clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A deeper dive into changes in positional value over the past decade: Defense

Washington Commanders v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Yesterday, I took a closer look at the relative growth of offensive position salaries over the last decade, which yielded some fascinating results. Today, I’m doing the same for the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Positional Value Change

Unlike the offense, where quarterback was and remains the undisputed salary top dog, on defense the long time reigning champ, EDGE rushers, gave way to interior defensive linemen (IDL) as the top earners in 2022.

From 2014 to 2022, the top paid IDL saw their average cap hit rise from around $11.7M to $17.8M, a 52% increase. Recall from the previous article that the salary cap grew 56% over that timeframe.

Next up, in terms of rate of growth, was not the aforementioned EDGE rushers, but safeties, who saw a 50% growth in top salaries, from about $8M to $12M over that window.

At a 43% growth rate, EDGE rushers came in third on the defensive side of the ball, jumping from $11.9M to $17M over the past decade.

Just behind EDGE rushers was cornerbacks, with a 41% growth rate, and a mean salary increase from $9.3M to $13.2M.

And, pulling up the rear were the linebackers, with an anemic 29% growth rate and a 2022 average salary well below the others, coming in at $10.3M. This data is presented in the figure below.

Positional Growth Against Cap Growth

Unlike tackles, on the offensive side of the ball, there were no defensive positions that saw any rate of salary increase that exceeded the growth in the cap. The IDL were close, but even they fell just short. Believe it or not, safeties were not far behind.

No defensive position suffered as much as the running backs did on offense (-43%), in terms of salary growth lost to cap inflation, but the linebackers weren’t terribly far behind. Over the period examined, linebackers saw a 27% reduction relative to cap growth in terms of the average salaries of the top paid players at the position.

EDGE rushers and cornerbacks both saw relative decreases in salary growth compared to cap, falling between IDL & safeties and linebackers.


I was again surprised by the results of this analysis. I, like many, I suspect, thought that EDGE rushers were likely to come out on top of this exercise. Not only were they topped by several other defensive positions in terms of rate of growth, they’ve recently been unseated by IDL in terms of absolute average salaries.

Safeties have also come on strong in recent years, leaving linebackers in the dust and closing the gap with cornerbacks. Both of these trends would seem to bode well for Washington, who is currently well stocked in terms of IDL and safety talent, and who also has some critical decisions to make this offseason about the positions.

I’ll be curious to get your thoughts in the comments below.


Did you find the results presented here surprising?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    (64 votes)
  • 43%
    (49 votes)
113 votes total Vote Now