The salaries for even mediocre quarterbacks (see: Dalton, Andy) continues to skyrocket, but they aren't the only ones making a good living in the NFL these days. Professional football teams still recognize the value of great defensive play, and they're willing to shell out the big bucks for the game's finest stars.

Among the notable top-earners are Richard Sherman, who elevated his profile during the Seahawks' title run last season. And you might recognize Greg Hardy, one of the infamous domestic abusers currently suspended from NFL action, who manages to crack the top 10.

Click on the slideshow below to see which NFL defensive players bring in the largest annual salaries, according to the data available at

NFL's 10 Highest-Paid Defensive Players


1. J.J. WATT

Some think J.J. Watt will go down as one of the best defensive players ever, and the Houston Texans have made sure he's paid accordingly. The defensive end's 6-year, $100-million contract is a record-setting deal that pays him more than $16 million a year.



Buffalo has had a rough go these past few seasons, but Mario Williams remains one of the bright spots. Even in down years, Williams has anchored a respectable Bills defense and earned every penny of a six-year deal that pays him $16 million annually.



Coach Jeff Fisher values a strong defensive unit, and Robert Quinn is the unquestioned star of the St. Louis Rams. Quinn earns an average salary of almost $14.3 million a year and is locked up until 2020.



One of the most versatile players in the league, Peterson also makes a major contribution on special teams as a returns specialist. But Peterson is also one of the league's best cornerbacks, justifying his annual average salary of $14 million.



Fresh off a Super Bowl run that made the star cornerback a virtual household name, Richard Sherman received a contract this offseason that reflects his major role as a lockdown cornerback and leader of the team. The 4-year, $56-million deal pays Sherman an average of $14 million per year.



Johnny Football gets the headlines, but the Cleveland Browns are strongest on the defensive side of the ball, where Joe Haden has been a stabilizing force. Since signing his contract this summer, though, Haden has been inconsistent and hasn't lived up to his $13.5 million annual salary.



Whether it's dropping into coverage, stopping the run or rushing the passer, Matthews is a cornerstone of Green Bay's defense. The star linebacker notched double-digit sacks in three of his first four seasons, earning him a contract that pays $13.2 million annually.



One of the best defensive ends in football had his career upended by a domestic violence conviction this summer. Now, Greg Hardy has been suspended from the team and watch his teammates play without him. But Hardy is still collecting a salary that averages out at $13.1 million per year.



Suh is reviled among many NFL fans for his reputation as one of the league's dirtiest players. Regardless, he remains one of the most effective defensive tackles in football, and the Lions happily pay him an average salary of $12.9 million per year.



Between pressuring the quarterback, clogging up running lanes and recovering loose balls on the turf, Charles Johnson is a defensive playmaker. The Panthers pay him almost $12.7 million per year.

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