What does Philadelphia's signing of Samuel mean for Eagles, Pats?

Saying the New England Patriots won't feel the loss of Asante Samuel would be an exaggeration.

But saying they will be devastated by Samuel's free-agent signing with the Philadelphia Eagles would be another overstatement.

Samuel is a dynamic playmaker. No team, including the Patriots, can afford to lose someone like that.

Unlike other New England defenders through the years, he was not merely a product of a scheme known for putting players in the best possible position to succeed. He is exceptionally talented, especially when it comes to ball skills. And his departure could prove to be even more painful with the Patriots likely to lose another cornerback, Randall Gay, in free agency.

However, as the Pats have demonstrated repeatedly, they are the league's best when it comes to filling roster holes.

They will not find another cornerback in free agency equal to Samuel's talent because he was the best available player at the position. For that matter, he was the best player, period, in the open market. (That presumes, of course, that wide receiver Randy Moss ends up doing the expected and re-signs with New England. Otherwise, he becomes one of the biggest names to hit the free-agency market in many years).

Still, the Patriots are likely to find a good cornerback in the draft. They found Samuel, from the University of Central Florida, in the fourth round in 2003. Thanks to their 2007 trade with San Francisco, they own the seventh overall pick, which puts them in perfect position to acquire one of the top cornerbacks in the college game. Two worthy of consideration at that spot are Aqib Talib of Kansas or Mike Jenkins of South Florida.

The Pats also will likely sign a lower-tiered free-agent cornerback.

As for Samuel, he should thrive in the Eagles' defense. He is going from the guidance of one of the NFL's brightest defensive minds, Bill Belichick, to another, Jim Johnson.

Give the Eagles credit. They were extremely aggressive in landing the No. 1 player in the free-agency market.

How much of a market was it? Not much, frankly, thanks largely to the fact that a third of the league slapped franchise or transition tags on players who would have brought far greater star power to the free-agent period that began at midnight Friday. The emphasis throughout the NFL was on retention rather than on pursuing players from other teams.

Nevertheless, the Eagles were ready to make the biggest splash of all. They promptly grabbed Samuel's attention by reportedly offering a six-year contract that would pay an average of about $9.5 million per season. That is about $500,000-per-year less than the staggering deal the San Francisco 49ers gave Nate Clements, the premiere free-agent cornerback of 2007, but was apparently good enough. Johnson's reputation for fielding consistently strong defenses certainly didn't hurt the Eagles' case.

The Samuel signing is a clear indication the Eagles are far from finished in doing whatever is necessary to upgrade their team. Philly fans hoping the team would focus on getting an offensive playmaker to help make Donovan McNabb more effective should not be discouraged.

The Eagles will be headed in that direction next. They are serious about returning to Super Bowl contention.

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