The Los Angeles Rams had a very active offseason in the NFL, but there is still the elephant in the room in Aaron Donald getting his contract extended.
Aaron Donald is arguably the most dominant defensive player in the NFL and is in need of a new contract by next offseason, or the Los Angeles Rams are going to find themselves in another situation like last summer. Donald is currently playing on his rookie deal where he is on his last year of a four-year, $10.1 million contract. This year alone, Donald will have a base salary of $6.9 million.
That seems like a little amount of money to pay a player of Donald’s status. To compare, Damon Harrison is making a base salary of $7.8 million this season. Harrison is a great interior defensive lineman in his own right, but he is a one-dimensional defensive tackle that stuffs the run.
Over his six-year career, Harrison has started in 79 games, totaling 5.5 sacks, 211 tackles and two forced fumbles. On the other hand, in just four seasons, Donald has started in 58 games while racking up 39 sacks, 148 tackles, and nine forced fumbles. This comparison shows how highly skilled Donald is at not just rushing the passer, but also stopping the run.
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Just last season, Donald decided to holdout all of training camp and preseason before finally showing up before Week 1, although he didn’t end up playing that game against the Indianapolis Colts. Once he finally started to play, Donald wasted no time making an impact for Los Angeles on the defensive side of the football, and even came up big in the team’s third game against the San Francisco 49ers.
In that game, Donald was disruptive all game by recording one sack to go along with two tackles and was disruptive all game in a 41-39 victory. All of the Rams organization knows how important it is to get Donald re-signed sooner rather than later, and even Sean McVay seems optimistic about the negotiations going forward according to this tweet by Andrew Siciliano:
So what will it cost for the Rams to lock up Donald for the long-term? Well, that’s a great question. We don’t know what type of deal has been put on the table between the Rams and Donald, but we can try to estimate what the final contract could look like.
To put things into perspective, the highest paid defensive tackle going into this year would be Donald’s new teammate, Ndamukong Suh. Suh will hold a base salary of $14 million with the Rams. Coming in second would be Malik Jackson, with a base salary of $13.5 million.
The difference between these two is that Suh signed a one-year deal worth $14 million while Jackson is in the middle of a six-year, $85.5 million deal that he signed in 2016, meaning his contract might be a better blueprint of what Donald’s contract could shape up to be.
Going off of Jackson’s contract, we know the Rams are going to have to unload a lot of money to get this deal done. The specifics of Jackson’s contract was a six-year, $85.5 million deal with $42 million being fully guaranteed and a signing bonus of $10 million, so it will be interesting to see how this ends up comparing to Donald’s when the time comes.
In his six seasons, Jackson has yielded 29 sacks, 167 tackles and six forced fumbles in 56 starts. Again, in comparison, Donald has 58 starts with 39 sacks, 147 tackles and nine forced fumbles. Jackson is a versatile defensive tackle, but Donald is still highly regarded as the better defensive tackle.
Another defensive tackle that recently signed was Fletcher Cox. Cox signed a six-year, $103 million extension in 2016 with the Philadelphia Eagles. The only thing about this contract is he likely won’t see the last few years of his contract because of the hefty cap hit the Eagles will have to take, but only time will tell.
It’s possible Eagles do pay up for Cox, but I believe it’s likely they restructure it at some point, especially with a Carson Wentz contract extension looming in the near future. So in retrospective, the Cox deal is basically a two or three-year deal worth around $42-60 million, which Donald could try to use this deal for leverage.
Cox has been in the league for six years, starting in 87 games. In those games, he has rounded up 34 sacks, 204 tackles and seven forced fumbles. That still doesn’t beat the stats of Donald.
For Donald, I’m expecting his deal to come in to be a four or five-year deal in the ballpark of $70-$80 million, with $50-60 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $15-20 million. That’s a lot of money for a guy who’s averaged an annual salary of about $2.5 million over his first four seasons, but like Randy Moss would say: “That’s straight cash homie.”
Donald is crucial for the future of the Rams, so hopefully this standstill on negotiations between the two sides comes to an end sooner rather than later. You don’t come across a special level of talent like Donald that often, and Los Angeles needs to pay the man to avoid any risk of losing him down the road.