by Scott Benson

Cornerback Asante Samuel tells Mike Reiss this morning that not only will he be absent for this week’s minicamp, he will sit out the first nine weeks of the regular season because the team has yet to sign him to a long-term contract.

The gruesome details are in Reiss’s report, so no need to restate them here. The bottom line is that for the second year in a row, the Patriots will begin a season with a key contributor on the sidelines, nose firmly out of joint, looking for a way out.

Of course, Samuel’s hold out doesn’t exactly mirror Deion Branch’s; unlike his former teammate, Samuel is not under contract and can’t be fined for his absence when camp begins in July. The cornerback could still make almost $3 million in 07 ($7.79 million prorated to six games) by showing up for the final six weeks, which would still be about a million dollars more than he has earned in total over the first four years of his career.

It’s possible that, with his published comments today, Samuel is just trying to stir the pot in hopes that the team will move closer to a long-term agreement before the July 14th deadline. Sure. It’s also possible that Samuel will play for the eight million and hope for free agency next year, because it doesn’t make any “sense” for him not to.

That just makes me laugh. Since when does ‘sense’ have anything to do with it? The average working guy (meaning us) isn’t going to define what makes sense for a 26 year old professional athlete. So put away the calculators and save yourself the trouble.

As sure as I’m sitting here now, there’s only one way this ends: a trade just before the season that nets a draft pick in 2008, and not a single thing for 2007. Tory James and Eugene Wilson instantly go from hope so’s to better be’s.

Ask yourself why the Patriots are in this situation again, headed for another August full of ultimatums and hole plugging, all of which can only take away from the team’s quest for another Super Bowl championship. In this day and age, when perceived ‘disrespect’ routinely triggers irreparable conflict, how on earth could this happen again? They had no other alternative? No other ideas, just nine months after traveling the same road? There is no way they could flip an unhappy player before August, and get a player that can help the Patriots now and later?

Last year, we heard how the Patriots were ‘surprised’ by Branch’s resolve.

That excuse only works once.