No. 2 Bargain: Clay Matthews
Fact or fiction: Before the new collective bargaining agreement, first-round draft picks received too much money.
That, for the most part, would be fiction — especially for players drafted outside the top 10.
In 2009, Packers general manager Ted Thompson vaulted back into the first round to select Matthews as a centerpiece of the new 3-4 scheme. It was one of Thompson's shrewdest moves with the Packers, not only because Matthews is a Pro Bowl player but because he's been a steal with a five-year deal totaling $10,712,500.
Matthews' cap figure in 2011 was $1.84 million, which barely ranked in the top 20 players on the roster. What a bargain, even with Matthews registering a career-low six sacks. He was a one-man wrecking ball on the Packers' front seven, with his 53 quarterback hits accounting for 41.1 percent of the team's total. In three seasons, his 29.5 sacks rank ninth in the NFL. He's scored a touchdown in all three seasons. In 2011, he allowed a passer rating of 34.8, best among 3-4 outside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus. And how's this: Matthews had three interceptions; every other 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL combined had five.
Matthews' cap figures rise to $1.93 million in 2012 and $2.6225 million in 2013, his final season under contract. If Matthews remains one of the NFL's elite defenders, he's going to be in line for a hefty raise sometime in 2013.
No. 2 Budget Buster: Every other outside linebacker
Erik Walden, Frank Zombo, Brad Jones, Vic So'oto, Jamari Lattimore and Ricky Elmore. Those were the six other outside linebackers on the roster at the start of training camp last summer. Individually, they received relative chump change. Collectively, though, it was money down the drain.
Walden counted $600,000 against the cap. He was essentially the every-down player for most of the season. His 919 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, ranked ninth among 3-4 outside linebackers. His three sacks, however, tied for 25th. By the Packers' count, he had 30 quarterback hits, though none of those were in the last four regular-season games, which is why he saw his role drastically diminished in Week 17 and the playoff game. He was involved in just one turnover play (his fumble recovery for a touchdown against Oakland).
Jones counted $540,063 against the cap. He contributed one sack and two quarterback hits in 112 defensive snaps, though he was tied for third on the team with 11 special-teams tackles.
Zombo counted $451,166 against the cap. He contributed one sack and two quarterback hits in 126 snaps. Battling injuries all season, he was inactive for 10 games.
So'oto counted $377,833 against the cap. He contributed one sack and three quarterback hits in 88 snaps. He was inactive for eight games because he was almost a total nonfactor on special teams.
Lattimore counted $376,666 against the cap. He was a mainstay on special teams, which kept him ahead of So'oto at times. He was inactive for seven games due to a shoulder injury.
Those five combined counted $2,345,728 against the cap. Moreover, Elmore, a huge disappointment as a sixth-round pick, cost the Packers a $22,059 signing bonus. That runs the cap outlay to the other six outside linebackers to $2,367,787, or about $528,000 more than Matthews.
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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.