First and foremost: His arm is fine. Tom Brady says the three consecutive training-camp practices he skipped on Sunday and Monday were merely a precaution from having thrown on each of the previous eight days, that he and the Patriots are "just being smart ... it's a long year."
Now, if he could just get his head straight.
Brady is too polite to come right out and say it, but he's mad as hell about the contract-related absence of wideout Deion Branch, and he's not directing his anger at his No. 1 receiver. Unlike three summers ago, when Brady became visibly emotional following the abrupt release of safety Lawyer Milloy shortly before the start of the regular season -- among other things, Brady said the purging of his close friend and fellow locker-room leader proved that the NFL was "as cutthroat as cutthroat can be" -- this time the star quarterback is taking the diplomatic route in getting his message across.
But make no mistake, the message is the same: Show my guy the money, and don't even think about showing him the door.
"Deion is the most important player on our offense," Brady told SI.com. "When I look at the elite receivers in the game, he is second to nobody. He doesn't get a lot of the credit, because we do spread the ball around here, and he doesn't feel a need to promote himself like so many guys at that position. But he is that good."
If Brady sounds like he is auditioning for a job as Branch's agent, look at things from the quarterback's perspective. Last Friday, as the Patriots took the field for their first full-squad practice of training camp, Brady's top target was Reche Caldwell, a free-agent signee who spent four undistinguished seasons with the Chargers.
Meanwhile David Givens, last year's No. 2 receiver, was in camp with Tennessee, which gave him a five-year, $24 million free-agent deal in the offseason. (A trio of 2005 backups -- Tim Dwight, Bethel Johnson and Andre Davis -- are also gone.) Troy Brown, a 14-year veteran, was missing because of an excused absence. Chad Jackson, a second-round draft pick, was on the physically-unable-to-perform list with a hamstring injury.
And Branch was digging in for what looks like it may be a protracted holdout. Unhappy with the $1.05 million he stands to earn in the fifth and final year of his original rookie contract, Branch has rejected the team's offer of a three-year extension worth nearly $19 million. He is being fined $14,000 for every day he misses camp.
Talk about Killer B's: Branch vs. Bill Belichick is shaping up as the summer's most interesting staredown. And the Patriots coach is well aware of where his franchise quarterback stands.
When told of Brady's comments to SI.com at a press conference on Tuesday, Belichick said: "I understand there's a relationship between players. Who are the players you would think would be important to a quarterback? Safeties. Every player's important. Every player."
Brady, who is regularly exchanging e-mails and text messages with Branch, conceded he's stressed about the uncertain outcome of the showdown.