The landscape of the highest-paid inside linebacker 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 | 6-10
Which inside linebackers sit in the bottom half of the top 10 when it comes to average annual value (AAV)?
10) Jaylon Smith, Dallas Cowboys | AAV: $11.4 million
Jaylon Smith was one of several linebackers to receive new contracts during the 2019 offseason. At the time of signing, Smith’s six-year, $68.4 million contract made him the fifth-highest paid at the position. However, within just a couple of weeks, he dropped out of the top five. In fact, his contract could be out of the top 10 highest-paid LBs by the time the 2021 season begins.
Smith received a $5 million signing bonus and $19 million fully guaranteed at signing. His $7.2 million salary in 2021 is fully guaranteed, while his 2022 salary ($9.2 million) is guaranteed for injury. The Cowboys could move on after the season, leaving $6.8 million in dead money.
9) Cory Littleton, Las Vegas Raiders | AAV: $11.75 million
Cory Littleton was one of the players who had a good offseason in 2020, securing a three-year, $35.3 million contract. His deal contained no signing bonus but did have $22 million in guaranteed money. Those guarantees covered his salary in 2020 and 2021, as well as a roster bonus in 2021.
None of his 2022 contract is guaranteed, but the deal does contain three void years and would cost the Raiders $10.6 million in dead money to terminate. If he remains on the roster in 2022, he is due to earn $11 million in salary.
8) Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers | AAV: $13.6 million
One of the few names on this list who got a contract extension and jumped into the list of highest-paid linebackers during the season. Shaq Thompson signed a four-year deal worth $54.4 million, and a total of $27.5 million was guaranteed at signing. That included a $16 million signing bonus as well as his salary in 2019 and 2020.
Thompson’s contract was restructured this offseason, paying him another $9.2 million upfront. That has reduced his salary to $990,000 in 2021 and means the Panthers would have a $12.5 million dead money charge if they release him ahead of the 2022 season.
T-6) Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons | AAV: $14.25 million
Deion Jones signed his contract in the summer of 2019. The overall value of the contract is $57 million across four years. He got an $11 million signing bonus, which was part of $18.8 million fully guaranteed at signing. His 2021 salary became fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. As part of a restructure in 2021, Jones’ 2022 salary is now also fully guaranteed.
T-6) Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars | AAV: $14.25 million
The Jaguars kept one of their key players in house in the form of Myles Jack. Just prior to the 2019 season, Jack signed a four-year, $57 million contract. He had a $12 million signing bonus and $26.1 million guaranteed at signing. Another $7 million in 2021 salary became fully guaranteed this past offseason.
The highest-paid inside linebackers in the NFL | 2-4
Which inside linebackers make up the top five in terms of the highest-paid at the position?
5) Zach Cunningham, Houston Texans | AAV: $14.5 million
A relatively unheralded name on this list of the highest-paid inside linebackers, Zach Cunningham jumped up into the top three last year. He signed a four-year, $58 million contract, with a $12 million signing bonus and $23.5 million guaranteed at signing.
That guarantee included his signing bonus, a roster bonus in 2020, and his salary in both 2020 and 2021. However, the Texans restructured the contract to pay Cunningham $7.5 million upfront. That restructure also means it would cost $12.8 million for the Texans to release him next offseason.
4) C.J. Mosley, New York Jets | AAV: $17 million
When C.J. Mosley originally signed his contract with the Jets, he swept comfortably to the top of the highest-paid LB list. Mosley really reset the market and paved the way for the deals that some players signed in the following offseason.
His contract was a five-year deal worth $85 million, with a $7.5 million signing bonus and $43 million fully guaranteed. With Mosley opting out of the 2021 season, his contract has rolled back a year, meaning he is still under contract through 2024. His cap hit in 2021 is just $7.5 million due to a $10 million roster bonus having been paid and counting against the cap in 2020.
3) Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks | AAV: $17 million
Bobby Wagner was the first to take Mosley’s spot atop the list of highest-paid linebackers and deservedly so. One of the top linebackers in the league for a while, he signed a three-year contract worth $54 million. As part of that deal, he received a $15 million signing bonus, with $24.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.
It will be interesting to see whether he gets another new contract next offseason as he is due to count $20.4 million against the cap in 2022. In contrast, it would leave just $3.8 million in dead money to release Wagner.
2) Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers | AAV: $19 million
After three strong years in the league, Fred Warner momentarily took the mantle of the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL. His five-year contract is worth $95 million with a total of $40.5 million in guarantees.
Who is the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL?
Which player knocked Warner off the top of the list of highest-paid LBs in the NFL?
1) Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts | AAV: $19.85 million
Just a matter of weeks after Warner moved to the top of the list of highest-paid linebackers, Darius Leonard jumped ahead of him. Leonard’s contract extension is worth $99.25 million across five years. The deal contains $52.5 million guaranteed, which is the highest number for any inside linebacker in the league.