Tom Brady knows the score. Three of the best quarterbacks in pro football, all Super Bowl champions, could be entering the final year of their contracts with a looming lockout in 2011. None is anywhere near a new deal. Anyone who doesn't believe the two are intertwined has no idea how the air gets in the ball.
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have been through this before, the former having been franchised in 2004 and the latter in '05, but Brady is being threatened with that possibility for the first time — a situation many have speculated has left him somewhere between peeved and steaming.
Whatever he's feeling, you'll never really know because Brady disguises his feelings the way Rex Ryan disguises his defenses. So, when he spoke publicly for the first time this summer, his words were carefully chosen and just as carefully parsed, the way Kremlinologists once did the words of whatever dictator was running Russia at the moment.
What he didn't say seemed more important than what he did, and what he did say had more meaning — or less — depending on your point of view. That's the beauty of Brady. He's as difficult to crack off the field as he is on it.
Asked if he was unhappy, he said, "My personal feelings are my personal feelings. I don't want to express them with anyone except for a very few people. It doesn't do any good. It really doesn't."
Asked if he wanted to play his entire career in New England, he treated it like a subway line's third rail. He wasn't going to touch it.
"Certainly, that's everybody's goal," Brady said. "That's Troy Brown's goal. That's Tedy Bruschi's goal. A lot of people have that. At the same time, I know I'm playing this year ... hopefully."
Brady is a guy whose accuracy with passes and words is uncanny. He sends both where he wants them to go most of the time. In this case, he could have poured cold water over the idea he was upset or harbored thoughts of leaving town.
He did not. And so, as it once was in the Cold War, it's not what's said that matters. It's what isn't. That is what it is now in New England. It's a cold war between a team and a guy who are not prone to get overheated.
But not being overheated doesn't mean you're not aware of your value or unwilling to fight for it for the first time. Five years ago, Brady accepted 40 percent less than Manning, despite having won three Super Bowls to Manning's none, in exchange for more talent. He ended up throwing to Reche Caldwell. He hasn't forgotten that.
"You see a lot of guys come and go, and the reality is that's this business," Brady said. "We don't play forever and we certainly don't sign for 30 years. This sport is based on a revolving system of players that are in and out with free agency.
"... Early on, it used to really bother me. It still bothers me to a degree, but you understand that's what this profession is all about."
Brady didn't say if he was talking to himself or the team he's done so much for. Time will tell, but the truth is he was probably talking to both.
Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald.
For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.