Part of quarterback Tom Brady's excellence is his ability to deliver the football into a tight window. There might be just the slightest opening, yet he has the confidence and accuracy to zip it in there.
The next few days represent a different type of tight window when it comes to Brady: These are a few of the key dates remaining on the calendar for a big-time contract extension to be struck.
With enough groundwork having been covered over the past year-plus of negotiations, and with talks between Brady and the New England Patriots in the active state and having gained momentum in recent months, one question that is timely to ask is: Can the sides push it over the goal line before the season starts?
The answer should become clear in the next five days, before preparations shift into a higher gear for the season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 12 and the weekly grind of the NFL season begins in earnest.
When looking at the history of the Patriots' contract dealings -- not counting the unusual circumstances last year when they were planning for the uncapped season and extending several mid- to lower-level contracts over the course of the season -- they usually don't engage in major negotiations once the regular season begins.
Their modus operandi has been to try to wrap them up before the season -- with kicker Stephen Gostkowski's extension last week the latest example -- or create enough progress that the talks could spark back up during the team's bye week, such as with center Dan Koppen back in 2006.
The idea is to clearly separate business from the X's and O's, because there should be a singular focus on football once the season begins.
That's not to say they wouldn't make an exception for Brady this year, but it makes sense to think the sides will be making one final push over the next few days to close the deal. Otherwise, Brady will enter a regular season in the final year of his contract for the first time in his NFL career, which is something few were predicting at this point last year.
Brady's not alone. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning also enters the final year of his contract, which some say is a result of the uncertain labor forecast. Certainly, the labor uncertainty is a significant hurdle, but not an insurmountable one.
Closing a record deal with Brady in the coming days could be a big momentum-builder for the Patriots entering the season, and they could use it given some of the turbulence they've encountered to this point, from Logan Mankins' contract dispute to Nick Kaczur's back injury and Ty Warren (hip) and Leigh Bodden (rotator cuff) landing on injured reserve.
One of the most recent signs that things were headed in the right direction came on Aug. 8 when Brady and owner Robert Kraft played golf together on Cape Cod.
"We've been through a lot," Brady said at the time, when asked where things stand with him and Kraft. "It's been a great relationship since I've been here, with myself and the team and the organization. I don't want anything to ever get in the way of that. You have to be able to separate what a good part of a relationship is, and obviously the parts of the relationship you'd rather not deal with. But you have to deal with them."
Brady said that while speaking on sports radio WEEI and it sure sounded like was referring to contract talks. He later added, "It's a great place to play and, obviously, I hope I'm here for a long time. We'll see how that goes."
The next few days represent a significant checkpoint in the process. If an extension is going to be struck, the time is now.