Perhaps as a result of this slow time on the NFL calendar and little tangible news to digest, Brady's status has become a sizzling media topic. A possible holdout has even been debated.
Much like the Patriots' embarrassing 33-14 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Brady buzz has spiraled out of control quickly, running counter to what Brady said earlier this year.
"I think we're way overpaid as it is, all of us," Brady said Jan. 25 while making a Boston-based appearance for charity. "We get to go play football for a living. I love playing, and I'm very fortunate to play. [The contract is] not really a concern."
On that day, Brady didn't sound like a player who would consider a training camp holdout. Unless something has dramatically changed since then, and there are no tangible indications that is the case, Brady will be in his familiar spot next Thursday when the Patriots open their 51st training camp: under center, leading the offense.
"I'm under contract, and I signed a six-year contract five years ago," Brady said on Jan. 25, reminding reporters that he is not the only player in this situation.
"There is a lot of uncertainty with the league, and being a player rep now, I realize all the different issues that we're facing. It's a really unique time in the league, and as a team player, I don't sit here saying, 'What about me, What about me?' I'm under contract, and I'm going to go out there and play and play my butt off."
Brady's reference to a "unique time in the league" hits at the heart of why a deal has not been reached between him and the Patriots, or between the Indianapolis Colts and star quarterback Peyton Manning, who is also in the last year of his contract.
In a Sirius NFL Radio interview in June, Patriots owner Robert Kraft called contract talks with Brady "complicated," a reference to the league's uncertain labor forecast and the brewing battle between owners and the NFL Players Association. In March, Kraft had expressed confidence that an agreement ultimately would be reached.
"Let's put it like this: Tom Brady is going to be part of this franchise. He wants to be; we want him," Kraft said at the time.
So with that on-the-record information as a backdrop, here is an all-encompassing look at where things stand with Brady and where they may be headed:
• Current state of negotiations: The sides have discussed a contract extension, on and off, during the past year. Talks are not active at this time, meaning that there is little momentum building toward Brady signing an extension before the start of training camp. Talks could resume at any point, assuming both sides remain willing to keep working toward a deal, which has been the case to date.
• Brady's current deal: Brady is in the final year of a six-year, $60 million extension that he signed in 2005. When Brady signed the extension, it made him one of the league's highest-paid players. Because the extension was front-loaded, Brady was scheduled to earn "only" a $3.5 million base salary in the final year, as well as a $3 million roster bonus, well below market value for a player of his caliber. (Manning, in contrast, is scheduled to earn a base salary of $15.8 million this year.) Because Brady had signed an extension in 2002 when he had two years remaining on his contract, and another extension in 2005 when he had two years remaining on his contract, his representatives probably viewed the possibility of Brady reaching the final year of his contract as unlikely. If there are any ill feelings from Brady or his representatives from the lack of an extension -- and that is all speculative because no one has spoken on the record -- it probably stems from that.
• Short-term fix a possibility? Given the dynamics in play, one potential solution to create goodwill as the process evolves is for the Patriots to take a similar approach as the Tennessee Titans did with running back Chris Johnson by sweetening Johnson's deal (by a reported $2 million this season). The Patriots could do the same for Brady in an uncapped season, but because a contract can't be adjusted more than once per season, it would restrict the ability to strike a longer extension until after the 2010 league year ends.
• Collective bargaining agreement: With no collective bargaining agreement in place for 2011, and no certainty that there will be football next season, it creates a hurdle to consummating a deal. It's not insurmountable -- as recent big-money contract extensions for other players around the NFL have proved -- but it is the same obstacle affecting talks between the Colts and Manning. "We've been going slowly [as] we're trying to formulate some things that will fit no matter what the [new] system is," Colts president Bill Polian told sports radio WEEI on a recent trip to Boston. "We can't get into the nitty-gritty because we don't know what the rules will be. It's not like you're going to get [a new collective bargaining agreement] in October, I don't think. If that happens, it would be great. But at least you can get a feel for the way things are going."
• History and Peyton Manning as a guide: When Manning played out his rookie contract in 2004, the Colts placed the franchise tag on him before reaching a long-term extension. The Patriots have never been in that situation with Brady, because this is the first time he's reached the final year of his contract. But in the event an extension isn't reached by next offseason, the Patriots could potentially use the franchise tag to buy more time to hammer out a deal and ensure they don't lose Brady. The risk for the Patriots is the possibility that the franchise tag is eliminated as part of a new collective bargaining agreement next season.
• Sam Bradford factor: One line of thinking is that Brady is currently waiting for the market to be set by the expected record deal between the St. Louis Rams and No. 1 overall draft choice Sam Bradford. Although Bradford's expected deal will help reshape the top quarterback market, it's not as if both sides don't know the general neighborhood for where Brady's contract -- and Manning's, for that matter -- will ultimately wind up (potentially in the $18 million to $20 million per season range). So this seems like a minor factor compared to the larger issue of the uncertain labor forecast and the brewing labor battle between owners and the NFL Players Association.
• Kraft's role in balancing NFL and Patriots interests: Kraft finds himself in a challenging spot, balancing the league's interests against the Patriots' interests. That is a fine line to walk. As a leading voice among owners in the labor battle, he must consider how it would affect his standing if he signed off on a Bradford-type contract, or even a Matthew Stafford-type deal (last year's No. 1 pick). So when assessing the best approach for him to be a champion for the NFL and the Patriots, Kraft might view waiting on a Brady deal as the best option.
As for Brady, when asked jokingly whether he would take a pay cut at his January charity event, he responded by repeating his feelings that "we're all overpaid."
"We have the greatest job in the world, and I have the greatest job in the world," he said. "I love being here, and I love Boston, I love the city, I love the community, that's where our home is."
But on June 2, a Yahoo! Sports article cited a "growing sense of disconnect" between the Patriots and Brady's representatives in negotiations.
Asked about the "growing sense of disconnect" three days later, Brady said: "I really don't want to talk about it a whole lot, because there is nothing anybody can solve other than the team and myself. There are a lot of guys in my situation."
He added that "things happen; some are out of your control. You just have to go with the flow."
Brady's answers could have been interpreted in a number of ways.
Because Brady didn't squelch the Yahoo! Sports story that there was a "growing sense of disconnect," some might have viewed his response as confirming it. Others could have taken the words at face value, spoken by a player who did not want to put his personal situation above his team.
In that sense, the differing reactions to Brady's response nicely captured the current situation between Brady and the Patriots.
The best player in franchise history is entering the final year of his contract for the first time, which has created a considerable buzz.
It's a big story, one that can be dissected from a number of different angles.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.