by Scott Benson

Eric McHugh of The Patriot Ledger has the surprising news today of new optimism for a long term deal between the Patriots and semi-holdout Asante Samuel, who had vowed to sit out most of the coming season rather than sign his tender as the team’s franchise designee.

McHugh has agent Glenn Toby singing the praises of the Patriots and Bill Belichick, and claiming Samuel is “past (the) stage” that led him to tell the NFL Network earlier this year that he wanted to be traded.

Toby says both sides “are fighting to get it done collectively,” and expressed optimism, even confidence, that a deal could be completed this weekend. Monday is the deadline for NFL teams to reach long-term agreements with their franchise players.

One question: where the hell did all this come from? The picture to date, painted by the player himself, has been of a rapidly deteriorating situation. Even with the impending deadline, today’s story – in which Toby attests that Samuel “is a Patriot” – is jarring, juxtoposed against the cornerback’s earlier comments.

In related developments, John Tomase of the Herald reported this morning that Samuel may end his holdout before the season, even if a deal cannot be struck. The cornerback, who had his finest year in 2006, would return in time for opening day in exchange for the team’s agreement that he would not be franchised again after the season.