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Free Agency Preview - Cornerbacks

A year later, the roles could be reversed.

At this time last offseason, shortly after the official start of free agency, the Patriots made headlines by grabbing perhaps the biggest name in the free agent pool, LB Adalius Thomas.

Now, it looks as if New England will make news again, only for losing one of the biggest name players on the market, CB Asante Samuel.

The Philadelphia Eagles' website is aggressively promoting a Friday visit by Samuel to the club's headquarters. They've even scheduled a media availability with him late Friday afternoon. A report in the February 29 edition of The Boston Globe indicates that the Eagles and Samuel are close to striking a six-year, $60-million deal.

Losing Samuel, one of the top corners in the NFL, would, of course, be a huge blow to the Patriots defensive secondary. And the team could be left even thinner at the position if they can't work out a new contract with their other free agent corner, Randall Gay.

Gay's agent, Albert Elias, doesn't sound confident his client will return to the Patriots.

"Basically, it's very disappointing that we weren't able to work something out because both Randall and myself really wanted him to remain a Patriot, but we're going to keep the lines of communication open," Elias declared in the Globe.

If both Samuel and Gay flee, New England would have only Ellis Hobbs and Antwain Spann as true corners on their roster (DB Brandon Meriweather played the nickel slot at times last season, as well as safety).

The Patriots may look to shore up the position in this April's NFL Draft, because the talent pool in free agency this year is rather shallow.

Who's Out There

A pair of top-flight corners were scheduled to be free agents along with Samuel: Seattle's Marcus Trufant and Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha.

However, last week, their respective clubs placed the franchise tag on them. That guarantees them at least nearly $9.5 million in '08, the average of the top five salaries at the cornerback position last season.

Both players would likely have been on the Patriots' radar screen if they became available today. But now that they're virtually off-limits (it would cost two first-round draft picks to acquire a franchised player), who does that leave for New England to pursue?

(Players listed alphabetically)

Sammy Davis, Tampa Bay
After an impressive start to his NFL career – starting all 16 games as a Chargers rookie, and 10 games the next season – Davis has signed with two different teams in as many seasons (the Niners in '06 and Tampa last year). Perhaps not a starter, Davis could at least add veteran experience to the position.

Drayton Florence, San Diego
A starter to begin the 2007, Florence soon gave way to eventual Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie. Still, the 27-year-old is a solid, dependable player who could immediately challenge for a starting spot here in New England.

Jacques Reeves, DallasReeves started 13 games for the Cowboys last season, after three years of spot play in Dallas. Steady, if unspectacular, he might be able to compete for a starting spot.

Benny Sapp, Kansas City
He's only started six games in his NFL career, but Sapp has been a consistent contributor for the Chiefs since his rookie season of '04, missing only seven games in that span. He might have to fit for Gay's role as a backup/nickel corner.

Matt Ware, Arizona
The 25-year-old Ware has started just one game since entering the league in 2004. But at 6-2, 214, he'd bring significant size to the Pats' defensive backfield.

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