FOXBOROUGH -- When Joe Linta looks at the breakdown of the Patriots' salary cap, he turns from sports agent to food critic.
''They've mastered the ability to cook gourmet meals at budget prices," he said.
Linta, who is based in Branford, Conn., said part of what makes the Patriots different from other clubs is their strong middle class of players. Of the 53 players on the roster, 23 have a salary cap figure of $1 million or more.
''I think they're the real exception in the league," said Linta, who represents Patriots Russ Hochstein ($621,286 cap figure) and Brandon Gorin ($637,953). ''They've gone for the socialist approach."
The alternative is spending more for fewer players, creating a divide on the roster between ''haves" and ''have-nots."
The NFL salary cap is $85.5 million, and at present check, the Patriots are only about $800,000 under the cap.
A closer look shows that quarterback Tom Brady has the highest cap figure ($8.427 million), followed by defensive lineman Richard Seymour ($5.265 million), outside linebackers Mike Vrabel ($4.204 million) and Willie McGinest ($3.8 million), and offensive tackle Matt Light ($3.4 million).
Rookie nose tackle Mike Wright ($231,000), second-year safety Guss Scott ($236,160), and rookie quarterback Matt Cassel ($243,500) have the lowest cap numbers.
Linta feels a player like running back Corey Dillon ($2.1 million) is great value on the cap. He also noted that one of his clients, former Patriot Joe Andruzzi, is an example of a player who had a lower cap number but was a productive starter on three Super Bowl teams. In Linta's opinion, vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli and coach Bill Belichick do a solid job finding the Andruzzis of the NFL.
''They have been able to identify players who have a lot of gas left in the tank while others in the league ignored those players," Linta said.
Yet no team has a perfect personnel rating.
So based on salary cap figures, who are the Patriots' most valuable -- and least valuable -- players?
Brady -- Even with the highest figure on the team, he's worth every penny. The unquestioned leader of the offense is having an MVP-caliber year, completing 143 of 228 passes for 1,821 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions.
Rodney Harrison -- At a $1.8 million cap figure (13th highest), Harrison not only provided bang on the field, but also bang for the buck.
Deion Branch -- Still playing under his rookie contract signed in 2002 (which comes with a cap charge of $664,180), he has 37 receptions. Entering the weekend, only three receivers in the league had more. Branch, whose cap figure is the 34th highest on the team, is a free agent after the 2006 season.
Dan Koppen -- Like Branch, Koppen is still under his rookie deal and comes with a cap hit of only $448,620. That's tremendous value for a player who has started 42 of a possible 43 games (including playoffs). His cap hit is the 44th highest on the club.
Patrick Pass -- The sixth-year running back signed a two-year deal this offseason ($618,740 cap hit) and is exceeding expectations by averaging 6.1 yards on 18 carries and 10.3 yards on 16 receptions. His cap charge is 37th highest on the team.
Asante Samuel -- The third-year cornerback ($497,745), a viable starter, has the 41st-highest cap hit.
Adam Vinatieri -- Kickers usually don't carry such a high salary cap number ($2.7 million, sixth highest), and Vinatieri's would be lower with a new contract, but he delivers the goods.
Daniel Graham -- One of the NFL's more devastating blocking tight ends, Graham ($1.5 million, 15th highest) gives the Patriots various options on offense.
David Givens -- Playing under the $1.43 million restricted free agent figure, he's totaled 31 catches for 355 yards (11.5 average). The cap hit ties for 16th highest.
Eugene Wilson -- While he's struggled early, it's hard to find a quality starting safety with a salary cap charge of $839,365 (26th highest).
Tim Dwight -- With seven catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns, as well as an 8.3-yard average on punt returns, the wide receiver has been a solid contributor for a cap hit of $806,160 (27th highest) after being signed as a free agent.
Nick Kaczur -- The rookie left tackle ($362,000, 49th highest) has hung in as a replacement for the injured Light.
Tyrone Poole -- With the seventh-highest cap figure on the club ($2.61 million), Poole has struggled to stay on the field (one game played in 2005, five in 2004).
Rosevelt Colvin -- To be fair, his contract was signed before he suffered a hip injury, but a $2.3 million cap charge (eighth highest) is a lot for a player not consistently in the starting lineup. His cap hit is scheduled to be $3.65 million next season, so Colvin is a player who might have to alter his contract to stick around.
Duane Starks -- After giving up a third-round draft pick to acquire him, the Patriots also allotted him $2 million in cap space (10th highest). The price hasn't met the production at this point.
Chad Brown -- The free agent who came with the highest cap hit ($1.1 million, 21st highest), he's been asked to play the role of run-stuffer when he's probably best used as a pass rusher. He hasn't been put in position to make game-changing plays.
Marquise Hill -- Despite having one of the lower cap numbers on the team ($541,160, 40th highest), the 2004 second-round pick was brought in to spell Seymour and -- for either production or health reasons -- hasn't consistently been there to fill the spot when needed.