How might the Rams structure an Aaron Donald Contract?

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

Aaron Donald is seeking a new contract, and if the Los Angeles Rams are smart, they will jump at the opportunity to lock him up long term.

As has been well reported, the Los Angeles Rams and Aaron Donald are in contract discussions. Entering his 4th year of his rookie deal as a first round pick out of Pitt, Donald has been the Rams most valuable player the last few seasons.  As one of the most disruptive players in the NFL who demands so much attention from opposing offenses, there is a lot of pressure on the Rams to not let him get away.

That pressure creates leverage for Aaron Donald.

Related Story: Time for Rams to get back to business with new deal for Donald

However, the Rams have some leverage of their own.  Donald is due to make $1.8 million this year on his rookie deal (with a total cap hit of $3.225M with his prorated bonus figured in).  The Rams

picked up the 5th year team option

on Donald for 2018, an option they have on all first round picks (value changes by position), that will pay him $6.892M (fully guaranteed). Additionally, Los Angeles could franchise Donald for 2019.

The franchise number for Defensive Tackles

this year is $13.387M, but it will probably be a million or two higher by then.  In other words, LA could retain Donald for the next three seasons and it would only cost them about $25 million total.

Talk about a steal for one of the best players in the game!

The other side to that, is that players are always looking for long-term security.  Dragging this out would certainly mean holdouts, missed camps, an unhappy player, a potential rift in the locker room, and violated trust between the players and the front office.  For a team to treat its most valuable player this way would be much too costly.

The cheaper option is for the Rams to sign Donald long term.

But what might that deal look like?

The top defensive tackle contract in the league is Ndamukong Suh, who signed a 6 year $114.375M deal in 2015 with $60M fully guaranteed.  Suh was an unrestricted Free agent and had multiple teams competing for his service.  This results in maximum value for the player.  Suh had a great situation.  Donald does not have the same situation.  As mentioned, it would likely take him three years playing for significantly less than he is worth to get to become an unrestricted free agent.  But the deal Donald signs might not be far off.

I think a deal between the Los Angeles Rams and Aaron Donald would look something like this:

6 years, $108M ($18M/year Avg), $40M guaranteed ($18M signing bonus).

Year 1: $18M signing bonus, $1M base salary (fully guaranteed), $4M cap hit

Year 2: $17M base salary (fully guaranteed), $20M cap hit

Year 3: $17M base salary ($4M fully guaranteed), $20M cap hit

Year 4: $18M base salary, $21M cap hit

Year 5: $18M base salary, $21M cap hit

Year 6: $19M base salary, $22M cap hit

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This kind of a contract is just below the Suh, Von Miller level, but a step above the extension JJ Watt signed in 2014 (Watt would sign a deal closer to my projection for Donald if he were signing today).  My projection attempts to take into account the leverage that the team has while considering the leverage that Donald has, knowing that the Rams are in a no-win-situation if they don’t sign him to a long-term deal.

So, how does this sit with you, Rams fans?