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“I don’t really want to talk about it a whole lot, because there’s nothing anyone can solve, other than the team and myself. There are a lot of guys in my situation. So really, I just want to focus on what’s coming up this week. And I’m just excited to be back on the field with the guys. Things happen, some are out of your control. You just gotta go with the flow.” — Tom Brady on his contract talks with the Patriots

Tom Brady had the chance to put all speculation to rest, to nip all concern in the bud, to ensure there was no disconnect at all between him and the Patriots. He opted not to. He chose his words carefully and delicately, and he consequently made it astonishingly clear that he is not likely to do the Patriots any favors this time.

Can you blame him? Can you really? Brady will be 33 years old this summer, and we all know what happened the last time he and the Patriots negotiated a contract. Brady took less. The idea was for the Pats to distribute the money elsewhere. Then the Pats took the field in 2006 with a receiving corps that included Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, and Chad Jackson, a Moe, Larry, and Curly of pass catchers assembled in the midst of a Deion Branch holdout. The Pats made it to the AFC Championship game anyway before losing to the Indianapolis Colts, but one still cannot help but feel that the Pats simply gave away one of the prime years of their great quarterback’s career.

Now Brady is entering the final year of his contract in the midst of an NFL labor dispute, and let there be no doubt. He has all the leverage. The Patriots really don’t have any other options at the moment. New England traded away Matt Cassel and have no other real heir to speak off, and Brady seems poised to use every advantage he has in discussions with the team.

Where you stand on this is entirely up to you, but know this: Brady owes the Patriots nothing. He has fulfilled every obligation to them during what has been a Hall of Fame career, and he has been worth more than every penny paid him. Professional sports are a business, as the Pats have made Waterford crystal clear, and Brady’s greatest lure to remain in New England is the faith he has in incomparable coach Bill Belichick. After all, the Patriots no longer have the roster to convince anyone that they are the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl. At the moment, they may not even be the best bet to win the AFC East.

And so, when Yahoo! Sports writer Michael Silver last week referred to a “disconnect” between Brady and the Patriots, it really should have come as no surprise. Silver presented arguments from both sides of this negotiation, and you can bet your bottom dollar that all of them came through discussions (on the record or off) with both camps. Brady had the chance to refute Silver’s overview during a visit to Boston for a charity event over the weekend and the quarterback let the call stand.

Depending on whom you believe, the Patriots may or may not have an argument here, negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement looming over these talks with an indisputable glare. Over the weekend, just as the Patriots are asserting, Colts president Bill Polian sounded a lot like the Patriots in addressing the absence of defensive end Robert Mathis and wide receiver Reggie Wayne during workouts last week. Polian noted that the absence of a new CBA was the principal factor in the absence of deals for Mathis and Wayne, and he gave no reason to believe that the team’s stance would change anytime soon.

“We’re not in a regular environment, that’s the problem,” Polian was quoted as saying. “I’ve spoken to both their agents, and I certainly respect both men and they make a good case. But the problem is we don’t have a system, and without a system you don’t know where contracts might or might not fit.”

For what it’s worth, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has yet to sign an extension entering the final year of his deal, too, and there will be no greater bearing on the Brady talks than the deal signed by Manning. And before anyone suggests that the Patriots can merely use the franchise tag on Brady following this season, how are we to know that the tag will even exist under the terms of the new deal? (The players would be wise to expend any necessary energy to eradicate it.)

And yet, as the NFL creeps toward a potential work stoppage, Brady might have cause for consternation. Early last season, the Giants signed Eli Manning, the Chargers signed Philip Rivers and the Cowboys signed DeMarcus Ware. The labor talks certainly did not have a bearing on those deals. It is important to note that all of those players are younger then either Brady or Peyton Manning, making any type of longer-term commitment far more understandable (at least in theory).

Regardless, the greater issue here may concern the posturing that is taking place between the Patriots and Camp Brady, though that hardly makes it different from any other negotiation. While Silver’s report last week noted the outcome of the last negotiations between the sides, it also pointed out the fact that Brady doesn’t spend nearly as much time in New England as he used to. That was hardly a coincidence. Brady is now a father of two and husband to both an international corporation and modeling icon, and before making a sizable investment, the Patriots undoubtedly want to know whether their GQB is more committed to G than he is to BB.

In the interim, of course, the Patriots have a season to play, which only complicates matters. On the one hand, the Patriots would seem far better off waiting. On the other, they may further risk alienating the most important player in their history. Brady was elevated to the throne in New England amid the demise of another franchise favorite, Drew Bledsoe, and if Brady is as smart as we believe him to be, he undoubtedly took notice. Teams only save a seat for you for so long in the world of professional sports, and then they invariably take it away and give it to someone else.

Unless you decided to sit somewhere else first.

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