The NFL’s highest-paid players on defense in 2021 salary, guaranteed money and total contract value

NFL teams have placed a premium on quarterbacks in recent years, with many of the highest-paid players at the position receiving at least $30 million a year. As such, it’s no surprise that teams have also been willing to pay players that get after the quarterback.

Defensive players don’t get quite as much fanfare as the offensive players in the NFL, but a handful of them are on $100 million deals. Most of them are pass rushers, and a couple of them are among the NFL’s 25 highest-paid players for 2021.

There are a few different ways you can look at the highest-paid defensive players. Fans tend to rely on average annual salary for the most part, but total contract value and the money guaranteed at signing are also critical when assessing a contract’s value.

Sporting News is taking a look at the highest-paid defensive players of 2021 and will break them down by average annual salary, guaranteed money and total contract value.

(All salary numbers are via Spotrac.com).

NFL’s highest-paid defensive players based on 2021 salary

1. Joey Bosa, DE, Chargers

Bosa is currently the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. He signed a five-year extension worth $135 million during the 2020 offseason before the last year of his rookie contract. Bosa, 26, has averaged 12 sacks per 16 games during his career and is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He’ll play as a 3-4 outside linebacker as opposed to a 4-3 defensive end for the first time in 2021 under new head coach Brandon Staley.

2. Myles Garrett, DE, Browns

Garrett, 25, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and he has lived up to his billing. He has totaled 42.5 sacks during his career and has actually outdone Bosa, averaging 13 sacks per 16 games played. He also has 10 forced fumbles to his name. He’s one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and is certainly the best player on Cleveland’s defense.

3. Khalil Mack, OLB, Bears

Mack has long been one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. He has 70.5 career sacks and has made the Pro Bowl six consecutive times. During his seven-year career, he has been named an All-Pro first-teamer three times. The Bears have to be happy with the production they’ve gotten for him since acquiring him from the Raiders in 2018.

4. Aaron Donald, DT, Rams

Donald is arguably the NFL’s best defensive player. The 30-year-old has won the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year award three times in the last four years. In 2018, he notched a league-leading 20.5 sacks and came within two of tying Michael Strahan’s record. And he did that at defensive tackle, a position from which it is more difficult to log sacks. Donald has been an All-Pro six consecutive times as well. The Rams are probably over the moon that Donald is the fourth-highest-paid defender in the NFL; it’s truly a steal for them.

T-5. DeForest Bucker, DT, Colts

Buckner signed a four-year, $84 million contract after being traded to the Colts before the 2020 NFL Draft. His first season in Indianapolis was great, as he was named an All-Pro and logged 9.5 sacks. He has posted 29 sacks in the last three years and is just 27 years old.

T-5. Leonard Williams, DT, Giants

Williams, 27, broke out last season and recorded 11.5 sacks for the Giants. He had only totaled 17.5 combined in his previous five NFL seasons. Williams signed a three-year deal worth $63 million during the 2021 offseason. The contract compensates him at the same rate as Buckner, though Williams’ deal is a year shorter.

T-5. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys

Lawrence, 29, had back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks in 2017 and 2018. He totaled 25 in those two years combined. In the two years since, he has just 11.5 sacks. He’s still a strong defender and hasn’t missed a game since 2016,

8. Frank Clark, DE, Chiefs

Clark, 28, was traded from the Seahawks to the Chiefs in 2019 and signed an extension worth $104 million over five years. For Kansas City, Clark has notched 14 sacks and three forced fumbles in two seasons. He has averaged eight sacks and two forced fumbles per 16 games for the squad and has made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons there.

T-9. Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs

Jones and Clark form a formidable pass-rushing duo for the Chiefs. Clark is slightly higher-paid than Jones, but Jones has actually been more productive. He has averaged 10.7 sacks, 4.3 pass defenses and 1.7 forced fumbles per game over the last three seasons. Jones is still just 27 so he is just entering the prime of his career.

T-9. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Rams

The Chiefs aren’t the only team with two players on this list. The Rams have both Donald and Ramsey, who are among the highest-paid at their positions. Ramsey is the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, and the 26-year-old has been an All-Pro twice — once in 2017 and once in 2020. He averages nearly 12 pass defenses per year and has 10 career interceptions as well.

NFL’s highest-paid defensive players in guaranteed money

Joey Bosa doesn’t just make more yearly than other NFL defenders. He also makes the most guaranteed money of the bunch. His $78 million in guarantees is the most for any defensive player in NFL history and outpaces the second-place Khalil Mack by $18 million. Aaron Donald is the only other defensive player that earns at least $50 million in guarantees.

The only surprise on the list may be C.J. Mosley, who has barely played for the Jets since signing a five-year, $85 million with the Jets during the 2019 offseason. He has seen action in just two games due to injury and opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NFL’s highest-paid defensive players in total contract value

Seeing a $100 million contract at the NFL used to be a rarity. Now, nine of the top 10 defenders in total contract value are making at least $100 million, but it’s Khalil Mack who makes the most.

Mack signed a six-year deal worth $141 million when he was traded to the Bears in 2018. The extension will keep him with the Bears through 2025 and ensure that he’s the highest-paid defender in the NFL. Aaron Donald and Joey Bosa are just a bit behind him, as each is making $135 million per year. That said, Bosa’s deal runs a year shorter than Donald’s and Mack’s, so that’s why he’s the highest-paid player in terms of average annual salary.

Marlon Humphrey is the lone player among the top-10 defenders that isn’t on a $100 million deal. Jalen Ramsey is the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, and he’s making $100 million over five years.

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