I thought that might be a good starting point in looking at which NFC West players could be overvalued and which ones might be undervalued -- my twist on requests to produce lists of overrated and underrated players. The thought in using salaries was that they would be more tangible than ratings that exist only in our minds.
Deion Branch caught 45 passes for 437 yards and two touchdowns last season.
1. Deion Branch, Seahawks receiver. At least there isn't a cap for Branch's $5.47 million salary to count against. Branch averaged a career-low 9.7 yards per reception last season. On the bright side, coach Pete Carroll said he liked what he saw from Branch before the receiver's latest knee surgery.
2. Marcus Trufant, Seahawks cornerback. Recent practices suggest Trufant might bounce back from a rough, injury-affected 2009 season. Trufant might need a trip to the Pro Bowl to justify a $5.7 million in salary and $3 million roster bonus.
3. Leroy Hill, Seahawks linebacker. Hill can be a very good linebacker and has even seemed underrated in the past, but his $6 million salary for 2010 is too much under the circumstances. Hill faces a likely suspension for charges relating to marijuana and domestic violence. The team has asked him to stay away from recent practices.
4. Nate Clements, 49ers cornerback. Clements appeared uncomfortable and off his game last season. An injury eventually landed him on injured reserve. The 49ers can stomach his $6 million salary if Clements returns to form, but the price otherwise appears quite steep.
5. Levi Brown, Cardinals left tackle. Brown's base salary jumps from less than $700,000 last season to $3.225 million this season. He also receives a $3.675 million roster bonus for the third year in a row. The compensation isn't out of line for a starting left tackle, but Brown hasn't performed to his draft status. He committed 10 penalties last season, an inexcusable total regardless of salary.
6. Michael Lewis, 49ers safety. Three concussions last season raised serious questions about whether Lewis should continue playing and whether he can stay on the field. His salary is $4.1 million.
7. Jacob Bell, Rams guard. Bell has shown he can be effective when healthy. He was much better early last season, for example. But Bell has missed three games in each of his first two seasons in St. Louis, and he has played at a diminished capacity both seasons. Concussion, thumb and hamstring injuries were factors last season. Bell underwent knee surgery this offseason. His salary is $5 million in 2010.
8. Brandon Jones, 49ers receiver. His $2.145 million salary isn't particularly burdensome, but Jones became worth far less to the 49ers once the team drafted Michael Crabtree and, to a much lesser extent, added Ted Ginn Jr.
The fine print: I excluded players coming off their first or second seasons. It's a given players need time to develop. I saw no point in listing Jason Smith, Chris Long, Aaron Curry or similar players just starting out. Nearly all early draft choices are overvalued in their first couple seasons. The players listed above have been around long enough to evaluate. I also generally excluded players earning relatively modest salaries.