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Bob Ryan

He’s 33, and worth every penny

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / July 31, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — The following is an unpaid political plea:

Pay the man.

Talking to you, Bob Kraft. Give him the up-front bonus he deserves and then go get some help for your soccer team.

I read our man Bert Breer’s intricate opus in the July 25 Globe concerning Tom Brady’s contract, its relationship to the forthcoming labor brouhaha and its comparison with the Peyton Manning situation. And then I read it again. And again. I’m glad it’s Bert’s job to get a handle on all this stuff, and not mine. I’ve never been much good at this salary-cap stuff, whether it’s basketball (with exotica such as base-year compensation), or football (with franchising and the like). All I’ve really ever been concerned with is that the right guys get the big money. Tom Brady is the right guy.

I could see a potentially insurmountable problem if Tom Brady were 36 or 37, seeking a long-term contract that could wind up strangling the team with an untenable, cap-busting salary for an unproductive, aging player. But he’s not 36 or 37. He’ll turn 33 Tuesday and is very far from finished, or even winding down.

He’s still very, very good. In most of our minds, it seemed as if he had an “off’’ year in 2009 after returning from his left knee injury. During this “off’’ year, he threw for 4,398 yards, his second-highest total, and he had 28 touchdown passes for the third time in his career. The problem, of course, is that our last look at him, save for the beginning of the game in which he was injured, was the transcendent 2007 season, when he passed for a career-high 4,806 yards to go with an other-worldly total of 50 touchdown passes. Tough act to follow, you know?

Whatever the final numbers may be, the logical assumption is that he will be a more efficient quarterback this year than he was in 2009. He was understandably tentative in the early part of the season. This year he is fit and ready to go.

“I’m feeling good,’’ he said during a morning media session yesterday.

After 10 full years of media sparring experience, Tom Brady has become the master of moving the words around in a coherent manner without ever saying much of anything. He’s still capable of some animated postgame insight about why a play did or didn’t work, as befits any intelligent player who really and truly loves the game, but he can seldom be trapped into any self-revelatory musings.

It was a given he wouldn’t say much about his contract situation, and he didn’t, relying on the easiest New England Patriots dodge of all.

“Coach doesn’t like us talking about it a whole lot,’’ said Brady.

There it is. Daddy wouldn’t like it. End of story.

Except, of course, that it isn’t.

Tom Brady has become extraordinarily well-schooled in the art of not talking about himself. A question concerning his evaluation of the 2009 season was immediately turned into a team answer. “We had lots of turnovers and stupid plays,’’ he said. ‘We have to eliminate those. Coach was talking about turnovers this morning.’’

But what about you, Tom? People are curious how you rated your own performance in the comeback year?

Good luck.

“It’s hard to evaluate personally. We didn’t do what we needed to do,’’ he explained. “As the quarterback on the team, I take a lot of responsibility for that. And I’ll take that responsibility this year, too.’’

We didn’t learn much we didn’t already know. In this economy, he’s happy to have any job, and especially this one, because Tom Brady loves, loves, looooooooves to play football, and he would like to do it “for 10 more years.’’ Bill Belichick is “the best coach in the history of the league.’’ Tom Brady enjoys playing for Bob Kraft.

The contract won’t be a distraction. That much he can promise us all. Tom Brady has, in fact, proven himself to be the master of compartmentalization, carving out a very complex, but well-ordered career that allows him to remain the consummate football player/One Of The Boys while balancing a second life that could only be described as a jet-set existence. He’s very good at taking things off the shelf and putting them back.

“We all deal with a lot of stuff in our lives,’’ he said with a shrug. “Some [lives] are more challenging than others.’’

You can take it at face value when he says that every second spent in a football uniform is a good deal for him. He gained a strong sense of mortality from his knee injury. “Who knows what’s going to happen?’’ he said. “There’s no guarantee I’ll make it through tomorrow’s practice.’’

What does make him laugh are predictions of any kind. He snapped to attention when someone mentioned that expectations for the team are lower this year.

“I don’t give a damn about what any of you think,’’ he hissed. “We know what we can accomplish. I don’t care what my dad thinks. I don’t care what my mom thinks. They don’t know.’’

That was as close as he came to deviating from the speak-no-evil script. It was actually refreshing to hear.

The negotiations will continue to be a story until he signs the contract that guarantees that the greatest of all Patriots remains one until his retirement day. It would be unthinkable for Bob Kraft to allow any kind of Johnny Unitas-Joe Namath scenario, with the sad cameos in another uniform. Yeah, I know Joe Montana actually got to an AFC Championship game with the Chiefs. I don’t want to see that, either.

The greatest player in Patriots history must remain a Patriot.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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