Future Budget Bargains

Last month, our Bill Huber brought you a six-part series that examined the budget busters and bargains on the Packers' roster in 2011. Today, we take a look at who could be a budget bargain in 2012.

Where might the Green Bay Packers get the most bang for their buck in 2012? That will be the aim of today's examination, building off Packer Report's series last month on budget bargains from last season's roster.

Bryan Bulaga

Bulaga is an ascending, potential Pro Bowl player. He was a starter on a Super Bowl team as a rookie and in 2011 allowed just one sack and two quarterback hits (according to Pro Football Focus) as the best tackle on the roster.

In 2012, Bulaga will play in the third year of a five-year contract he signed as a first-round draft pick (No. 23 overall). His cap number will be just over $1.8 million in 2012 at a position that is among the highest paid in the league for premier players. His base salary will be just $583,000.

Morgan Burnett

With or without safety-mate Nick Collins, who will make a decision on his football future soon after a neck injury in 2011, Burnett will be counted on heavily in 2012 coming off his first full season as the starter. The Packers have just three other safeties on their roster, including the unproven M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine and Charlie Peprah.

Burnett has big-play potential in the secondary. He showed it with three interceptions in the first three games last season. Depending on who the Packers have alongside him at safety next season, he could be in line for more opportunities.

Burnett's cap number in 2012 is $758,775 but his base salary is just $540,000.

Randall Cobb

The Packers finally found a consistent and explosive return man by landing Cobb in the draft last year. Cobb's two return touchdowns, his 27.7-yard kick return average (No. 2 in the NFL), and his 11.3-yard punt return average (No. 7 in the NFL) were a big boost to the special teams.

But Cobb is no one-trick pony. He is a threat as a receiver who figures to have his role increase on offense in 2012. Cobb was basically the No. 5 receiver in the Packers' offense in 2011, catching 25 passes for 375 yards.

In his second season in the league, Cobb's cap number will be just $729,414, well below that of backup receivers Donald Driver ($5 million) and James Jones ($3.1 million).

Clay Matthews

Also on our list of bargains for 2011, Matthews is scheduled to make a base salary of just $800,000 in 2012 with a cap number of just over $1.9 million. His rookie contract will expire after the 2013 season if the Packers fail to re-sign him to a new deal before then.

Matthews' sack numbers would figure to benefit from another pass-rushing force opposite him at outside linebacker, which the Packers may address this offseason. Though Matthews tallied just six sacks in 2011, he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl with an all-around strong effort and is considered by many to be one of the top five outside linebackers among teams that run the 3-4 scheme. Pro Football Focus had him rated fourth based on a combination of statistics. Only the Dolphins' Cameron Wake, the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware and the Chiefs' Tamba Hali were rated higher.

Adding to Matthews' value is that he rarely comes off the field. He has missed just one game due to injury over the past three seasons.

Aaron Rodgers

A proven quarterback in the prime of his career is worth his weight in gold in the NFL. Rodgers certainly fits that description.

The reigning league MVP topped our list of budget bargains in 2011 and is a good bet to be No. 1 in 2012, as well. Rodgers, 28, could well have an argument to be the highest paid player in the league, yet he is not even close.

In fact, Rodgers isn't even the highest paid player on the Packers. That distinction goes to Charles Woodson, who, based on salary cap value, is No. 1 at $11.5 million.

In 2012, Rodgers' cap number is $8.5 million, which includes a $500,000 signing bonus. He got that same bonus in 2011, only his base salary was a little lower at $7.25 million. His contract runs through the 2014 season.

Vic So'oto

One of last year's surprises to make the roster, So'oto has the most potential of anyone on the roster to provide some pass rush punch from the outside linebacker spot opposite Matthews. An undrafted rookie free agent in 2011, So'oto could play a bigger role in 2012 with a strong offseason.

So'oto's cap number will be just $467,833 next season. His contract is set to expire after the 2013 season.

The 2012 Second-Round Pick

Assuming the Packers keep their second-round pick in April's draft, history would say they will get immediate returns. Six out of nine second-round picks since Ted Thompson took over as GM have contributed significantly in their rookie seasons. The best among them were Collins (2005), Daryn Colledge (2006), Greg Jennings (2006),and Brandon Jackson (2007), all who earned starting roles in their first years.

While Thompson has hit more long-term on his first-round picks, the difference between those picks and the second-rounders has been immediate value. Rodgers (2005), Justin Harrell (2007), B.J. Raji (2009) and Derek Sherrod (2011) barely made a whimper in their rookie seasons though they had heftier first year cap numbers.

Cobb, a second-round pick in 2011 (No. 64 overall), had a cap number of just over $583,000 in 2011. Sherrod, a first-rounder (No. 32 overall), had a cap number of just over $1.2 million. This year's first and second round picks for the Packers — Nos. 28 and 60 respectively — figure to slot similar salaries.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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