Now that the 2023 NFL offseason has arrived, who are the highest-paid defensive tackles in the league? Interior defenders are rarely as paid as much as their edge-defending counterparts, but the top of the defensive tackle market has significantly increased in recent years. Which DTs have the NFL’s highest annual average value (AAV)?
Who Is the Highest-Paid Defensive Tackle in the NFL?
Aaron Donald is the best defensive tackle in the NFL and one of the greatest defensive players in league history, so it’s only fitting that he’s the highest-paid interior defender in terms of AAV at $31.67 million. After Donald indicated retirement was a possibility last offseason, the Rams — in an unprecedented move — essentially ripped up the three years and $57.3 million remaining on his contract and gave him a new three-year deal worth $95 million.
Donald has a $15 million roster bonus for 2023 that will guarantee on March 16. His 2023 $13.5 million salary for 2023 and $5 million roster bonus for 2024 will guarantee the following day. Donald’s 2024 salary and option bonus, totaling $30 million, will become guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2024 league year. His contract contains two void years in 2025 and 2026.
Highest Paid Defensive Tackles 2-10
T-2) DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts | AAV: $21 million
DeForest Buckner agreed to a four-year, $84 million extension after being dealt from the 49ers to the Colts in 2020. That deal included nearly $40 million in guarantees: Buckner’s 2020 salary, 2020 roster bonus, and 2021 roster bonus.
Buckner now has two years remaining on his contract, with cap charges of around $20 million each season. He is set to earn a $1 million roster bonus on March 19.
T-2) Leonard Williams, New York Giants | AAV: $21 million
Like Buckner, Williams has also been traded. He was sent from the Jets to the Giants in 2019, then accepted the franchise tag from Big Blue in 2020. The Giants tagged Williams again in 2021 before ultimately signing him to a three-year, $63 million deal.
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New York has since restructured Williams’ pact and added a 2024 void year. As he enters the final year of his contract, Williams’ 2023 cap charge sits at an astounding $32.26 million, tops among interior defenders and the 11th-highest figure in the entire league. The Giants could add more void years and push Williams’ money into the future, but reports have suggested an extension is more likely.
4) Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs | AAV: $20 million
Chris Jones earned Defensive Player of the Year consideration and helped the Chiefs win another Super Bowl last season, and he’s well-compensated for his efforts. He paced defensive tackles with a $29.4 million cap charge in 2022 and is projected to have a $28.3 million figure in 2023.
Because Jones is entering the final year of his deal, Kansas City can’t restructure his contract, but general manager Brett Veach has said extending Jones is on the team’s offseason docket. Jones reportedly wants to become the NFL’s second-highest-paid defensive tackle, which should be manageable.
5) Daron Payne, Washington Commanders | AAV: $18.937 million
Daron Payne is on the franchise tag, so his contract differs from every other defensive tackle in the top 10. Payne’s $18.937 million will become fully guaranteed once he signs the franchise tender. The Commanders will then have until July 15 to work out an extension with Payne; otherwise, he will play out the 2023 campaign on the tag.
Between Payne, Allen, and the rest of their defensive tackles, Washington is devoting nearly $45 million in 2023 cap space to its interior defenders, second in the NFL behind the Giants.
6) Jonathan Allen, Washington Commanders | AAV: $18 million
Jonathan Allen’s cap hits in Washington have been relatively low throughout his career, but that will change when his cap charge jumps to $21+ million in 2023 and stays there for the next three seasons.
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Allen will see $2.5 million of his $14 million 2023 salary become fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year, but that will be the only remaining guarantee in his contract. He can earn $1 million per season in per-game roster bonuses and $500,000 per year in workout bonuses.
7) Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | AAV: $17.75 million
The Buccaneers inked Vita Vea to a four-year, $71 million extension in Jan. 2022, then almost immediately restructured the deal for salary cap room. Given that Tampa Bay has the worst cap situation in the NFL in 2023, the club should be expected to rework Vea’s deal again and lower his upcoming $15.7 million cap charge.
Vea’s salary for next season is already locked in; his 2024 salary is guaranteed for injury and will become fully guaranteed on March 19, 2023. He can earn $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses in 2023 and 2024, then $1 million per season from 2025-2026.
8) Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers | AAV: $17.5 million
Kenny Clark signed a four-year extension with the Packers in 2020 and has already restructured his contract twice. Green Bay converted his base salary/roster bonus in Feb. 2022 and March 2023, creating cap room but adding more dead money down the line.
Clark’s cap number is below $13 million for 2023, but it will jump to $27+ million next season. He is due a $2 million roster bonus on the second day of the 2023 league year. Clark also has three void years tacked on to the end of his deal for proration purposes.
9) Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons | AAV: $16.5 million
The Falcons have traded veterans like Julio Jones and Deion Jones in recent years, but Gardy Jarrett has been a stalwart on Atlanta’s roster. Jarrett received a three-year extension last summer that will pay him $49.5 million and keep him with the Falcons through 2025.
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That accord contained $34.47 million in guaranteed money, including a $16.5 million signing bonus. Jarrett’s $16.5 million base salary for 2023 is also guaranteed. He can collect $1 million roster bonuses in 2024 and 2025, while those seasons also contain $500,000 base salary escalators based on Pro Bowl appearances.
10) Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers | AAV: $16.4 million
The oldest defensive tackle in the top 10 at 34 years old, Cameron Heyward is on his third contract with the Steelers: a four-year, $65.6 million extension he signed in 2020. Pittsburgh has already reworked the deal once, converting a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus to create cap space in 2021.
The rest of Heyward’s contract is relatively straightforward. He has two seasons remaining on the pact, with cap charges hovering around $22 million each year. The Steelers could consider lowering those numbers via another restructure or an extension, but given Heyward’s age, they’ll likely ride out the rest of the deal as is.
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