Eagles sign Samuel to six-year contract

PHILADELPHIA -- Asante Samuel has such good hands and terrific instincts that the All-Pro cornerback rarely drops the ball, one reason why he has 16 interceptions the last two years.

The Eagles instincts were on the ball, too, that Samuel was the kind of playmaker they desperately needed to strengthen a defense that recorded an NFL-worst 19 takeaways in 2007.

Philadelphia got its first one of 2008, signing the free-agent cornerback to a six-year contract on Friday and ending Samuel's five-year stint in New England.

"I just want a chance to be able to win and get back to the Super Bowl," Samuel said. "That's why I picked the Philadelphia Eagles."

Samuel, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection this past season, knows something about making timely picks. Samuel, who won two Super Bowl rings, has 22 career interceptions in 75 games.

"We regarded Asante as the No. 1 available free agent in the NFL," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said.

The Eagles wasted little time making an offer, reportedly worth around $57 million with $20 million guaranteed, on the first day of the free agent period.

The Eagles badly needed a shutdown corner -- or a "pick magnet," as his agent called him -- like Samuel. Philadelphia had only 11 interceptions last year and failed to score a defensive touchdown to go along with its abysmal takeaway record.

Samuel, a fourth-round draft pick in 2003, also tied the NFL career playoff record with three interceptions returned for TDs.

He was protected by New England last year by the franchise player tag. When asked if he felt underappreciated in New England, Samuel declined to comment.

"You just have to try to block it out of your mind," said Samuel of the tag.

Samuel tied Denver's Champ Bailey for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions in 2006 and returned two more picks for touchdowns in the postseason against the Jets and Colts. His 12 total interceptions in the 2006 regular season and playoffs were the highest combined single-season total in Patriots history.

Samuel kept New England's perfect 2007 regular season alive in late November against the Eagles. He returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and had a second pick off A.J. Feeley that halted a late Philadelphia drive in New England's 31-28 victory.

Samuel also won a Super Bowl ring when the Patriots beat the Eagles by three points in the Super Bowl in 2005.

So did the Patriots really know all of Philadelphia's signals before the game?

"This is over," said coach Andy Reid, with a laugh.

The acquisition means the Eagles will likely trade or shift positions for either Lito Sheppard or Sheldon Brown.

Sheppard, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is reportedly unhappy with his contract. The Eagles denied a report earlier this month that Sheppard, who signed a five-year extension in 2004, had asked for or been given permission to seek a trade.

Reid said Samuel will be the starting left cornerback, or, what was Sheppard's starting job.

"When you have an opportunity to get the best one in the business, then you need to look at that," Reid said.

Samuel hoped Sheppard and Brown would be on the roster and felt the trio could give the Eagles perhaps the best secondary in the NFL.

Samuel said the Eagles were on the top of a list of four teams he considered visiting. After the Eagles gave him a hard sell on the first day free agents could sign, Samuel decided to stay in Philly.

"When you come to one that makes you happy, why wait around?" Samuel said.

Samuel is the latest in a line of former New England Super Bowl winners who have moved on, joining Deion Branch, Adam Vinatieri, David Givens and Daniel Graham.

Samuel did allow New York's David Tyree to get loose for a touchdown and the cornerback muffed a potential clinching interception with less than 2 minutes left in the Giants' 17-14 upset win in the Super Bowl. The stinging loss was still tough for him to get over.

"He'll have a chance to recover twice this year," Reid said.

The Eagles finished in last place in the NFC East at 8-8, the same division that includes the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, whose 13-3 record was the best in the conference.

The last time Lurie made such a bold move with his offseason acquisitions came in 2004 when they signed defensive end Jevon Kearse, released on Thursday, and traded for wide receiver Terrell Owens. The duo led the Eagles to the Super Bowl in their first season but, because of injuries, contract disagreements and other issues, they fizzled and were eventually let go.

Lurie said those disappointments wouldn't steer him away from signing another star.

"I never want to be the type of organization or owner that doesn't keep reloading or going for it," he said. "You're always going to have a chance to make mistakes by taking risks. Keep going for it."