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Samuel leaves Patriots for Eagles

ASANTE SAMUEL $20m guaranteed ASANTE SAMUEL $20m guaranteed (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
Email|Print| Text size + By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 1, 2008

Asante Samuel has a tattoo that reads "Get Rich To This," and that's exactly what the free agent cornerback did yesterday, leaving the Patriots to sign a six-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Samuel, the NFL leader in interceptions over the last two seasons with 16, proved he's opportunistic both on and off the field, cashing in on the first day of free agency and getting the lucrative contract - $57 million with $20 million guaranteed, according to the Associated Press - that eluded him last year after the Patriots slapped the franchise tag on him.

The Eagles pounced, not giving other teams an opportunity to host Samuel on a visit. He was whisked to Philadelphia on a private jet at 9 a.m. yesterday, picked up in a limousine, and signed, sealed, and delivered before dinner time.

"This is my first time being a free agent. They say that your first visit they normally don't let you leave. That's what ended up happening and it's a great situation," said Samuel.

"When you come to one that makes you happy, why wait around?"

Samuel said four other teams were on his list, but wouldn't directly answer a question as to whether the Patriots made him an offer. It seemed clear that the Patriots were not really in the mix to re-sign Samuel, who sought a big payday last offseason but was slapped with the franchise tag.

"New England has a philosophy that's right for them. New England groomed a masterpiece and put it on the market," said Alonzo Shavers, Samuel's agent.

Samuel never blinked in his showdown with the Patriots after being franchised, refusing to sign his $7.79 million tender until the team amended it with provisions that he couldn't be franchised again if he played 60 percent of the defensive snaps or the Patriots won 12 games. He missed a month of training camp before reporting Aug. 27 and wasn't officially in the fold until the next day, when the Patriots included the franchise outs in his contract.

It was a shrewd move on Samuel's part, as the Patriots went 16-0 during the regular season.

That's not to say that Samuel, who joined the Patriots as a fourth-round pick out of Central Florida in 2003, didn't earn the opportunity to bolster his bank account.

Samuel leaves New England ranked 10th on the team's all-time interceptions list (regular season only) with 22 - matching his jersey number - in 75 games.

The dreadlocked defensive back proved that his 2006 season, in which seven of his NFL-leading 10 interceptions came in the final six regular-season games, wasn't a fluke. Despite not having the benefit of playing in a preseason game, Samuel finished with a team-high six interceptions and 18 passes defended in 2007 and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.

"Just going out and working hard every day, being a fourth-rounder, you're not going to be given anything in this league," said Samuel. "I just worked my way up and kept working hard and I'm finally getting the respect that I deserve."

Respect Samuel may have felt he wasn't getting in New England. When he was asked yesterday if he felt underappreciated with the Patriots, Samuel's answer was brief but revealing. "No comment," he said.

He won't have that problem in Philadelphia. Coach Andy Reid announced Samuel will be the Eagles' starting left corner in 2008, basically brushing aside two-time Pro Bowl selection Lito Sheppard, who held that position last season and is now trade bait. Sheppard is purportedly on the Patriots' wish list.

Samuel's best game of the 2007 season came against his new team, as he intercepted two passes in New England's 31-28 win over the Eagles at Gillette Stadium. Samuel scored his only touchdown of the season, intercepting an A.J. Feeley pass on the third play from scrimmage and returning it 40 yards - his sixth career touchdown, including the playoffs - and sealed the game with a fourth-quarter interception of Feeley.

That left quite an impression on turnover-starved Philadelphia. The Eagles generated an NFL-worst 19 takeaways last season and intercepted only 11 passes, tying them with Houston and Pittsburgh for fewest in the league.

The Eagles, who went 8-8 and missed the playoffs last season, are also getting a proven postseason performer in the 27-year-old Samuel, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and was the starting cornerback when New England beat the Eagles, 24-21, in Super Bowl XXXIX.

His three career postseason interception returns for touchdowns equal Willie Brown's NFL record, and Samuel has picked off five passes in the playoffs during his career, including one in the Patriots' 21-12 AFC Championship game victory over the San Diego Chargers Jan. 20.

That's why it was shocking when Samuel let a potential Super Bowl-sealing interception slip through his hands during the Patriots' stunning 17-14 upset loss to the New York Giants Feb. 3.

"We didn't get it done, the Giants did," said Samuel. "It is what it is. Life goes on. I'm an Eagle now, and hopefully we can get to a championship."

Globe correspondent Jon Marks contributed to this report from Philadelphia; Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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