As the old saying goes, “defences win championships." That’s been the case for many years now in the NFL. Defences are the backbone of any good football team. They support the offense and make it their job to maintain the lead, or stop the other team when trailing. Just look at the 1985 Chicago Bears, arguably the most prolific defense in the history of the NFL. The Bears were already loaded with running back Walter Payton on offense. With the dominant performance put up by the team's defense, the Bears blew through the rest of the NFL and eventually trampled the New England Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens had a similar season when they made their Super Bowl run. Lead by a young Ray Lewis, that Ravens defense supported a mediocre passing attack and often took the game into their own hands, ranking first in points allowed with only 165 total for the year.
In recent years, the NFL has evolved, putting greater emphasis on the passing game. Nowadays people want to see defenses fail. Having to put up with tight ends that can stretch the field and running backs like Adrian Peterson is a tough job to handle, but many teams have managed. Since 2007, the losing team in the Super Bowl has scored an average of 22 points. That’s roughly three touchdowns allowed by the opposing defense. This indicates that defenses are still doing their jobs keeping the opposing offenses in check with some of the biggest names in the NFL take their place on the D-Line or in the Secondary.
Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith put up 20.5 and 19.5 sacks last season, respectively. When their rookie contracts are over they’re sure to have huge deals coming their way. Until then, here are the top 10 highest-paid defensive players in the NFL today.
10 Randy Starks – Miami Dolphins – Defensive Tackle – $8.45 Million
Randy Starks has been a solid player for the Dolphins since he signed a five-year, $21 million contract with the team back in 2008. Starks is a big boy who has shifted from nose tackle in the team's old 3-4 scheme to defensive tackle in the Dolphins' new 4-3 system. Since joining the Phins in 08 he’s put up 25 sacks and 191 tackles in five and a half years with the team. The defensive tackle is the anchor that drives the whole defensive line. It’s Starks’ job to fill the gaps in the running game and to collapse the pocket in the passing game. Playing a position where rushing the passer is a secondary task, Starks has earned his paycheck averaging 4.5 qb takedowns since joining Miami.
9 Henry Melton – Chicago Bears – Defensive Tackle - $8.45 Million
Henry Melton is the second interior defensive lineman on this list and a proven Pro Bowl player. Melton was voted to the 2012 Pro Bowl roster after a 6 sack, 44 tackle performance. It was quite an effort by a player on the same defense as Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman. Unfortunately, Melton hurt his knee earlier in the season and was placed on IR. While his season is over, he’s still going to bring in a little over $8.5 million this year.
8 Cortland Finnegan – Cornerback – St. Louis Rams - $9 Million
Cortland Finnegan is known around the NFL as one of the league's most aggressive players. Finnegan has been fined a total of four times over his 7-year career for a total of $47, 875. Although his play style might be seen by some as dirty, Finnegan was ranked the 93rd best player of 2012 by his peers. He’s also totaled an impressive 601 tackles and 7 quarterback sacks since being drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2006, showing just how physical a player he is.
7 Champ Bailey – Cornerback – Denver Broncos - $9.5 Million
The Broncos' all-time leader in career INT’s is still going strong at 35 years old. The 7-time all-pro has played for both the Redskins and the Broncos, and is still an intricate cog in that Denver defensive scheme all these years after being traded to the team back in 2004. Bailey is 26th on the all-time career INT list with 52. Whether this is his last year or not, Champ Bailey is surely headed to Canton once he does decide to retire.
6 Anthony Spencer – Defensive End – Dallas Cowboys - $10.6 Million
When the Cowboys announced that they’d be moving to a 4-3 defensive scheme under Monte Kiffin this season, expectations were high for Anthony Spencer and teammate DeMarcus Ware. Sadly, Spencer got injured early in the season and wasn’t able to show his worth in the new 4-3 scheme. As a 3-4 OLB Spencer put up 32.5 sacks since being drafted in 2007 and has been a feared pass rusher on Dallas’ defense. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2012 and since taking over for Greg Ellis in 2009 has become a very promising compliment to Ware.
5 Michael Johnson – Defensive End – Cincinnati Bengals - $11.175 Million
The former third-round pick had a breakout season in 2012, putting up 11.5 sacks and 52 tackles for Cincinnati. While he didn’t make it to the Pro Bowl, Michael Johnson did match his career total in sacks for his first three seasons with the Bengals during his 2012 campaign. Weighing in at 6’7 and 270 pounds, Johnson is a physical freak on the d-line, measuring taller than a lot of offensive linesmen. He signed a franchise tag on March 1st which allowed him to stay with the team for the 2013 season.
4 Tamba Hali – Outside Linebacker – Kansas City Chiefs - $12.25 Million
Tamba Hali no doubt has the most awesome name on this list. The three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher has been one of the big-play members of the Chiefs' defense for years now and has gotten the opposing qb 71.5 times since entering the league in 2006. Hali and teammate Derrick Johnson make up one of the most feared sack duos in the NFL, combining for 93 sacks since 2006. This year, the Chiefs’ defense is looking stronger than ever with Hali leading the charge.
3 Julius Peppers – Defensive End – Chicago Bears - $12.9 Million
2 Darrelle Revis – Cornerback – Tampa Bay Buccaneers - $13 Million
1 Jared Allen – Defensive End – Minnesota Vikings - $14.28 Million
Jared Allen has been to five Pro Bowls, been the NFL sack leader twice (2007 and 2011) and has compiled 122 quarterback sacks over the course of his nine-year NFL career which began with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004. Playing on the right side of the ball, Allen is often after the opposing quarterback's “blind side,” a difficult task seeing as offenses generally put their best offensive tackle to guard against right defensive ends. Allen is a leader on and off the field and has become the heart and soul of the Vikings' defense since joining the team in 2008.