The landscape of the highest-paid inside linebackers in the NFL has developed slowly over the past few years. Who is the highest-paid LB in the NFL, and which other inside linebackers round out the top 10 at the position?
The Highest-Paid Linebackers in the NFL | 2-10
Which inside linebackers sit in the top 10 when it comes to average annual value (AAV)? The 2022 NFL offseason saw a shakeup of the linebacker position with a somewhat surprising name appearing in the top 10 highest paid at the position.
10) Zach Cunningham, Tennessee Titans | AAV: $11 million
It was a bumpy 2021 season for last year’s fifth-highest-paid linebacker. Zach Cunningham was benched twice by the Texans before being waived. He was then claimed by the Titans, carrying a $10.5 million cap number for the 2022 season.
However, Cunningham will also count $12.8 million against the cap for the Texans this year. When he signed the deal, it was a four-year contract worth $58 million with a signing bonus of $12 million ($23.5 million guaranteed at signing). The 2022 season will be the second year of that deal and the Titans have plenty of options. As it stands, the Titans would incur no dead money if they were to release Cunningham.
T-8) Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | AAV: $12.5 million
Lavonte David is also in the final year of his two-year contract, which is worth $25 million in total. His cap number currently sits at $14.785 million for the 2022 NFL season. The contract contained $17.5 million guaranteed at signing, including $11.425 million that is reportedly being treated as a signing bonus from a cap perspective.
David has a $12.5 million salary in 2022 ($5 million is guaranteed). Another $2.5 million of that will become guaranteed on March 20, 2022. The three void years in the deal will leave behind $6.855 million regardless of whether he is on the roster in 2023 or not.
T-8) Jerome Baker, Miami Dolphins | AAV: $12.5 million
Jerome Baker signed a three-year contract extension worth $37.5 million. The structure of his deal is intriguing. He originally received a $5.5 million bonus, with a further $7 million bonus being paid in the 2022 offseason. Accordingly, he carries $3.125 million in prorated money in each of the next three years and a cap number of $9.73 million in 2022.
7) Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers | AAV: $13.6 million
Shaq Thompson is entering the third year of his four-year, $54.433 million deal with the Panthers. The contract contained a $16 million signing bonus and $27.525 million in total guarantees. Those guarantees ended in 2020, and there is a chance we could see Thompson released ahead of the 2022 league year.
Carolina restructured Thompson’s contract last offseason, and he now has an $18.15 million cap number in 2022. If the Panthers were to release him, they could clear $5.5 million in cap space. Additionally, they would save close to $12 million in cash in 2022 and more than $13 million in 2023.
6) Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons | AAV: $14.25 million
Deion Jones’ cap impact is set to jump massively in the third year of his four-year, $57 million deal. Having played under a cap figure of $6.33 million last year, that will jump to $20.02 million in 2022. The contract contained an $11 million signing bonus and $18.8 million fully guaranteed at signing.
For 2022, much of Jones’ contract is guaranteed. His $9.64 million 2022 salary became fully guaranteed as part of the 2021 restructure. There is also $4 million of his $5.04 million roster bonus fully guaranteed. Therefore, if the Falcons were to move on from Jones this offseason, they would incur $24.89 million in dead money. However, there would be just a $5.34 million dead cap next offseason if they released him.
5) Foyesade Oluokun, Jacksonville Jaguars | AAV: $15 million
If you were going to pick a linebacker to join this list of highest-paid linebackers in 2022, Foyesade Oluokun likely would not have been the top candidate. However, the former sixth-round selection out of Yale cashed in with the Jaguars. His three-year deal is worth a total of $45 million, including $28 million in guarantees and a $12.5 million signing bonus.
4) C.J. Mosley, New York Jets | AAV: $17 million
The 2022 season could be the final one for C.J. Mosley in New York. His contract became somewhat convoluted when he opted out of the 2020 season. The deal was originally a five-year contract worth $85 million, but given the opt-out year, it will run through six NFL seasons.
In 2022, Mosley will carry a $17.5 million cap number — his full $16 million salary is guaranteed for the season. However, 2022 is the final year of those guarantees, meaning the Jets could potentially move on from him in the 2023 offseason. Unless they restructure the deal, that release would carry just a $3 million dead money charge, due in large part to the modest $7.5 million signing bonus that Mosley received.
3) Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers | AAV: $19 million
Fred Warner was briefly at the top when it came to the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL. Last offseason, he signed a five-year contract worth just over $95 million. The deal included a $12.32 million signing bonus that was part of $27.5 million in full guarantees at signing. This will be the final year before Warner’s cap number jumps. It currently sits at $8.1 million — it’ll rise to over $18 million next year.
The contract is somewhat complex. The 49ers have the option to buy out the final two years of the contract for $3.6 million. If that were to be the case, Warner could be a free agent in the 2025 offseason. If the 49ers choose not to buy out the contract, he would be a free agent in 2027.
2) Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis Colts | AAV: $19.7 million
Shaquille Leonard’s five-year contract extension fell just short of the $100 million mark over five years, but it did place him atop the list of highest-paid linebackers. His deal contained a $20 million signing bonus, $33 million in full guarantees, and $52.5 million in total guarantees during the life of the deal.
Leonard counted $11.166 million against the Colts’ cap in 2022. That figure then jumps to $20.21 million in 2023 and sits around that number for the next three seasons. The first real out in the contract comes after the 2023 campaign. However, if Leonard gets injured in 2023, $6.5 million of his 2024 salary is guaranteed for injury.
Who is the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL?
Which player knocked Leonard off the top of the list of highest-paid LBs in the NFL? How close did he get to $20 million per year?
1) Roquan Smith, Baltimore Ravens | AAV: $20 million
Roquan Smith becomes the first off-the-ball linebacker to hit the $20 million mark with his deal-in-principle with the Baltimore Ravens. The total value of the contract is $100 million over five years. Of that, $45 million is fully guaranteed, and there is $60 million in total guarantees.