The NFL’s highest-paid players on defense in 2024 salary, guaranteed money and total contract value

The NFL is a passing-oriented league now, so it’s hardly surprising that quarterbacks constitute most of its highest-paid players.

It’s also sensible that defensive contracts have become more lucrative, too. The NFL’s ever-rising salary cap creates room for teams to dole out multiple high-level contracts. It was once unheard of to find a defensive player on a $100 million deal, but that’s the new normal for the league’s top defenders.

Pass rushers continue to draw the most attention on the free agent market, and with good reason. The best way to limit or negate an opponent’s offense is to put pressure on the quarterback. Those players, along with interior defensive linemen, are the ones who are primarily responsible for that task.

Those aren’t the only defensive players who get paid. Several cornerbacks around the NFL have approached the $100 million mark in trades, and those who have great ball skills often are coveted assets in the NFL.

But who are the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL? Here’s a look at the league’s highest-paid defensive players for 2024, with all salary information via Spotrac.com.

This story will be updated as contracts are signed throughout the 2024 season.

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NFL’s highest-paid defensive players based on 2024 salary

1. Nick Bosa, EDGE, 49ers

  • Annual salary: $34 million

Bosa, 26, has 53.5 career sacks across 68 games and has at least 10.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons. He’s just hitting his prime, so it makes sense that he’s the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. He should live up to his contract provided that he can stay healthy.

2. Aaron Donald, DT, Rams

  • Annual salary: $31.7 million

Aaron Donald is an eight-time All-Pro first-teamer and has 111 career sacks in 154 games despite being a defensive tackle. The Rams gave Donald a big-time deal after they won Super Bowl 56. He’s in the last year of that three-year pact worth $95 million and has recorded 13 sacks during it.

That’s merely modest production by Donald’s standards, but he remains a force with which to be reckoned on the Rams’ defense.

3. T.J. Watt, EDGE, Steelers

  • Annual salary: $28 million

Watt led the NFL in sacks in three of the past four seasons and has 96.5 sacks in 104 career games. He has at least 13 sacks in five of his seven NFL seasons, yet isn’t even the highest-paid player at his position. Watt is only 29 and has two years left on his deal, so as long as he can stay healthy, he should be among the contenders for Defensive Player of the Year. That makes him well worth his $28 million AAV.

4. Joey Bosa, EDGE, Chargers 

  • Annual salary: $27 million

Bosa is a fierce pass rusher when healthy, but he hasn’t stayed on the field for the Chargers in recent seasons. He played just 14 regular-season games in 2022 and ’23 combined, but he still managed a solid nine sacks in those contests. Perhaps Bosa can stay on the field under Jim Harbaugh and Alex Minter’s staff, but he hasn’t played a full season since 2019. That may be a hard trend for the soon-to-be 29-year-old to reverse.

5. Myles Garrett, EDGE, Browns

  • Annual salary: $25 million

Garrett has posted double-digit sacks in six consecutive seasons and earned recognition as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year for 2023. He’s one of the fiercest edge rushers in the game, posting 88.5 sacks in 100 career games. One could make the case that Garrett is the best defensive end in the league, so the Browns should be happy they have the pass rusher under contract through 2026 with just a $25 million AAV.

Montez Sweat

(Getty Images)

6. Montez Sweat, EDGE, Bears

  • Annual salary: $24.5 million

Sweat received a big-money deal after being traded from the Commanders to the Bears ahead of the 2023 NFL trade deadline. The ’19 first-round pick notched a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2023 and has 41.5 in 76 career games. He did that while playing for a leaky Washington defense, so it will be interesting to see how much Sweat, 27, can do while playing on a stronger Chicago stop unit.

T-7. Brian Burns, EDGE, Panthers

  • Annual salary: $24.01 million

The Panthers slapped Burns with the franchise tag to prevent him from hitting free agency. The speedy, explosive edge rusher will make just over $24 million on that tender and should provide the Panthers with a steady pass-rushing presence. He has at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five NFL seasons to date and 46 in 80 total career games.

T-7. Josh Allen, EDGE, Jaguars

  • Annual salary: $24.01 million

Like Burns, Allen was franchised by the Jaguars to prevent him from hitting free agency. Allen logged 17.5 sacks in 2023 and has 45 total in 74 career games. Allen only turns 27 in July, so there’s little reason to expect him to decline as he hits the prime of his career.

T-9. Quinnen Williams, DL, Jets

  • Annual salary: $24 million

Williams is one of the more consistently dominant interior pass rushers in the NFL. The Jets product was an All-Pro in 2022 after recording 12 sacks, and he followed that up with a Pro Bowl campaign during which he had 5.5. Williams is also an elite run defender, so his do-it-all skill set makes his $24 million AAV sensible.

T-9. Rashan Gary, EDGE, Packers

  • Annual salary: $24 million

Gary took a little time to develop at the NFL level, but he eventually emerged as a threat off the edge in Green Bay. He has 24.5 sacks in 42 games over the past three seasons, and his combination of strength and athleticism makes it hard for tackles to block him.

NFL’s highest-paid defensive players in guaranteed money for 2024

Nick Bosa’s $122.5 million guaranteed is the most ever for a defensive player. It beat Joey Bosa for the most guaranteed on a deal, and the Chargers star and Myles Garrett are the only players to have more than $100 million in guarantees on their contracts. 

Rank Player Team Total guarantees
1 Nick Bosa 49ers $122.5 million
2 Joey Bosa Chargers $102 million
3 Myles Garrett Browns $100 million
4 Aaron Donald Rams $95 million
5 Khalil Mack Chargers $90 million
6 T.J. Watt Steelers $80 million
7 Denzel Ward Browns $71.25 million
8 Marlon Humphrey Ravens $67.3 million
9 Quinnen Williams Jets $66 million
10 Montez Sweat Bears $62.9 million

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

With Nick Bosa’s new extension in place, his contract is now the highest in total value, coming in at $170 million. Along with Joey, the Bosa brothers account for two of the three most lucrative deals among defensive players.

Nine of the 10 defensive stars on this list are in the $100 million club.

Rank Player Team Total value
1 Nick Bosa 49ers $170 million
2 Khalil Mack Chargers $141 million
3 Joey Bosa Chargers $135 million
4 Myles Garrett Browns $125 million
5 Von Miller Bills $120 million
6 T.J. Watt Steelers $112 million
7 Bradley Chubb Dolphins $110 million
8 Denzel Ward Browns $100.5 million
9 Roquan Smith Ravens $100 million
10 Montez Sweat Bears $98 million

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