Should the LA Rams sign DT Aaron Donald for the rest of his career?

With so much uncertainty, should the LA Rams simply sit down with All-Pro DT Aaron Donald’s agent and lock him up contractually for life?

The LA Rams boast one of the greatest players in the NFL of the modern era. Of course, we’re talking about five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.  And we are talking about taking the guesswork out of the contract negotiations once and for all. The LA Rams plan to build the defense around the guy for the foreseeable future. So why not make it official and just lock Donal up now with a contract which will carry him to NFL retirement?

The career expectancy of a defensive lineman ends at approximately 35 years of age. Two defensive linemen, Green Bay Packers’ Reggie White and Minnesota Vikings’ Chris Doleman lasted in the NFL until 37 years of age.  Defensive tackles like the LA Rams Merlin Olsen and Chicago Bears’ Steve McMichael, lasted in the NFL until the age of 35 years of age. Donald currently is playing at age 28, and an eight-year contract would be enough to carry him to the doorstep of the next chapter of his career.

The LA Rams are in a bit of a pinch right now with the 2020 salary cap and need to get creative in ways to free up salary dollars. Of course, the first thought turns to push for cutting players’ salaries or trading them and their contracts to other teams. But what if there was a way to lock up players for the foreseeable future?

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Spread the wealth, and the cap hit

We know that was the objective when the LA Rams signed Donald to a six-year extension in 2018, worth a whopping $135,000,000. Of course, that was two years ago, and Aaron Donald was 26. Now, at 28, he’s proven he is a HOF talent. So why not run a little further with the original contract extension?

If the LA Rams rework Aaron Donald’s deal, here is the way the team can pull this off. In 2020, rewrite the contract into an eight-year deal with the following terms:

8 years at $200 million in total compensation. Signing bonus $40 million.  2020 base salary $8 million, increasing by $3 million each year.

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Year 1 – $8 million  salary, $40 million signing bonus (averaged over the life of the contract)
Year 2 – $11 million salary $5 million roster bonus
Year 3 – $14 million salary $4 million roster bonus
Year 4 – $17 million salary $3 million roster bonus
Year 5 – $20 million
Year 6 – $23 million
Year 7 – $26 million
Year 8 – $29 million

What about the team’s cap hit?  In 2020, the cap hit decreases from $25 million to $13 million ($8 million salary = $40/8 or $5 million).
In 2021, the Cap is $21 Million ($11+5=5)
2022 – Cap hit =  $23 million
2023 – Cap hit = $25 million
2024 – Cap hit = $25 million
2025 – Cap hit = $28 million
2026 – Cap hit = $31 million
2027 – Cap hit = $34 million

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Bonus byproduct: Cap space

Of course, this is simplistic and hasn’t the right language embedded to assure guaranteed dollars. But it does serve the purpose of illustrating how the LA Rams can put a lot of dollars into the pocket of DT Aaron Donald and still reduce his salary cap hit from $25 million in 2020 to just $13 million

The team would then have $12 million freed up to apply towards Michael Brockers, Austin Blythe, and Leonard Floyd. The result is the Rams have sufficient cap space to sign their 2020 contracts and lock-in All-Pro Aaron Donald for the rest of his career.  It seems like a win-win, or at least something worth pursuing at this point to break the logjam.

The Rams are in a tight spot for salary right now. But freeing up enough salary cap is as simple as one contract rework. And of course, the highest-paid players make the biggest impact. A player like Aaron Donald is already very likely a lifetime LA Rams player. So extending him the full eight-years would be a nice gesture for many reasons.

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Hopefully, the Rams front office agrees and makes the effort to extend Donald or some other strategy to free up some cap space. The team has agreed to add the right players to the roster. Now the Rams simply need to find the money to do so.