Prior to the start of this current NFL season, many defensive players were rewarded with some pretty hefty contracts. On the other hand, the current list of highest paid defensive players in 2014 does not include many of these big names. Richard Sherman, J.J. Watt and Patrick Peterson all recently signed big contracts, but the three of them still don’t make the list of being the highest paid defenders in 2014.
The 20 highest paid defensive players in the league this season includes some players who might be considered “overrated” and who have never made a trip to Hawaii to play at the end of a season.
In a league where salaries are spread unequally throughout the years of a contract, many players on this list are getting their highest pay with their biggest cap hit in 2014. It is still pretty surprising to see so many relatively unknown players on this list.
20. DeMarcus Ware (DE) Denver Broncos / $9,666,666
DeMarcus Ware is a veteran defensive end who has always used his speed and quickness to wreak havoc on the opposing quarterback. Entering his 10th NFL campaign, Ware already has an astounding 118.5 quarterback sacks in his career. He also has 576 tackles and 32 forced fumbles, proving he can do more than pressure the quarterback. Ware is a terrific leader who will play hard even if he has lost a step on the edge. His skills might have diminished, but a player with his character, experience and ability is more than likely going to be worth the price the Broncos are paying.
19. Jason Worilds (LB) Pittsburgh Steelers / $9,754,000
Jason Worilds, the outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is in his fifth NFL season and is already one of the higher played defensive players in the league. Many people might not know much about the player out of Virginia Tech. After all, he has only had 19 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 150 tackles in his 5-year NFL career. In 2013, Worlids started in 11 of the 15 games he played in, which was a big improvement from his total of 10 starts in the previous 3 years. Worilds is well paid, working on a 1-year contract for 2014 and has plenty of pressure to perform in order to get a big extension.
18. Eric Weddle (S) San Diego Chargers / $10,100,000
The San Diego Chargers free safety has been one of the team’s most consistent players since he came into the league. Weddle’s knack for being around the ball and making big plays has earned him two trips to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition in four of his seven NFL seasons. Weddle is a ball hawk with 18 interceptions and 59 passes defensed throughout his career. Last year, Weddle led the Chargers defense with 115 tackles. He is smart and plays with great instincts that help make him well worth his salary and the best defensive player on a playoff team.
17. James Laurinaitis (LB) St. Louis Rams / $10,400,000
James Laurinaitis has quietly been a tackling machine for the St. Louis Rams. In five NFL seasons, Laurinaitis has been in on 639 tackles while never missing a game. The former Ohio State star has been one of the most consistent players on a Rams defense that seems to get better every year. Playing in the NFC West with established linebackers like Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, it is no wonder Laurinaitus has yet to make a trip to play in Aloha Stadium at the end of the year. The former Bronco Nagurski Trophy winner is one player the Rams don’t mind paying the big bucks.
16. Clay Matthews (LB) Green Bay Packers / $10,943,750
Clay Matthews has the ability to rush the passer, set the edge on outside running plays and cover tight ends or running backs. His great combination of strength and speed has already earned him a great deal of respect and recognition as a Green Bay Packers linebacker. Matthews only played in 11 games last season, but still recorded 7.5 sacks, 41 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. When he can stay on the field, Matthews is one of the league’s premier impact players. The 2010 Butkus Award winner has been to 4 Pro Bowls, is a Super Bowl Champion and might even be considered to be underpaid.
15. Charles Johnson (DE) Carolina Panthers / $11,220,000
Charles Johnson finally got his start with the Carolina Panthers when he took over for the departing Julius Peppers in 2010. He took advantage of his opportunity with a breakout season, recording 62 tackles and 11.5 quarterback sacks. In the three years after, Johnson recorded 32.5 sacks and an even more impressive 8 forced fumbles. The third round draft selection from 2007 has yet to earn Pro Bowl recognition, but has been a solid contributor. He is in the middle of a 6-year, $76 million contract that makes him the second highest paid defensive end in 2014. Lots of money for little recognition.
T13. Calais Campbell (DE) Arizona Cardinals / $11,250,000
The former MVP of the University of Miami Hurricanes has become a dominant force on the Arizona Cardinals solid defensive line. Campbell is an athlete who was actually one of the best high school basketball players in Colorado. In football, he has used his length and strength to get after the quarterback and hold his ground on running plays. Campbell had 58 tackles and 9.0 quarterback sacks last season, while also picking up 2 fumble recoveries and forcing one fumble as well. In his 7th NFL season, Campbell has become a beast by averaging about 8 sacks a season during his last 3 campaigns.
T13. Johnathan Joseph (CB) Houston Texans / $11,250,000
The Houston Texans were very happy to have Johnathan Joseph back after holding him out of action during the entire preseason. Recovering from a foot injury, he began the regular season in the starting lineup. Joseph is a special player with the combination of speed (4.31 40-yard dash at NFL Combine) and intelligence (47 Wonderlic score) that is hard to find, especially on the defensive side of the ball. When he is healthy, Joseph breaks up passes (16 in 2013) and makes tackles (431 tackles in 9 NFL seasons). Joseph is a good player, but perhaps generously paid.
12. Brian Orakpo (LB) Washington Redskins / $11,455,000
Brian Orakpo came off a tough 2012 season to shine in 2013. In 15 games, Orakpo had 60 tackles and 10 quarterback sacks. He is a special player who makes big plays. Last year he had one interception that he returned 29 yards for a touchdown and also had 2 fumble recoveries. The first round pick from the University of Texas has already played in 3 Pro Bowls despite being in the league only four full seasons. Orakpo has an incredible motor and lit up the 2009 NFL Draft Combine with a 4.63 40-yard dash and 31 reps in the bench press. Orakpo has the elite talent and stats to deserve a spot on this list.
11. Tamba Hali (DE) Kansas City Chiefs / $11,464,706
Tamba Hali has exceeded all expectations after getting out of war-torn Liberia at the tender age of 10. He has since become one of the leaders on a very good Kansas City defense with his passion for getting after the quarterback. Hali might not be the strongest or fastest defensive end/outside linebacker, but he certainly is one of the most productive. Hali has had 46.5 quarterback sacks in his last four seasons and 28 forced fumbles in his career. Last season, Hali recovered 2 fumbles and even had one interception, scoring the first touchdown of his career. He’s a game changer.
10. Eric Berry (S) Kansas City Chiefs / $11,619,700
Eric Berry is a tough strong safety who will be embarking on his fourth NFL campaign in 2014. He has been a solid part of Kansas City’s defense with 267 tackles, 5.5 quarterback sacks, 8 interceptions (3 returns for touchdowns) and 30 passes defensed in his career. Berry has been selected to the Pro Bowl each season he’s played a full season in the league. The winner of the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009 as a member of the Tennessee Volunteers, Berry has lived up to all the hype that came from getting selected with the 5th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. It is really no surprise to see Berry on this list.
9. Lawrence Timmons (LB) Pittsburgh Steelers / $11,816,250
One of two Pittsburgh linebackers on this list, Lawrence Timmons is a solid linebacker who can tackle and make consistent plays. He has 460 tackles in the last four seasons with 9 quarterback sacks and 5 interceptions the last couple of years. Timmons has also forced 11 fumbles and has 7 fumble recoveries in his 7-year NFL career. Certainly, Timmons is a solid linebacker but something is wrong in Pittsburgh if both Timmons and Worilds are on this list and the fiery Troy Polamalu is nowhere to be found. Timmons is not exactly average, but his inclusion on this list is a bit of a surprise.
8. Joe Haden (CB) Cleveland Browns / $12,127,895
Joe Haden entered the NFL as the 2009 Sporting News collegiate National Defensive Player of the Year. Despite a rather poor showing at the 2010 NFL Combine, Haden was still the 7th player selected in the draft and has since become a solid cover corner for the Cleveland Browns. Haden has 67 passes defensed in his four NFL seasons to go along with 235 tackles and 13 interceptions. He had 6 interceptions in his rookie year alone. Haden is solid if not spectacular and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013. As the second highest paid cornerback in 2014, it might be a tad high.
7. Brandon Carr (CB) Dallas Cowboys / $12,217,000
Many Cowboys fans would be surprised to know that their defense has a player on this list. Brandon Carr is a durable cornerback who has played in every game in his six-year NFL career. He had 71 tackles, 12 passes defensed and 3 interceptions last season. In his third NFL season, as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Carr had 25 passes defensed. The player from Grand Valley State, seems to be frequently overlooked with no Pro Bowl appearances thus far in his career. He is easily one of the Cowboy’s best defensive players, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t somewhat overpaid,
6. Chris Long (DE) St. Louis Rams / $12,900,000
Chris Long has a solid football pedigree and the durability that has enabled him to play in all 96 games of his 6-year NFL career. He has had 33 quarterback sacks in his last three seasons and has been a solid contributor on a very good St. Louis Rams defensive front. Last season, Long had 40 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries in addition to 8.5 sacks. Long is a productive player who is in the big cap hit year of his current 4-year contract. Chris Long is a very versatile player, but still not the force you would expect to be number six on this list.
5. Greg Hardy (DE) Carolina Panthers / $13,166,000
Although Greg Hardy stands to make less money this season, due to his domestic abuse case that is still pending, he certainly has a handsome contract. Hardy is, however, a force to be reckoned with on a Carolina defense that is quite stout. Hardy had 15 quarterback sacks and 59 tackles last season and has had 26 sacks in the last two years combined. Hardy even has two safeties in his career, to go along with 7 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. Hardy is an emerging star who is a valuable member of his team. He might end up making less money this season, but still ends up on this list.
4. Gerald McCoy (DT) Tampa Bay Buccaneers / $15,627,253
Gerald McCoy is the cornerstone of the Tampa Bay defense. He is what you might consider to be a dual-threat defensive tackle. In 2013, McCoy had 50 tackles and 9.5 quarterback sacks while doing his best to remind Bucs fans of Warren Sapp. McCoy has been to 2 Pro Bowls (2012, 2013) in what really amounts to three full seasons of play. He was known for being one of three Oklahoma Sooners to be selected in the first four picks of the 2010 NFL Draft. McCoy can be dominant, is young and is on the tail end of a 5-year contract that he signed as a rookie. This will be a big season for him.
3. Haloti Ngata (DE), Baltimore Ravens / $16,000,000
Haloti Ngata is a disruptive 340 pound defensive tackle who will be entering his ninth season with the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens, who drafted Nagata with the 12th overall pick in the 2006 draft, have been rewarded with a player who has been consistent and has been selected to five Pro Bowls. He is stout against the run and has 416 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries and 3 interceptions thus far in his career. Ngata is in the third year of a 4-year deal ($48.52 million) that was cap-loaded in the final two years. He makes his presence felt and is the cornerstone of the Ravens defense.
2. Mario Williams (DE) Buffalo Bills / $18,800,000
Mario Williams limped into Buffalo and has come back to life with two solid seasons as a members of the Bills. Williams who played in only 18 games in his last two seasons with the Houston Texans has played in all 32 games as a member of the Buffalo Bills. Williams has responded with 24.5 quarterback sacks, 86 tackles, 3 forced fumbles and 7 passes defensed as a Bill. After being selected to the 2008 and 2009 Pro Bowls, Williams earned another trip to Hawaii in 2013. His 6-year, $96 million contract is certainly quite large, but Williams comes with his incredible physical skills.
1. Ndamukong Suh (DT) Detroit Lions / $22,412,500
The Detroit Lions have a bitter pill to swallow in 2014 with the contract of Ndamukong Suh. Paid just under $10.5 million in 2013, Suh’s contract explodes to $22.4 million for this cap heavy 2014 season. Suh came into the league as one of the most heralded defensive linemen to come out of college in quite some time. He went on to capture the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and has been selected to play in three Pro Bowls in his 4-year career. Suh had 5.5 quarterback sacks and 49 tackles last year, but has yet to attain the output of his rookie season. He is the best paid defensive player for 2014, but he could use the support to help pay for over $200,000 in fines he has incurred in just four years.
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