The landscape of the highest-paid NFL safeties is shifting quickly. As safeties become more critical in today’s two-high world, defensive backs are landing extensions and resetting the top of the market. Who is the highest-paid safety in the NFL, and which other DBs round out the top 10 at the position?
The highest-paid safeties in the NFL
10) Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals | AAV: $12.911 million
The only safety set to play the 2022 season on the franchise tag, Jessie Bates III is holding out of minicamp in hopes of landing a long-term extension from the Bengals. However, after Cincinnati selected safety Daxton Hill in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, they may be content to let Bates play out the year and then depart via free agency.
Unless Bates works out a deal with the Bengals before the July 15 franchise tag extension deadline, he will collect a fully guaranteed $12.911 million during the upcoming campaign. Bates is the only defensive back on this list currently projected to reach the open market next offseason.
9) Quandre Diggs, Seattle Seahawks | AAV: $13 million
Quandre Diggs re-signed with Seattle in the offseason, inking a three-year, $39 million accord that contains $13.49 million in full guarantees. In reality, this is more like a one-year, $14 million deal that Seattle could potentially escape before next year.
Diggs collected a $12.3 million signing bonus that will be prorated over the life of the deal. His $1.19 base salary in 2022 will keep his cap number at just $5.8 million, but his cap charges will explode over the following two years. Diggs is scheduled to count for $18.1 million in 2023 and $15.1 million in 2024.
8) Marcus Williams, Baltimore Ravens | AAV: $14 million
Still only 25 years old, Marcus Williams played for the Saints on the franchise tag in 2021 before landing a five-year, $70 million pact with the Ravens in March. He received $32 million fully guaranteed, including his $14.965 million signing bonus and base salaries in 2022 and 2023.
The rest of Williams’ guarantees are included in a $14.92 option bonus. That bonus is already fully guaranteed, but it doesn’t officially have to be exercised until the beginning of the 2023 league year. At that point, the option bonus will be prorated over the rest of Williams’ contract (in the same fashion as a signing bonus).
7) Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans | AAV: $14.1 million
Kevin Byard is arguably the best safety in the NFL, so the Titans are getting a relative steal given that he’s just the seventh-highest-paid at the position. Tennessee has already restructured Byard’s deal for 2022, the second time they’ve done so during the life of the contract. Thus, his cap hit for the upcoming season is only $7.058 million.
Because the Titans moved some of Byard’s money into the future, his cap charges will be $19.623 million and $17.823 million in 2023 and 2024, respectively. He also has two void years tacked onto the end of his deal in 2025 and 2026. Tennessee will take on $4.386 million in dead money if Byard doesn’t re-sign after the 2024 season.
6) Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears | AAV: $14.6 million
The Bears signed Eddie Jackson to a four-year, $58.4 million extension in Jan. 2020, tying him to the team through 2024. Jackson received $22 million guaranteed, including a $12 million signing bonus and effectively guaranteed base salaries in 2020 and 2021. In March 2022, his $11 million base salary — previously only guaranteed for injury — became fully guaranteed for injury, cap, and skill purposes.
Chicago reworked Jackson’s pact in March 2021, creating $6.36 million in cap space in the process. The club moved $7.59 million of Jackson’s salary into a signing bonus and tacked on a void year in 2025, giving themselves one more season to spread out Jackson’s prorated money.
5) Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals | AAV: $14.75 million
Budda Baker is under contract with the Cardinals through the 2024 campaign under the terms of the four-year, $59 million extension he inked in Aug. 2020. Arizona used a $7.1 million option bonus that was exercised in March 2021.
As things currently stand, Baker will have relatively stable cap charges of $14.775 million, $16.875 million, and $17.975 million over the next three seasons. Of his 2022 base salary, $2 million of it became guaranteed in March 2021. The remaining $9 million was guaranteed as of March 2022.
4) Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos | AAV: $15.25 million
Originally assigned the franchise tag in 2021, Justin Simmons agreed to a long-term contract with the Broncos last summer. The now-29-year-old received a four-year, $61 million extension with $32.1 million fully guaranteed. His guarantees were comprised of a $15 million signing bonus and base salaries of $2 million in 2021 and $15.1 million in 2022.
Simmons has one of the more straightforward contracts among the highest-paid NFL safeties. Denver didn’t use a complicated structure, and they haven’t reworked his deal as of yet. The Broncos could conceivably move on from Simmons after the 2023 campaign, but he’s still playing at an All-Pro level.
3) Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings | AAV: $16 million
The oldest safety on the list at 32, Harrison Smith signed a four-year, $64 million extension in Aug. 2021. Given his age, it was a relatively surprising deal. However, the pact is really a two-year, $26 million contract that Minnesota could exit after 2022.
Smith’s $2.95 million base salary is guaranteed in 2022, and he’ll have a cap charge of $7.407 million. In 2023, Smith has just $1.25 million guaranteed. The Vikings could cut him with a dead money charge of just $11.768 million. If Minnesota used a post-June 1 designation, they’d only take on $3.916 million in 2023 dead money.
2) Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks | AAV: $17.5 million
Jamal Adams had all the leverage in the world after being acquired by the Seahawks in 2020. Seattle sent two first-round picks to the Jets in exchange for Adams, so how could they deny eventually making him one of the NFL’s highest-paid safeties?
Adams received a four-year, $70 million extension that included $21 million in full guarantees. The deal contained a $12.44 million option bonus that became fully guaranteed in Feb. 2022. Additionally, $2.56 million of Adams’ 2023 base salary will become guaranteed five days after Super Bowl 57. His contract also contains incentives tied to interceptions, sacks, and Pro Bowl and conference championship berths.
Who is the highest-paid safety in the NFL?
1) Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers | AAV: $18.247 million
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the NFL’s new highest-paid safety after agreeing to a four-year, $72.98 million extension with the Steelers. Fitzpatrick received a $17.5 million signing bonus and $36 million in full guarantees.
Pittsburgh has typically refused to guarantee more than one full year on any contract. However, they’ve now broken that protocol with both Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt. Fitzpatrick will collect guaranteed base salaries of $4 million in 2022 and $14.5 million in 2023. He’ll get $55.388 million over the first three years of the deal.
Fitzpatrick and Adams are in their own tier among safety contracts. Fitzpatrick’s deal will only increase the demands of Derwin James and Jessie Bates III, both of whom are angling for new pacts. With Fitzpatrick crossing the $18 million/year threshold, the stage is set for the next crop of safeties to top $20 million annually.