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Aaron Donald and More of the Highest-Paid NFL Defensive Players of 2022

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One of the oldest maxims about the NFL is that defense wins championships. Players on offense seem to get the lion’s share of attention, but the guys on the other side of the ball are just as important.

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Of course, teams knows this — and they pay the superstars accordingly. Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who won his first Super Bowl last season and has three Defensive Player of the Year awards, brings in a salary that all but the highest-paid quarterbacks would kill for.

The list of highest-paid defensive players is a glittering array of talent, ranging up and down the defensive lineup. Did your favorite player make the list?

10. Denzel Ward

Team: Cleveland Browns

Position: Safety

Salary: $20.1 million

Ward is in the first year of a five-year, $100 million contract. The 25-year-old is coming off a season in which he had 43 tackles and three interceptions.

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7 (tie). DeForest Buckner

Team: Indianapolis Colts

Position: Defensive tackle

Salary: $21 million

Buckner is in the second year of a four-year, $84 million deal with the Colts he signed after coming over from the San Francisco 49ers in a trade. Last season, he had 68 tackles and seven sacks for Indy.

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7 (tie). Leonard Williams

Team: New York Giants

Position: Defensive end

Salary: $21 million

In 2021, Williams signed a three-year, $63 million deal with the Giants that includes $45 million of guaranteed money. The Giants likely are not Super Bowl contenders this year, but he had 81 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.

7 (tie). Jaire Alexander

Team: Green Bay Packers

Position: Cornerback

Salary: $21 million

Alexander is in the first year of a four-year, $84 million with the Packers. He played in just four games last season, with 13 tackles and one interception, but he has 193 tackles in his five-year career and has been a shutdown corner.

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5 (tie). Khalil Mack

Team: Los Angeles Chargers

Position: Outside linebacker

Salary: $23.5 million

In his first season with the Chargers after a trade from the Bears, Mack certainly has something to prove. He played in just seven games last season because of a foot injury, and Los Angeles is hoping he rebounds to his career average of 8.8 sacks per season.

5 (tie). Maxx Crosby

Team: Las Vegas Raiders

Position: Defensive end

Salary: $23.5 million

Crosby signed a four-year, $98.8 million deal with the Raiders in the offseason, coming off a breakout year in which he had 56 tackles and eight sacks.

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4. Myles Garrett

Team: Cleveland Browns

Position: Defensive end

Salary: $25 million

The three-time Pro Bowler, who had 16 sacks last season, is in the middle of a five-year, $125 million deal.

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3. Joey Bosa

Team: Los Angeles Chargers

Position: Outside linebacker

Salary: $27 million

Bosa, who signed a five-year, $135 million contract in 2020, is considered one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Last season he had 10.5 sacks, and the Chargers are expecting even more now that they’re pairing him with Mack.

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2. T.J. Watt

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Position: Outside linebacker

Salary: $28 million

Watt, the reigning defensive player of the year, suffered a pectoral injury in Week 1 against the Bengals, but the Steelers are hoping he won’t need surgery and will come back soon. He’s in the first year of a four-year, $112 million contract.

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1. Aaron Donald

Team: Los Angeles Rams

Position: Defensive tackle

Salary: $31,666,667

Donald, widely considered one of the best defensive players of all time, had considered retiring in the offseason but ended up signing a three-year, $95 million deal to return to the Rams.

All salary figures are from spotrac.com.

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