NFL's highest-paid defensive players by annual salary

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NFL's highest-paid defensive players by annual salary originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

If defense wins championships, then championships are getting more expensive.

Defensive players across the NFL have set records in recent years with their lucrative contracts. From Defensive Player of the Year winners to consistent Pro Bowlers, top pass-rushers, linebackers and cornerbacks are getting paid big-time money.

Where do the top talents rank among all NFL defensive players when it comes to annual salary?

Who is the NFL's highest-paid defensive player?

To no surprise, Aaron Donald leads all defensive players in average annual salary this season at $31.66 million. The Los Angeles Rams gave the three-time Defensive Player of the Year a three-year, $95 million contract in June. There are just 12 players with a higher average salary than Donald, and all of them are quarterbacks.

Donald is the only defensive player with an average salary of at least $30 million, with Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt next at $28 million. Watt secured a four-year, $112 million extension ahead of the 2021 campaign, where he went on to tie Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22.5 and win Defensive Player of the Year.

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa rounds out the top three with an average salary of $27 million. The four-time Pro Bowler is entering the second season of a five-year, $135 million extension.

And one of Bosa's new Chargers teammates is a couple of spots behind him. Former DPOY Khalil Mack is tied with Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby for the fifth-highest average salary at $23.5 million. Mack, who Los Angeles acquired from the Chicago Bears over the offseason, is going into the fourth year of a six-year, $141 million deal. Crosby, meanwhile, got a four-year, $94 million extension in March.

Mack and Crosby trail former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett for fourth. The Cleveland Browns two-time All-Pro defensive end has four years remaining on his five-year, $125 million contract ($25 million average).

The Chargers now have three of the 20 highest-paid defenders as Derwin James checks in at No. 19, behind Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey ($19.5 million) and ahead of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner ($19.04 million).

Here's a full look at the NFL's highest-paid defensive players by average annual salary, according to Spotrac:

1. DT Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams: $31,666,667

2. OLB T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers: $28,002,750

3. DE Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers: $27,000,000

4. DE Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns: $25,000,000

T-5. DE Maxx Crosby, Las Vegas Raiders: $23,500,000

T-5. OLB Khalil Mack, Los Angeles Chargers: $23,500,000

7. OLB Bradley Chubb, Miami Dolphins: $22,000,000

T-8. CB Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers: $21,000,000

T-8. DT DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts: $21,000,000

T-8. DE Leonard WilliamsNew York Giants: $21,000,000

11. CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns: $20,100,000

T-12. DT Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs: $20,000,000

T-12. OLB Von Miller, Buffalo Bills: $20,000,000

T-12. CB Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams: $20,000,000

T-12. LB Roquan Smith, Baltimore Ravens: $20,000,000

16. LB Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis Colts: $19,700,000

17. CB Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints: $19,520,600

18. CB Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens: $19,500,000

19. S Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers: $19,133,000

20. LB Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers: $19,045,000