No. 1 Bargain: Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers was a first-round steal in 2005 and he continues to be a steal for the Packers.
With a salary cap figure of $7.75 million in 2011, Rodgers represented the NFL's ultimate bargain.
Rodgers ranked merely 14th among quarterbacks in cap money, according to a comparison put together and graciously shared by Brian McIntire of MacsFootballBlog.com.
With some mind-blowing statistics, Rodgers won the NFL's MVP and led the Packers to a 15-1 record. Of the 13 quarterbacks ahead of Rodgers in cap dollars, the Jets' Mark Sanchez, the Colts' Peyton Manning and the Eagles' Michael Vick ranked first, second and third, respectively. None of them made the playoffs, nor did the Chargers' Philip Rivers (fifth on list), the Rams' Sam Bradford (eighth), the Bears' Jay Cutler (11th), and the Broncos'/Chiefs' Kyle Orton (13th).
The bargain that is Rodgers is even more evident when viewed through an NFC North prism. Rodgers' cap figure was $1.75 million less than Cutler's $9.50 million.
The Lions' Matthew Stafford was scheduled to have a cap value of $12.48 million but instead ranked 17th at $6.124 million because Detroit reworked his deal to get under the salary cap. The team turned $8.475 million of his salary into a signing bonus, but that merely passed the buck to 2012, 2013 and 2014, with his cap figures rising $3.48 million annually and giving him a cap figure of $17.1 million for 2012.
The Vikings wasted $5.05 million on Donovan McNabb. Combined with first-round pick Christian Ponder's $1.847 million cap figure, Minnesota dedicated just shy of $6.9 million to its top two quarterbacks last season. McNabb and Ponder, of course, led the Vikings to a 3-13 record.
Rodgers will continue to be a bargain for his final three years under contract, with cap charges of $8.5 million in 2012, $9.75 million in 2013 and $11 million in 2014. If Rodgers had made that $11 million in 2011, he would have ranked just 10th on the list.
No. 1 Budget Buster: A.J. Hawk
At this time last year, general manager Ted Thompson had a big decision on his hands. In place of an injured Nick Barnett, Desmond Bishop had earned the right to be a full-time defender. So, would Thompson choose the ever-present Hawk, who was set to have an astronomical cap number of $12.37 million, or Barnett, who had sustained season-ending injuries in two of the previous three seasons?
Thompson chose Hawk — cutting him and then re-signing him to a five-year deal worth $33.75 million, including an $8 million signing bonus.
Hawk was picked on in coverage from the get-go.
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
It it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Now, it needs fixing.
Hawk, with a cap charge of $4.55 million in 2011, played 960 of the least-impactful snaps imaginable.
The Packers tied for the NFL lead with 38 takeaways. Nine players had a hand in the league-leading 31 interceptions but Hawk didn't have any. Eight players forced a fumble but Hawk was not among them. Five players recovered a fumble but Hawk was not in that group, either. In all, 13 players either had an interception, forced a fumble or recovered a fumble. Hawk's name is conspicuous by its absence.
Moreover, of the 36 middle or inside linebackers who played at least 50 percent of their defense's snaps in 2011, Hawk ranked next-to-last in "stops" percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. While Hawk provided decent pressure when used as a blitzer, he had one sack on 149 pass-rushing snaps, according to PFF. Of inside/middle linebackers who blitzed at least 90 times, only Dallas' Sean Lee (no sacks in 103 pass-rushing snaps) was worse.
"I think A.J.'s been consistent," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said after the season. "I think he's got a very good command out in front of the huddle. I think in terms of calls and setting the defense and that, I think he's outstanding at that. I would say it's consistent."
No mention, however, of Hawk's playmaking ability. Earlier in the conversation, Capers mentioned how the NFL more and more resembles a basketball game because of the quick passes. Is it possible Hawk simply can't play that style?
"You've got to be careful who you're matching guys up on," Capers said. "Now, if you go all the way back to the first game against the Saints here, one time I matched A.J. up on (Darren) Sproles and you don't want to do that very often, and I put that on myself. Remember, he came out of there for about 40 yards. So, that's what this basketball game is now. If they've got a Sproles sitting back there, you better got a guy that can match Sproles' speed and quickness and you probably have to turn to a defensive back."
Hawk's cap numbers for the next four seasons are $6.55 million, $7.05 million, $7.55 million and $8.05 million. Of those numbers, $1.6 million annually are prorated amounts of his signing bonus. If the Packers cut him today, he'd count $6.4 million, so the Packers would save $110,000.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.