Defensive tackles are some of the more unheralded athletes in the National Football League. The very best defensive tackles in the business blow up run plays each and every Sunday of the season. They draw attention from offensive linemen, freeing up opportunities for other players on the defensive line in the process.
Some have a mean streak that enables them to get down and dirty while in the trenches.
Defensive ends get at quarterbacks and make highlight-reel plays, and thus the top DEs in the NFL make more than do most defensive tackles. That said, the defensive lineman with the highest cap hit of 2014 lines up at tackle.
He will soon be in for a big payday.
Here are the highest-paid NFL defensive tackles of 2014
10 Kendall Langford -- St. Louis Rams: $6 million cap hit
The Rams are the walking wounded heading into the start of the regular season. Quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the campaign when he suffered a torn ACL for the second time in less than a calendar year. Langford went down with an ankle injury during August, and there are concerns that he will not be at 100 percent on the first Sunday of September.
St. Louis has depth on the defensive side of the ball, but that doesn't mean Langford wouldn't be missed were he sidelined for any amount of time. He has never sat out a full regular season game since being drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2008. Langford registered 49 tackles and five sacks, both career highs, in 2013.
9 Kyle Williams -- Buffalo Bills: $6.25 million cap hit
Buffalo and St. Louis have similarities. Both teams feature offenses that could struggle to put points on the scoreboard on a weekly basis. Both could be searching for a franchise quarterback next winter.
Both have good defenses, and Williams is a key man for the Bills.
The veteran of eight NFL seasons had a banner year in 2013. He notched 68 tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, and finished the season with a career-high 10.5 sacks. Williams is currently signed with the Bills through the end of 2016.
8 Marcell Dareus -- Buffalo Bills: $6,493,232 cap hit
Dareus has proven himself to be one of the top defensive tackles in all of the NFL since the Bills selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He has 18.5 sacks in 48 regular season games played. 7.5 of those quarterback takedowns occurred last year when Dareus had his best season to date as a pro. Nearly half (71) of his career tackles were registered in 2013.
Dareus will now have to show the Bills and the NFL that he has his life in order.
The 24-year-old was arrested on two occasions this past May. One of those incidents involved the player possessing synthetic marijuana, and the other arrest was for illegal street racing.
Dareus will be looking to cash in on a new contract after this season. He will have to be on his best behavior over the next several months in order for that to be a possibility.
7 Linval Joseph -- Minnesota Vikings: $6.6 million cap hit
Some within the fan base of the New York Giants would consider Joseph to have been a Big Blue draft bust. Joseph never put up monster numbers in his four seasons with the Giants. He appeared in 47 of the team's 48 regular season contests over the past three years, during which he had nine sacks and three fumble recoveries.
New York allowed Joseph to test the free agency market last March.
Joseph's time as a member of the Vikings has not gotten off to a stellar beginning. He was a victim of a random shooting while at a nightclub in August. An innocent bystander who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Joseph is expected to be ready to start in Week 1.
6 Vince Wilfork -- New England Patriots: $6,683,333 cap hit
Wilfork found himself in limbo last fall. He suffered a torn Achilles four games into the season, and there were whispers that he and the Patriots could part ways after that injury. Those rumors were proven inaccurate when New England signed the veteran to a three-year deal that could, financially speaking, be re-evaluated by the Pats after 2014.
Odds are that the 32-year-old will end his career with the team that drafted him back in 2004. Wilfork hadn't missed a full regular season game in three years until the Achilles injury. He has been named to five Pro Bowl squads during his tenure in the league.
Wilfork, now fully recovered, could be in for an impressive season.
5 Barry Cofield -- Washington Redskins: $7.6775 million cap hit
Cofield has been an NFC East mainstay in his eight NFL seasons. The defensive tackle out of Northwestern spent his first five years in the league with the New York Giants. He made the switch to the Redskins following the 2010 campaign, and Cofield will be looking to have a more stable season after what was a roller coaster year for player and for club.
Cofield suffered a broken hand last preseason, and that resulted in the 30-year-old being a non-factor in the opening half of the season. He did improve as his hand healed, but the Redskins failed to locate winning ways. They ended the year at 3-13.
4 Geno Atkins -- Cincinnati Bengals: $9 million cap hit
Atkins is the cornerstone of what is a fantastic defensive line. He had 23 sacks from 2010 through 2012, and the Bengals rewarded him with a contract extension two offseasons ago. Atkins put pen to paper on a deal that may keep him in Cincinnati through 2018, and the defensive tackle could make over $53 million off of that contract.
The 26-year-old enters September with something to prove. Atkins had six sacks and 20 combined tackles in nine games last fall, but he suffered a torn ACL that ended his season in late October. The Bengals will need Atkins to be back at his best if they are to contend for more than a division title in 2014.
3 Gerald McCoy -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $15,627,253 cap hit
McCoy is one reason why some NFL insiders expect that the Buccaneers will turn things around this fall. The five-year pro had a breakout season in 2013, finishing the campaign with career highs in combined tackles (50) and sacks (9.5). He will be a player to watch over the next four months, as McCoy will be doing more than attempting to help Tampa Bay win games.
He will also be playing for a new deal.
The Pro Bowl tackle is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Assuming that he will match or even outdo his play from a year ago, McCoy will eventually be one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. Tampa Bay would be wise to tie McCoy down for the foreseeable future before 2015 arrives.
2 Haloti Ngata -- Baltimore Ravens: $16 million cap hit
The numbers would tell you that Ngata is no longer the league's best interior defensive lineman. Ngata failed to reach 55 tackles in back-to-back campaigns for the first time in his NFL career. The 30-year-old hasn't appeared in all 16 regular seasons in a year since 2011. Ngata got to quarterbacks for only 1.5 sacks in 2013.
Still, nobody should be writing Ngata off as washed up.
A year ago, Ngata was nursing a knee injury that had occurred the previous February on Super Bowl Sunday. That isn't the case this time around. Ngata is feeling “better than ever” as summer comes to an end, and he could be on the cusp of quite the comeback season.
1 Ndamukong Suh -- Detroit Lions: $22.4125 million cap hit
Suh has a history of not being able to control his temper while on the football field. He has also, with his play, proven himself to be the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Despite his talents and his production in games, the Lions may have no other choice but to let Suh walk next winter.
Suh has the option of voiding his current contract with the Lions following next February's Super Bowl, and he is expected to take that action in order to land an even bigger deal. Detroit has invested a ton of money on wide receiver Calvin Johnson and quarterback Matt Stafford, and the Lions do not have the cap space to give Suh the money he desires.
Detroit may be forced to trade the team's best defensive player if the team stumbles in the opening month of the 2014 season.