snapp logoby Dan Snapp

Don’t blame Asante. Don’t blame the Patriots, either. But you can thank Deion Branch.

The stalemate between Asante Samuel and the Patriots is a villain-less crime. Samuel fulfilled his contract, and is seeking a new deal in line with what he believes is his worth. The Patriots are using the tool granted them under the collective bargaining agreement to maintain their claim. Each party did that to which they’re entitled.

Branch is to blame for opening this ugly little holdout door. We thank Branch, though, because he’s also the catalyst for everything else to come this season.

Thank him for the team first loading up on receivers Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth and Kelley Washington, then deciding let’s add Randy Moss too. Overkill? Sure, but after so many years of oh-so-close contests, isn’t it about time the Pats were overkilling the competition?

Thank Branch for the Adalius Thomas pickup, too. And Kyle Brady and Sammy Morris and Tory James. Thank him because for the first time since 2004, the team is loaded for bear, not leaving any position to chance. After seeing the 2005 and 2006 titles won by flawed teams that got hot, the Pats decided to build a dominant one. Thank Branch because the Patriots have finally decreed, “We are not going in undermanned again.”

So what, then, of Samuel? Another bitter holdout, the Achilles’ heel to dismantle the Pats’ grandiose plans? It won’t be, because they’re playing it by the book this time. Thanks to Branch.

The Patriots could have tried to trade Samuel at draft time, but they’d still have the hole at his spot. Besides, they hated this draft. Why else would they trade away first-, second- and third-round picks, with only Welker compensating them this year?

It’s fair to ask why the Patriots didn’t see this one coming, especially after going through it with Branch. But that’s the purpose of having the franchise tag, which the team is wielding perfectly.

We can say it now: the Pats blew it with Branch. They went amazingly far without his ample talents, but tell me you haven’t pictured that ball – that one-first-down-away-from-the-Super-Bowl ball – coming to rest in Branch’s waiting fingertips.

In negotiations, the Pats held all the cards, except for a modicum of public sentiment for Branch’s plight. But then they let him back in the game. Doubting anybody would meet his demands AND offer compensation, the Pats played the “Prove It” card, letting him find a deal. Branch proved it, and then, having set his market price, he was gone.

The fiasco bore two lessons: 1. Don’t give up leverage; and 2. Be mindful of the player’s value this year. The Pats haven’t blinked with Samuel, and I doubt ever entertained thoughts of trading him. Like they needed Branch last year, the Pats need Samuel this year.

Samuel did himself no favors when he broke what should be a cardinal rule for athletes: don’t compare yourself to your fans. When speaking to ESPN Page Two’s Jamele Hill, Samuel said he was like people who go on strike, “standing up for what I feel is right.” The whole episode, from Samuel showcasing his multiple rides to misidentifying the Hip-Hop source of his “Get Rich to This” tattoo, was a PR disaster. Hill, herself accustomed to being richly rewarded for pedestrian work, sincerely couldn’t fathom why Samuel wasn’t simply getting what he wanted.

Whatever public sentiment Samuel had, it went out the door with that episode.

CBA Saves The Day

Even if the Patriots wanted to blink, they thankfully ran out of time to do so. The deadline for negotiating a long-term deal passed, so thanks to the CBA, they can’t do anything without Samuel’s capitulation. He’s not under contract, so they can’t trade him. Nobody’s going to pay the franchise compensation, so Samuel can either sign the tender, or negotiate a one-year deal with the team. They could promise not to franchise him next year, or work with him on a trade for lesser compensation, but why do that? Even Chad Scott going on IR won’t pressure them into giving in. The CBA effectively saved them from themselves.

The ultimate pressure rests on Samuel’s shoulders. He can either come in before the opener, or hold out and watch $423,000 checks go down the drain each week. Even if he waits ’til game 11 to show, there’s no assurance the team won’t simply franchise him again next year.

Sign the tender, Asante. Get paid, or get rich to this. Whatever. Just take our advice and sign before the opener. We promise, you’ll be thanking us.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and let us know.