Budget Busters and Bargains: No. 4 on Lists

In Part 3 of our series, we tell you the players who earned (and didn't earn) their 2011 salaries. We continue with a minimum-salary performer who played just as well as a high-priced veteran and the sad case of Nick Collins, whose big-play ways were sorely missed.

Where did the Green Bay Packers get the most bang from their buck this past season? And where did the contributions fall short of the cash? Packer Report shows you the money in Part 3 of this series.

No. 4 Bargain: James Starks

Starks had a solid second season in the NFL but failed to take a big step forward after a breakout playoff run last season.

Still, with a minimum salary of $450,000 and a rookie signing bonus of $100,300, Starks represented a heck of a deal when contrasted with free-agent-to-be Ryan Grant's cap charge of $3.797 million.

Ed Mulholland/US Presswire
Even with Grant pocketing almost eight-and-a-half times as much money as Starks, their production was practically even. Starks carried 133 times for 578 yards (4.3 average) and one touchdown while Grant carried 134 times for 559 yards (4.2 average) and two touchdowns. Starks added 29 receptions for 216 yards (7.4 average) while Grant caught 19 balls for 268 yards (14.1 average), including an 80-yard touchdown.

Despite the similar number of touches, the physical Starks forced defenders into 37 missed tackles while Grant forced just 16, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, with Starks dogged by injuries down the stretch, Grant became more of the team's go-to running back. Starks also has a long way to go mentally. He simply bungled too many assignments and wasn't as reliable in pass protection as the Packers demand from their backs.

"James is a talented kid," running backs coach Jerry Fontenot said. "He's a big guy that can run. He can make guys miss. He's got an opportunity to be as good as he wants to be. Being available and being able to get out on the field and play is his No. 1 obstacle. You can't control injuries but the more time that any player spends off the field, you spend a little time regressing in terms of what you've learned, the repetitions that you've had. It takes a little bit of time to get that back. Probably suffered a little bit of that during the season when he wasn't able to play, and had to get tuned up whenever he finally was able to go."

No. 4 Budget Buster: Nick Collins

Nick Collins vs. the Saints
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
No, it's not fair to list Collins for this story after he missed most of the season with a neck injury that threatens his career, but football's not fair. No matter how you slice it, it can kill a team to have a player like Collins not making the kind of big plays that made him a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

In terms of average per year, Collins was the sixth-highest-paid player on the Packers' roster, though his 2011 cap charge of $4.5 million ranked eighth. Collins will count $5.05 million in 2012, a price the Packers would happily pay after watching their pass defense self-destruct again and again.

In 20 games in 2010, Collins missed eight tackles and allowed a passer rating of 48.6, according to Pro Football Focus. In 16 games this season, Charlie Peprah missed 11 tackles and allowed a rating of 90.1. One of those missed tackles was a killer: the 66-yard touchdown to Hakeem Nicks in the first quarter of the playoff game.

"We'll have to wait and see what Nick's status is," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Obviously, Nick's been a big part of the defense around here. He's been a playmaker. He's been to a number of Pro Bowls. He's been able to cover ground, he's a good athlete, he's a physical guy. Obviously, he's a good player. We'd love to have him back if he's able to do it."

Collins will meet with his surgeon and the Packers' medical staff in March and then plot his course from there.

"It's cut-and-dried," Collins said. "If the doctor says I can go back, then I'm definitely going back. If he says stop, I'm stopping. That's it. You know what? I'm not going to linger around and make this team suffer from waiting on a decision from me. That's not the type of person I am. I'm going to give them time to make a decision early. Maybe they'll want to draft somebody. I'm definitely going to give them a heads-up, but we're not thinking like that. The goal is to be back next year."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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