July 2020 was a big-money month for some of the NFL’s best defensive players. The latest superstar to be rewarded with a lucrative long-term extension was Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 draft has followed his rookie deal with five more years for $135 million. His $102 million guaranteed sets a record for defenders across positions.
That makes Bosa the new highest-paid defensive player ever in the NFL. Two weeks ago, both Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (No. 1 overall in 2017) and Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (No. 37 overall in 2016) were rewarded for being top front-four performers.
All three are now in exclusive company with those who have recently signed megadeals before them. That includes three big-name recent former NFL defensive players of the year — the Rams’ Aaron Donald, the Bears’ Khalil Mack and the Texans’ J.J. Watt.
Here’s a breakdown using the three most important criteria to measure the league’s most well-compensated impact defenders. Most are known for their ability to get to the quarterback, from either outside or inside.
NFL’s highest-paid defensive players
Bosa and Garrett reset the market in terms of annual salary. Garrett ended up getting $10 million less over five years ($125 million), which accounts for Bosa’s $2 million edge per season. Bosa is the better overall player and is deserving of that status over Garrett.
Mack and Donald, the respective No. 5 and No. 13 overall picks in the 2014 NFL draft, continue to remain strong with their previous extensions as DPOYs. Mack got his current contract (six years) from the Bears two years ago after being traded by the Raiders. That same summer of 2018, one day earlier, Donald got his deal (seven years).
Buckner was too expensive for the 49ers, so they traded him in March and he immediately got paid long term by the Colts. Jones got four years at $85 million about a week after Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes got a transcendent 10-year, $503 million contract.
Bosa’s contract was loaded in every which way. It’s still stunning to see how much the Bears shelled out to Mack to keep him up so high despite all the deals in the two years since. That Garrett was able to match Donald here is pretty impressive.
Byron Jones, and not reigning Patriots DPOY Stephon Gilmore, is the only defensive back who makes the top 10 by any metric after being signed away from the Cowboys. It’s surprising to see Mosley on here — he’s played only two games for the Jets since they signed him away from the Ravens in 2019.
The Lions are hoping for bigger things from Trey Flowers after splurging on the former Patriot in last year’s free agency. One notable omission from all three lists is Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones, coming off a dominant 19-sack season. He’s playing on the five-year, $85.5 million deal he signed in 2017, putting him at $16.5 annually with $31 million guaranteed at signing
This is the biggest number attached to a contract extension, but it’s not always the best as the market quickly changes. Bosa is strong here again, too, and Mack is on track to earn everything from Chicago.
Cox signed his seven-year contract with Philadelphia in 2016. Watt has two more years left on the deal he signed way back in 2014, which will likely go through the end of his career in Houston.
While Byron Jones tops all cornerbacks in guaranteed money in signing, the Eagles’ Darius Slay is ahead of him in average annual salary at $16.683 million, putting Slay No. 20 among defensive players. There’s also one defensive back who has more total value on his contract than Jones. The Washington Football Team gave safety Landon Collins a six-year, $84 million deal to leave the rival Giants last year.
Regardless, there’s no question that pass rushers and backfield disrupters are the more valued player than cover men in the current defensive NFL. The salaries will keep getting higher, with Joey’s brother Nick eventually becoming the highest-paid defensive player in the league for the 49ers.
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