Looking at NFC South's best bargains

While glancing through some salary and salary-cap numbers today, I started to come up with a list of the five biggest bargains in the NFC South.

As I dug in deeper, it quickly became apparent the list had to grow, because there really are a bunch of players in the division producing beyond their contracts. After looking at the Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers, the list stood at eight. Since there haven’t been a lot of positives from the Carolina Panthers, I thought the list might stay at eight, even though I was hoping to get it to 10.

But I was presently surprised because I was able to come up with three guys on the Panthers, who have played well and aren’t making a lot of money. So the list stands at 11.

I’m not going to rank them in any particular order. But let me just tell you the guidelines I used in assembling this list. I didn’t go by actual base salaries because those numbers can be a bit misleading. Although there is no salary cap in place this season, I went by salary-cap numbers because those include base salaries as well as things like roster bonuses and workout bonuses that are being earned this year.

I made the cutoff point $1 million. In other words, nobody that has a cap figure of $1 million or more was eligible, because I was looking only for bargains. Here’s the list.

Brent Grimes, cornerback, Falcons, $470,000. When you’re paying Dunta Robinson a ton of money to cover one side of the field, you can’t afford to pay your other cornerbacks a lot. Grimes has started every game this season and is producing. At $470,000 Grimes is one of the league’s best values. It’s rare to see a quality starting cornerback who isn’t well over $1 million.

Curtis Lofton, middle linebacker, Falcons, $918,000. In this case, the salary-cap number is a bit misleading because it includes almost $400,000 in original bonus money that’s pro-rated over the entire contract. Lofton’s only making $508,000 in base salary and isn’t collecting any roster or option bonuses this year. Not bad for a guy who has emerged as the leader of Atlanta’s defense.

Eric Weems, return man/receiver, Falcons, $470,000. Weems earned his salary Sunday with a franchise-record 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Even before that, he was a solid return man and he contributes a bit as a receiver.

LeGarrette Blount, running back, Buccaneers, $320,000. Undrafted out of college and cut by the Tennessee Titans in training camp, Blount has emerged as the feature back in Tampa Bay.

Mike Williams, wide receiver, Buccaneers, $454,562. Although he was only a fourth-round draft pick, Williams has been Tampa Bay’s best receiver since opening day.

Chris Ivory, running back, Saints, $321,666. He comes with a story very similar to Blount’s. With injuries to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, Ivory has been the most consistent player in New Orleans’ backfield.

Thomas Morstead, punter, Saints, $436,250. A lot of people scoffed when general manager Mickey Loomis used a draft pick on a punter in 2009. But Morstead has shown how valuable a punter can be. He’s averaging 47.3 yards a punt.

Carl Nicks, guard, Saints, $509,250. He gets overshadowed by teammate Jahri Evans, but some personnel people will tell you there isn’t much difference between New Orleans’ guards.

Charles Godfrey, safety, Panthers, $683,550. One of the few bright spots for the Panthers. This third-year player has five interceptions.

Mike Goodson, running back, Panthers, $518,000. He wasn’t supposed to be more than a return guy and maybe a third-down back. But injuries have forced DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to miss a lot of playing time. That gave Goodson an opportunity, and he’s had two 100-yard rushing games.

Captain Munnerlyn, cornerback, Panthers, $410,225. With Chris Gamble in coach John Fox’s doghouse, Munnerlyn has gotten some time as a starter. Even as a nickel back, he still is a bargain at this price.