-exclusive tag on Samuel, he can still negotiate with other teams. But if any team signed Samuel to an offer sheet -- and the Patriots did not match that offer -- the team acquiring Samuel would have to give up two first-round draft choices. Because of such a heavy price to pay, non-exclusive franchise players seldom draw significant interest.

Meanwhile, if the Patriots placed the exclusive tag on Samuel, it immediately guarantees his salary and restricts him from negotiating with other clubs.

Players generally loath the franchise tag, preferring to test the open market, where they can potentially earn contracts with lucrative signing bonuses that are paid immediately. Such immediate payments provide players financial security in a business in which contracts are not guaranteed.

Samuel, who turned 26 in January, tied for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions last season. A fourth-round draft choice in 2003, he signed a four-year contract that included a $312,500 signing bonus. Including other bonuses and his base salaries, Samuel earned approximately $2 million over the contract, according to NFL Players Association figures, meaning this year he stands to earn approximately four times as much as he did in his first four years in the league.

Teams will be operating with a $109 million salary cap in 2007, and Samuel would hold the second-highest cap figure on the team behind quarterback Tom Brady ($11.3 million). The Patriots were projected to have between $25 million to $30 million in cap space entering the league year, and can absorb such a hit.

Had he hit the unrestricted market, the 5-foot-10-inch, 185-pound Samuel was expected to receive immediate interest, considered one of the top cornerbacks available along with Buffalo's Nate Clements. One team speculated to have interest in Samuel was the Jets, one of the Patriots' top rivals.

Tight end Daniel Graham -- the team's 2002 first-round draft choice and one of the league's top blockers at his position -- is now the team's top player scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

This marks the fourth time the Patriots have used the franchise tag since it was added to the league's collective bargaining agreement in 1993. Kicker Adam Vinatieri was assigned the tag in 2002 and 2005, and safety Tebucky Jones was tagged in 2003 before he was traded.

Although the Patriots and older defensive backs such as Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy parted ways in the past, Samuel's situation is different in that he's entering the prime years of his career.

Still, Shavers's hope is that the franchise tag is temporary.

"The whole goal is to get a long-term deal in New England," he said. "Every day we work towards that and this is a matter of going through the process."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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