NFL’s highest-paid players on defense in 2022 by salary, guaranteed money and total contract value

They may not get the same attention as quarterbacks and other offensive skill positions, but defensive players are starting to make a pretty penny in contract negotiations lately.

While quarterbacks still make up half of the top 30 players starting the 2022 season annually, there are six defensive players who have worked their way into the mix with massive signings.

There are several ways to analyze NFL contracts – average salary, guaranteed money and total contract value.

These different filters provide different results in terms of a player’s placement in the rest of the league, but all three are important in assessing the value of a player’s contract.

MORE: QB Rankings | RB Ranking | WR Rankings | Buy NFL tickets

Below is The Sporting News’ top 10 highest-paid defensive players for the 2022 season, broken down by all three sections.

The NFL’s highest-paid defensive players based on 2022 salary

1. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

annual salary: $31.7 million

Fresh off his first Super Bowl ring, there were rumors that Donald might be retiring after climbing the mountain top of the NFL. He put an end to those rumors when the Rams revised his contract to sign him in the most lucrative deal by a non-QB in NFL history, securing up to $95 million for Donald over the next three seasons.

A three-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time All-Pro defensive tackle, Donald landed a $60 million guarantee in his first two seasons while looking to continue his reign as one of the league’s most dominant players.


2. TJ Watts, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

annual salary: 28 million dollars

Watt signed a four-year contract extension worth up to $112 million before the start of the 2021 season, making him the league’s highest-paid defensive player annually at the time. Donald’s record-breaking deal may have surpassed Watt’s, but the 27-year-old outside linebacker’s $80 million guaranteed is still the highest by a defensive player in the league.

Watt has more than earned every penny after enduring a record-breaking Defensive Player of the Year campaign last season. His 22.5 sacks rivaled Hall of Famer Michael Strahan for the most in a single season in NFL history, and it was Watt’s second straight year to lead the league in sacks.

He has also led the NFL in tackles to a loss in consecutive years, scoring 23 in 2020 and 21 in 2021.


3. Joey Bosa, OLB, Chargers of Los Angeles

annual salary: $27 million

When Bosa signed a five-year extension worth $135 million in 2020, it made him the league’s highest-paid defensive player. The former No. 3 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the top defensive players in the league, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season.

He has 10-sack sacks in four of his six seasons in the league and has been a Pro Bowl outside linebacker for the past three years.


4. Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns

annual salary: 25 million dollars

Garrett’s current contract is still record-breaking. The superstar’s defensive end signed a five-year, $125 million, $100 million guaranteed extension with the Browns back in 2020 — the highest in NFL history for a defensive player.

Garrett has followed that contract through back-to-back All-Pro seasons and more than earned his keep as the top player in Cleveland. Last season, Garrett had career highs across the board with 16 sacks, 51 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 33 QB hits.

Khalil Mack

T-5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Los Angeles Chargers

annual salary: $23.5 million

When the Raiders sold Mack to the Bears in 2018, Chicago immediately signed a six-year, $141 million contract, which remains the largest contract in NFL history for a defensive player.

Mack has been one of the league’s top defensive players for the past eight seasons and was named 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, along with three All-Pro offers. He will be in his first season with the Chargers this year and will form a fearsome defensive pairing alongside Bosa.


T-5. Maxx Crosby, DE, Las Vegas Raiders

annual salary: $23.5 million

After a breakout season in 2021, the Raiders signed Crosby to a four-year, $95 million deal this offseason.

The 24-year-old was a diamond in the rough for Las Vegas and developed into an All-Pro defensive end despite being selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

He finished second to Nick Bosa for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 and earned his first Pro Bowl nod last year. Crosby had eight sacks and a career-high 56 tackles in 2021.

T-7 DeForest Buckner, DT, Indianapolis Colts

annual salary: 21 million dollars

The 49ers reportedly knocked Buckner down during contract negotiations in 2019, and it didn’t take long for the defensive end to show his former team what they were missing.

In his first season after signing a four-year, $84 million contract with the Colts, 2020 was Buckner’s first-ever First Team All-Pro year of his career.

The former No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has continued to establish himself as one of the top centerbacks in the league, notching seven sacks and 68 tackles last season.


T-7 Jaire Alexander, CB, Green Bay Packers

annual salary: 21 million dollars

Alexander breaks a streak of defenders and defenders appearing on this list as the league’s highest-paid defender annually.

Despite missing all but four games of the 2021 season through injury, the Packers signed Alexander to a four-year, $84 million deal last season. His $30 million signing bonus was the highest in NFL history for a defensive back and rewarded him with one of the best corners of the game today.

T-7 Leonard Williams, DE, New York Giants

annual salary: 21 million dollars

The Giants acquired Williams from the Jets back in 2019 and he made his mark immediately, posting a career-high 11.5 sacks in his first full season with the G-Men.

The Giants rewarded him with a huge three-year, $63 million deal in the 2021 offseason, and he followed that up with a career-high 81 tackles to 6.5 sacks last year.

Despite being one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league, Williams hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2016 and has never been a First or Second Team All-Pro.

10. Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns

annual salary: $20.1 million

Ward is the only two defenders, along with Alexander, to crack the top 10 annual highest-paid defenders in the league.

Ward’s five-year, $100.5 million contract – which pays out $20.1 million annually – was the best for a corner in NFL history until Alexander signed his contract with the Packers.

After his second Pro Bowl season in 2021, Cleveland earned a long-term suspension on the Ohio-Ohio State product. The former No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft had 43 tackles, 10 pass breakups and three interceptions in 2021.

The NFL’s highest-paid defensive players with guaranteed money for 2022

As noted above, Watts’ $80 million guaranteed is the highest by a non-quarterback in NFL history. Who else on the defensive side of the ball can take on the reigning Steelers Defensive Player of the Year with guaranteed money?

rank player total guarantees
1. TJ Watts, Steelers 80 million dollars
2. Joey Bosa, Chargers $78 million
3. Khalil Mack, Chargers 60 million dollars
4. Aaron Donald, Rams $46.5 million
T-5. From Miller, Bills 45 million dollars
T-5. Leonard Williams 45 million dollars
7. Denzel Ward, Browns $44.5 million
8th. Jalen Ramsey, Rams $43.7 million
9. Myles Garrett, Browns $43.6 million
10 CJ Mosley, Jets $43 million

MORE: Ranking of the NFL’s most essential defensive players

The NFL’s highest-paid defensive players by total contract value

Mack’s $141 million contract, which he signed with the Bears in 2018, is the largest contract signed by a defensive player in NFL history. Which other defensive stars have cracked the $100 million mace?

rank player total contract value
1. Khalil Mack, Chargers $141 million
2. Joey Bosa, Chargers $135 million
3. Myles Garrett, Browns $125 million
4. From Miller, Bills $120 million
5. TJ Watts, Steelers $112 million
6. Denzel Ward, Browns $100.5 million
7. Jalen Ramsey, Rams 100 million dollars
8th. Shaquille Leonard, Colts $98.5 million
9. Marshon Lattimore, Saints $97.6 million
10 Marlon Humphrey, Ravens $97.5 million

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *