The Best-Paid Bench Warmers

The numbers are less dramatic in pro soccer's lower salary scale, but the principal of team budgets taken up by unproductive players is no different than in the NBA. Leading our MLS list are Toronto forward Jeff Cunningham, who has started just four of his team's 10 games for $257,500, and Chivas' Ante Razov, who has also started four games and makes $255,000.

With a tight salary cap playing a big role in setting NFL salaries and bonuses, players were measured by how much cap space they took on their teams' payrolls. High salaried vets relegated to part-time duty include Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Raiders running back LaMont Jordan.

Is spending heavily on backups worth it? It depends on what team you're looking at. In the NFL, the perennially powerful New England Patriots employed five backups this past 16-0 season making at least $2 million.

A study by the football Web site twominutewarning.com shows that NFL teams generally get little return for big money spent on individual players. Given the frequent injuries and team focus of football, clubs are generally better off spreading money around the roster. That's certainly worked for New England. Then again, the 7-9 Detroit Lions had five backups of their own making $1 million or more last season. As with anything else, it comes down to the quality you're getting for the money, from a starter or a backup.

Going younger and cheaper with the bench can be risky, undermining the huge investment in the stars. Look at baseball's New York Yankees. Half of that club's league-high $209 million payroll goes to five players. And while 11 players make at least $11 million annually, 11 others earn $500,000 or less. No doubt the team's weak bench has plenty to do with its lackluster record so far.

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