Aaron Donald wants a new contract from the Los Angeles Rams. And if he doesn’t get one, he appears perfectly content with calling it quits.
Donald’s public posturing has become one of the top storylines during the NFL’s “quiet,” period before training camp gets underway. Most recently, Donald added fuel to the fire during an appearance on the “I Am Athlete,” podcast hosted by former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall, saying:
“It ain’t about the money, but it’s a business at the end of the day. That’s what you’ve got to see. For me, it’s about winning. I don’t want to play football if I can’t win anyway, so I feel like if I got a real opportunity to win another Super Bowl, then it makes sense to play. But again, it’s still a business. We’ve got to handle the business side of things, and if that wasn’t to get handled then, you know, it is what it is type of situation. I’ll be fine regardless.”
In the interview, Donald also mentioned that his plan all along was to play just eight seasons in the NFL, and he just completed his eighth year. However, the experience of winning the Super Bowl last year has him reconsidering that plan:
“But me talking about retirement, that was happening way before we won a Super Bowl. I’ve been saying that since I got into the league that I was going to play eight years and be done. But winning a Super Bowl you get kind of a little addicted to it. I ain’t going to lie. I want to feel that again. That experience is like none other. If I was to play, it’s just to win another Super Bowl, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business and it got to make sense to me and my family.”Aaron Donald
Donald signed a six-year, $135 million contract extension in 2018 that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league. And Donald is still by far the highest-paid interior defensive lineman in the league in terms of total value, average annual salary and total guaranteed money.
However, Donald isn’t the highest-paid defensive player in the league at the moment. Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack has a higher total contract value. And Steelers defensive end T.J. Watt is actually the highest-paid defensive player in the league in terms of average annual salary at $28 million per year. Donald could be looking to top that with his next contract.
Donald’s demand for a new deal puts the cap-strapped Rams in a tricky position. Donald is clearly Los Angeles’ best player and is coming off his fourth-consecutive double-digit sack season, which is incredible for someone who’s double-teamed so often. There’s no doubt that the Rams defense is far less intimidating and extremely vulnerable up the middle without Donald.
The problem is L.A. has $4.6 million in cap space as of right now, and is projected to have a little more than $2 million in cap room in 2023. Rams general manager Les Snead will have to get creative by structuring Donald’s salary in bonuses to avoid going over the cap. However, that could lock the Rams into some serious cap ramifications down the road should the 31-year-old’s performance decline. The best guess is the Rams will offer Donald a new contract that offers a ton of guaranteed money upfront while ensuring his annual cap hit is higher than Watt’s.
Donald’s threat to retire if a deal doesn’t get done isn’t an empty one. Donald could retire tomorrow and be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s won Defensive Player of the Year three times and has been named All-Pro in seven of his last eight seasons. That makes him one of the rare NFL players who actually has leverage. That’s why it seems likely that a deal will get done by training camp. It may require some salary cap gymnastics from the Rams. But no team in the NFL is more dedicated to winning right now than L.A. Without Donald manning the middle, the Rams might as well blow it up.
Barring anything unexpected, Donald should be back with the Rams for their quest to repeat.