Show Me the Money: Big Talent at a Budget

In Part 3 of a three-part series on the Packers' salary cap, we examine the team's biggest steals. Topping our list was Eddie Lacy, who ran circles around the veteran the team courted in free agency, Steven Jackson. Another steal was Jarrett Boykin, who emerged as a key player in the final 12 games.

The Green Bay Packers had 26 players with cap charges of at least $1 million in 2013, including six players of at least $6.5 million, 12 of at least $3 million and 17 of at least $2 million.

With an increasingly large percentage of team salary caps tied up in a handful of players, finding top-shelf talent at bargain-basement prices is a necessity.

In that light, here are the five players who were salary-cap steals for the Packers.

No. 5: Evan Dietrich-SmithDietrich-Smith played under the restricted free agent tender of $1,328,250. That's not exactly chump change. It did, however, rank 22nd in cap among centers.

Dietrich-Smith was a dramatic upgrade over Jeff Saturday, though not as good as Scott Wells and the pantheon of excellent centers that have played for the Packers over the last five-and-a-half decades. Dietrich-Smith added some horsepower to the run game — the Packers ranked sixth in the league with a 5.01-yard average on runs up the middle — though there were times when he was overpowered. He allowed five sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Only New England's Ryan Wendell allowed more (six) among centers. Going unnoticed was Dietrich-Smith's ability to get the rest of the offensive line to the line of scrimmage so the Packers could run their no-huddle offense. After all, the rest of the offense can't line up until the center is lined up.

Dietrich-Smith will be an unrestricted free agent in March. There is no ready-made replacement on the roster.

No. 4: Matt FlynnFlynn earned a truckload of money in Seattle, a minivan full of money in Oakland and a duffel bag full of money in Buffalo.

In Green Bay, he earned every penny of his $294,412. He came off the bench to rally the Packers from a 23-7 deficit to tie Minnesota. He helped the Packers overcome a fluke touchdown and a 21-10 halftime deficit to beat Atlanta. He was the pilot of the record-setting 26-3 comeback at Dallas.

Under coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers had lost every game when trailing by two scores at halftime. With Flynn, the Packers won twice and tied once.

Flynn's physical limitations are obvious. He doesn't have great athleticism. His arm talent is below average. He holds the ball too long. But Flynn and the Packers go together like green and gold. It will be incredibly interesting to see if some team with a subpar starter makes a run at Flynn or if Flynn is destined to be Aaron Rodgers' backup for the next six or eight seasons.

No. 3: Jarrett BoykinFor a stretch of nine games, the Packers didn't have Randall Cobb or Jermichael Finley. In fact, at one point, the Packers didn't have Cobb, Finley or James Jones.

Without Boykin, the passing game might have been sunk. Instead, a player who the lowly Jaguars deemed not fit for the NFL after a three-day minicamp emerged to catch 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns. All of that production came over the final 12 games.

Boykin is big, sure-handed and strong. Told he needed to improve his run-after-catch production after a mostly invisible rookie season, Boykin averaged 5.2 YAC per reception, according to Pro Football Focus. That was more than Jordy Nelson. In fact, he tied Nelson for tops among the team's receivers by forcing 12 missed tackles. Nelson caught 36 more passes than Boykin.

Boykin cost the team just $485,200 against the cap. With Boykin's emergence, the Packers might be inclined to let Jones go if the free-agent bidding gets too high.

No. 2: Mike DanielsWhere would the Packers' defense have been without Daniels?

Daniels went from promising role player to defensive line standout in his second season. He finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks and third with 15 quarterback hits and nine tackles for losses. The rest of the defensive line combined collected 4.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and 15 tackles for losses.

All of that for the salary-cap cost of $560,396 — or less than one-tenth of the cap charges against B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett and about 40 percent of the cap charge against first-round pick Datone Jones.

No. 1: Eddie LacyReally, rookies could have taken up three of our five slots. Lacy set the Packers' rookie rushing record and figures to be named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year on Saturday. David Bakhtiari perhaps saved the season by his play at left tackle in place of Bryan Bulaga. Micah Hyde proved a valuable defender and quality punt returner.

Lacy, with a cap charge of $616,802, was the steal of steals. Remember when the Packers pursued veteran Steven Jackson last offseason? Jackson signed with the Falcons and had a cap number of $2.92 million. For about one-fifth of the cap hit, Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards (to Jackson's 543) with a 4.1-yard average (to Jackson's 3.5) and 11 touchdowns (to Jackson's six).

The Packers are a flawed team but the Falcons are a mess. With a bargain-rack backfield of Lacy, DuJuan Harris and Johnathan Franklin, the Packers have just $2.01 million of cap dollars invested in that position in 2014. The Falcons have $7.34 million in Jackson ($4.17 million), Jason Snelling ($1.73 million) and Jacquizz Rodgers ($1.44 million). Each of the Falcons' backs have at least double Lacy's cap hit of $771,003.


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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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