Troy Brown signs a new deal with the Patriots, and you say, "Yeah, that's good. He is the quintessential Patriot, and it's good that Bill Belichick did right by him."
Then you discover that before Brown signed for about $1 million, they had voided his earlier contract, the one that called for a $2.5 million bonus and a $2.5 million salary, and you say, "Wait a minute here. The quintessential Patriot gets hosed out of $4 million? Man, these people are real weasels."
Then you find out that the Patriots convoluted this deal (think of the phrase "amortization for future salary-cap relief," if you can keep your eyes from crossing) so that it actually isn't as shameful a maneuver as it seems at first, and you say, "What the hell is going on here?"
See, it's easy to understand Terrell Owens. Treated extraordinarily well by the Philadelphia Eagles, putting together one superb season and demanding a new, even better deal, Owens comes off as The High Lord Emperor Greedmont I. Even his best argument that the NFL hoses its players out of money every chance it gets falls on deaf ears because, in Owens' current situation, that argument does not even remotely apply.
Ahh, but Troy Brown ... that's another story.
Played every position he was ever asked, on both sides of the ball. Was a top-level wide receiver in his day. Complained about his situation approximately zero times, at least as far as anyone knows. Works hard every day, embodying the one-for-all/all-for-one Patriot image Belichick and Bob Kraft love to portray. If anyone ever deserved $5 million for what he gave in return, it is Troy Brown.
Well, and Tom Brady, but that's another story.
But no, the salary cap (one of the great disguised evils of modern sport), Belichick's spreadsheet-in-a-sweatshirt mind and the First Law of Leverage ("without it, no other laws apply") rise up to bite Brown. Sort of.
As it turns out, the Patriots did some creative finagling to make Brown's hit less outright callous than it seems, and hurray for them for building a nuclear-powered mousetrap even though the old mousetrap worked perfectly well.
But this is the kind of situation that the Patriots, the NFL, its fan base and Troy Brown all could have benefited from some simple clarity.
Have Belichick (or Kraft, depending on who needs the credit more) come out and say, "This is a man who's earned his $5 million, and he's going to get it. No fancy wording. No amortizing. No payment in euros. No arglebargle. No figgidyduscia. Just regular old money.
"True, this puts us in a little bind, cap-wise, but we're the Patriots, and we think we're as smart as you all say we are, and we'll figure something out, because we always do.
"Troy Brown isn't Bill Russell or Bobby Orr or a fill-in-the-blank Red Sox player, but he explains this franchise in all its glory, in ways that even I (or Kraft, depending on who needs the credit more) cannot. He not only makes us better but also ennobles what we say we stand for. He validates all our self-important bloviating, simply by always being there, doing whatever we ask and making the team better by doing so. If that isn't worth $5 million, than we're in the wrong business and should be ashamed of ourselves."
Now you tell me that isn't better than cap room.
Maybe the Patriots aren't the bloodless ingrates they seemed to be at first glance after all, although such a demonstration would cause Kraft significant embarrassment at the next owners' meeting.
But there's being a good guy, and then there's being a good guy out in the open where everyone can see it, understand it and maybe even learn from it. The tactical advantages alone are almost incalculable.
For one, it makes the Patriots even more attractive to free agents, if fair-mindedness counts for anything at all.
For two, it makes Owens look even sillier in his contract spit-fest with the Eagles. As it is, he can, if his interests ever stretch beyond himself, point to Troy Brown and say, "This is what you get if you don't look out for yourself." And if he won't say it, his defenders surely will.
For three, the NFL's biggest problem is not the notion that it doesn't pay its players enough, but that it can take money out of its players' pockets almost at will. A five-year, $25 million contract is typically neither, and the typical management posture is not "take it or leave it" but "take it, and then we'll take it back and make you look bad if you complain."
It is the most visible example of the NFL's business paradigm, which simply put is, "We don't have to keep our word, because we're us, and you can't do anything about it."
And for four, it represents plain language that the average yahoo can understand, at a time when life is all small print, written in a rare Inuit dialect by the guys in Systems. Not it's-not-what-we-told-you-last-time-but-something-different. It's money, for a good cause the rewarding of someone who's earned it.
Then again, Brown signed the new, two-dimes-on-the-dollar deal, so he's happy enough with the language, even if it obscures reality unnecessarily. He could have made more money in New Orleans, although "more money in New Orleans" tells you everything you need to know.
Still, it would be a positive step for America if the Patriots simply said, "You know that $5 mil we said we were paying Troy Brown? Well, we are."
And if that doesn't work, they could help the nation by telling us what the contract is actually worth when it was agreed upon, because lying just makes them look cheap, and who needs that with your morning cruller?
So Troy Brown gets a new deal, just not the one we thought he was going to get or the one he deserved. We'll remember that when Belichick asks him to learn Tedy Bruschi's position in addition to the ones he already knows. After all, times are tight, and you've really got to make a dollar stretch.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com