Patriots can't keep Samuel from free-agent market

For the first time this season, the New England Patriots lost.

They lost the chance to prevent cornerback Asante Samuel from hitting the free-agent market after this season.

When Samuel reported to the Patriots in August, he did so with the promise that New England would not tag him if it won 12 games this season. New England's 12th win this season came Monday night, giving Samuel an even bigger victory.

Along with Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, Samuel now will be one of the top two free agents this winter. But Oakland is expected to tag Ashamgua. New England no longer can do the same with Samuel, who now is expected be the top free agent available, the player able to command the fattest contract.

Teams pay for cornerbacks and Samuel just might have the best ball-hawking skills of any cornerback in the league.

Last off-season, the San Francisco 49ers awarded Nate Clements an $80 million contract that included $20 million worth of guaranteed money. With this year's salary cap rising, with the play of the Patriots cornerback improving, Samuel is expected to exceed those numbers.

In fact, Samuel's numbers will be closer to Dwight Freeney than Nate Clements.

McBack next season

In December 2005, Baltimore blasted Green Bay 48-3. What Baltimore officials remember about that game, and the aftermath of it, were all the calls for Packers quarterback Brett Favre to retire.

Favre's finished, skeptics said. Time to hang it up, they insisted. Only now, Favre is having one of the best seasons any quarterback in NFL history has ever had.

The Ravens believe quarterback Steve McNair has production left as well. Even though Baltimore placed McNair on injured reserve on Monday, the Ravens fully intend to bring back their veteran quarterback.

Baltimore believes McNair's noticeable dropoff this season was due primarily to his health. On the second play of the first game of the season, McNair injured his groin, and he never was the same from that moment on.

McNair played with pain in his groin that contributed to spasms in his back in a season that ended when he agreed to undergo left rotator cuff surgery on Tuesday. McNair now will be in a sling for a full month, and rehabbing for over six months.

But Baltimore believes McNair, who turns 35 in February, can be its quarterback for next season. And don't forget, the Ravens will have a high pick in April, meaning they could draft a quarterback and groom him for a full year under McNair.

If Baltimore opted to release McNair this winter, a prospect considered highly unlikely, the team would absorb a $7.3 million salary-cap hit. So look for McSeconds of McNair next season.

Don't doubt Thomas

Miami linebacker Zach Thomas has made it abundantly clear that he wants to continue playing football, despite missing the Dolphins' past five games with migraine headaches and being placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

But the big question is whether he will be able to do it in Miami. Thomas is scheduled to make $5.85 million next year in the last year of his five-year contract.

If Miami were to trade Thomas, it would clear up millions worth of salary-cap space, acquire a second-day draft pick in return, and begin the franchise's rebuilding project.

But right now, with the uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff and the front office, it's hard to say who in Miami will even make the decision about whether the team will keep or trade Thomas. The same goes for defensive end Jason Taylor, who is likely to be shopped to the highest bidder this off-season.

For now, the Dolphins have some serious issues at linebacker as they attempt to steal a win somewhere in their final four games. Thomas is out, Channing Crowder did not practice Wednesday due to a foot injury and Joey Porter did not practice due to a shoulder injury.

Six for five

Anyone in Philadelphia that even suggested A.J. Feeley should start ahead of Donovan McNabb should be silenced by now.

In his past two starts, Feeley has thrown seven interceptions. McNabb has thrown six picks all season.

Now, as the Eagles attempt to try to nab that last wild-card spot in the NFC, it looks as if they will be getting back McNabb, who went through the full practice Wednesday. As long as McNabb doesn't have any setbacks, he will start Sunday's key game against the New York Giants.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.