Asante Samuel deserves some empathy.
He was a fourth-round draft pick by the New England Patriots in 2003 because he went to the University of Central Florida.
If he had gone to the University of Miami or Florida, where he wanted to go, he would have been a first- or second-round guy, which means he would have been a millionaire soon after the draft.
As a fourth-rounder, well, he got what the Patriots wanted to give him, which turned out to be about $2 million over four years (including incentives). Knowing young people as I do, my guess is that most of that money is gone, probably long gone.
And to be honest, he played like a $7 million-a-year cornerback last year, especially when the big games started rolling around in December and January.
Now he wants what he feels is his: Money ... lots and lots of money.
The much-publicized tattoo he had emblazoned on his arm last summer - "Get Paid" - pretty much sums up his feelings.
From the sound of it, he appears to be losing patience on a daily basis with the Patriots, which is no surprise when everyone's contract is up for renewal, excluding Tom Brady's, of course.
Samuel wants to be paid like the best cornerbacks in the NFL .... $9 million to $10 million per season over five or six years. And I don't blame him. He is very, very good.
Just go back to the AFC Championship game when he all but eliminated Peyton Manning's top target, Marvin Harrison, and returned an interception for a touchdown. He performed big on the biggest stage, which really was the true Super Bowl.
From the Patriots' perspective, they want Samuel in a more manageable, $6 million-to-$7 million range over three or four seasons. And I don't blame them either. The Patriots are obsessed about not "overpaying" for talent and thus wrecking the it's-about-winning chemistry they have created.
Here's the problem for Samuel: The Patriots have all of the leverage.
The team put the much hated "franchise" tag on him in March, guaranteeing him $7.79 million for the 2007 season (it is the average of the top five paid cornerbacks in 2006). He becomes a free agent after the season, unless the Patriots choose to "franchise" him again, which would probably see his salary near $10 million for 2008.
If Samuel chose to go the stubborn route, sitting out the first 10 games and then playing the remaining six, he would receive $2.92 million. That's good money. But he would be forfeiting about $4.9 million.
What if he got injured? What if he were rusty and couldn't crack the starting lineup? Or what if - God forbid for him - the Patriots played like the best team in the NFL without him?
Samuel should not disregard the last what if. Ty Law and Richard Seymour, two probable Hall of Famers, know the feeling. They combined to missed lots of key time during the Super Bowl run in 2004 (Law missed 10 games and the playoffs; Seymour missed one regular-season and two playoff games).
Other than Brady, every player is expendable. Patriots football CEO Bill Belichick simply finds other players.
Ever hear of Earthwind Moreland or Randall Gay?
Why would Samuel want to chance that?
Here's what my advice would be: Show up at the first day of training camp in the best shape of his life. Make sure nobody even thinks of touching his starting cornerback position. And then have an even better season than 2006 (12 interceptions, two returned for TDs, including the playoffs).
The Patriots are going to be very good this fall and early winter, maybe even great. Samuel's value will increase by 20 percent if he is the shutdown corner of the world champions.
He will be able to name his price.
If the Patriots decide to franchise him again, he would make a guaranteed $10 million in 2008, which would add up to nearly $18 million over two years. Not bad coin. He could retire off that.
I don't blame Samuel for wanting to be paid his worth, but if he plays it right, that will happen sooner than he realizes.
But if he fights the good fight, he will not beat the Patriots. They have conviction like no other franchise in professional sports. And like Belichick's defenses, they bend, but they don't break.
Bill Burt is executive sports editor for Eagle-Tribune Publishing. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Definition of 'franchise player'
What is a "franchise" player in the NFL, as Asante Samuel has been labeled?
Well, there are two types of franchise players.
Clubs retain exclusive negotiating rights to an "exclusive" franchise player by committing to a minimum offer of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position as of the end of the restricted free agent signing period on April 20, or a 20 percent increase over his 2006 salary, or the average of the top five salaries at his position as of the end of last season - whichever of the three is greater. Other clubs cannot negotiate with exclusive franchise players. The Indianapolis Colts named defensive end Dwight Freeney as an exclusive franchise player this year.
The second type of franchise player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at his position in the 2006 season, or a 20 percent salary increase, whichever is greater. This type of franchise player may negotiate with other clubs. His original club may match the offer and retain the player, or receive two first-round draft choices as compensation if the original club elects not to match the offer.
Each club is permitted one franchise designation in any year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If a franchise player signs a multiyear contract with his current club between Feb. 22 and July 16, the club retains its franchise player designation for the following league year. After July 16, any contract signed by a franchise player can only be for one year.
Also, a club may designate a transition player in lieu of a franchise player in any year when the franchise designation is available. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match an offer sheet given to the player by another club. To designate a transition player, the club must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of 2006 at the player's position, or a 20 percent salary increase, whichever is greater. No transition players were named for 2007. In the event a player retires, suffers a career-ending injury or is otherwise unavailable due to non-football circumstances, a club has the right to designate another franchise or transition player.
A club may withdraw a franchise or transition designation at any time. The player becomes an unrestricted free agent when that withdrawal occurs, and the team can use one of the designations on another player at the appropriate time.
Unrestricted veteran free agents are players who have completed four or more accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. They are free to sign with any club through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). On July 23, their exclusive rights will revert to their original club if that club made a June 1 tender to these players. Teams will have until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season (Nov. 13) to sign their unrestricted veteran free agents to whom a tender was made on June 1. If the player does not sign by Nov. 13, he must continue to sit out the remainder of the season. If a June 1 tender is not made to an unrestricted free agent, he continues to be free to sign with any club.
Restricted free agents are players who have completed three accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. They have received qualifying offers from their old clubs and are free to negotiate with any club until April 20, at which time their rights revert to their original club. If a player accepts an offer from a new club, the old club will have the right to match the offer and retain the player. If the old club elects not to match the offer, it may receive draft-choice compensation depending on the level of the qualifying offer made to the player.
The signing period for unrestricted free agents began March 2 and concludes on July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). The signing period for restricted free agents also began March 2 but concludes on April 20.