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Patriots holding the line

Deadline today for franchised Samuel

Barring an unexpected turn, the Patriots and cornerback Asante Samuel will not reach a long-term contract agreement before today's 4 p.m. deadline for franchise players. The Patriots have not increased their most recent offer, according to a source directly involved in negotiations.

Yet Samuel's agent, Alonzo Shavers, has not lost hope that a deal could be struck.

"We're still working, the deadline hasn't got here yet," he said. "We've been in conversations."

Shavers would not elaborate on the nature of those conversations, and also wouldn't confirm that the Patriots haven't upped their most recent proposal.

Asked if he's optimistic about striking a deal, Shavers said: "I always stay optimistic. We'll see how it goes. In 24 hours, it will be painfully obvious or overwhelmingly joyous."

If franchise players don't sign a long-term deal by today's deadline, they must play for the one-year tender offer, and can not finalize an extension until after the 2007 season.

If an extension is not reached, Samuel essentially has two options.

He could sign his tender and play on a one-year, $7.79 million deal that is guaranteed. The idea would be to put together another strong season and hit the unrestricted free agent market next offseason. The only wild card in that scenario is that the Patriots could potentially put the franchise tag on him again.

But Samuel has said he wasn't interested in that approach. He told the Globe in June that he planned to hold out until the 10th week of the season. By doing so, he would eliminate some risk of injury, receive a credited season toward his pension, and potentially set himself up for unrestricted free agency next year.

Asked yesterday if Samuel's stance might be softening, and if he'd consider signing his franchise tender and showing up for training camp, Shavers said: "I have no knowledge of that."

Samuel was one of seven players assigned the franchise tag by their teams. Of the group, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and Saints defensive end Charles Grant signed long-term extensions, and the Lions were closing in on an extension with defensive lineman Cory Redding over the weekend. Seahawks kicker Josh Brown and Bengals defensive lineman Justin Smith signed one-year tenders. The situations of Samuel and Bears linebacker Lance Briggs remain unresolved and have been the most contentious.

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