Top-shelf talent at bargain-basement prices is a necessity, but teams must get impact from the players they've determined are worthy of premium contracts.
In that light, here are the five players who outperformed their contracts. This list is based solely on performance in 2013 among the 17 players with cap charges of at least $2 million.
No. 5: Mason Crosby — Crosby made up for the $1.6 million cut in base salary with an additional $800,000 in roster bonuses and another $800,000 by making at least 85 percent of his field-goal attempts. Thus, he still pocketed $2.4 million.
His cap charge wound up $2.35 million — tied for ninth-highest in the league among kickers.
In the best kicking season in NFL history, Crosby finished 14th with 89.2 percent accuracy. Before this season, he had made 80 percent of his kicks just once: 2011, when he ranked 13th at 85.7 percent. His touchback percentage of 22.8 percent was next-to-last in the league, though the abundance of cold-weather games and the Packers' porous coverage unit played a role in that.
No. 4: Sam Shields — At the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million, Shields was a steal. Now, with unrestricted free agency approaching and the financial ball in Shields' court, the challenge will be keeping one of the league's top young corners.
Shields ranked 46th among corners in cap dollars, and 13 had at least triple the cap charge. That's a good deal, considering he ranked eighth in the league in completion percentage allowed and 24th in opponent passer rating, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
No. 3: Aaron Rodgers — Rodgers' value showed with just a quick look at the team's record. In games he started and finished, the Packers went 6-3. When he was sidelined with a broken collarbone, the Packers went 2-5-1. Beyond Rodgers' value as one of the all-time great passers, the defense went down the drain the minute he went down.
Rodgers' cap charge in 2013 was $12 million. In 2014, it will rise to $17.9 million. That $5.9 million increase is more than the the projected $3.3 million increase in the league-wide cap.
Still, Rodgers is practically a steal. While his contract made him the highest-paid player in NFL history in terms of the $62.5 million that's guaranteed, his cap charge ranked 10th among quarterbacks in 2013 and will be sixth in 2014.
No. 2: T.J. Lang — Lang showed up on some "overpaid" lists last offseason, based on his so-so play after an August 2012 contract extension that was worth $22.064 million through 2016, including a $5.5 million signing bonus.
Lang, playing with a cap charge of $3.1 million in 2013, had a big bounce-back season. In 2012, Lang was dealing with an elbow injury and a midseason move from left guard to right tackle. In 2013, Lang was healthy and mostly locked in at right guard. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Lang ranked 13th among the 60 guards playing at least 50 percent of the snaps.
All-Pro Josh Sitton (No. 9 in cap among guards) might be the better player but Lang (No. 22) is the better value.
No. 1: Jordy Nelson — Nelson is one of the best bargains in the league, regardless of position. Nelson's contract extension, which he signed in September 2011, was worth $13.2 million through 2014 and included a $3.5 million signing bonus.
In 2013, Nelson's cap charge of $4.025 million was the ninth-highest on the team. Among NFL wide receivers, his cap hit was just 29th. Among receivers having a larger impact on the cap than Nelson: Sidney Rice ($9.7 million), Mike Williams ($8.3 million), Nate Washington ($5.1 million) and Greg Jennings ($5.0 million).
What did the Packers get for that money? Nelson led the NFL with 19 receptions of 25-plus yards. According to STATS, only four receivers — Calvin Johnson, Jerry Rice, Rob Moore and Marvin Harrison — had more since 1994. Nelson ranked 10th with 1,314 yards for the season and is sixth with 30 touchdown catches over the last three seasons.
Nelson will be entering his final season under contract. He has to be the biggest priority.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.