Asante Samuel set to return?According to several media reports the New England Patriots franchise player, safety Asante Samuel, is close to ending his holdout and reporting to the team. Sources say it could be as soon as next week.

Samuel is expected to sign the $7.79 million franchise tender this week and rejoin his teammates on the Foxboro practice field when it returns to work after playing Carolina tonight.

Samuel is the last of the leagues franchise players to be unsigned as Chicago’s Lance Briggs signed the tender with the Bears last week in exchange for a $1 million signing bonus and a guarantee he won’t be franchised next season.

It appears that the Patriots have given none of those concessions to Samuel.

Samuel intercepted a league high 10 passes last season plus had interception returns for touchdowns against the Jets and Colts in the playoffs while shutting down New York’s Laveranues Coles and Indianapolis’s Marvin Harrison.

Samuel previously stated his intention to sit out until week 10 but apparently leaving nearly $8 million on the table is too much for him to take.

Neither Samuel’s agent nor the Patriots would confirm his impending return.