Aaron Donald Will Return To The Rams, Agreeing To Mega-Extension On Monday

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Aaron Donald got PAID, as the Rams effectively gave him a 3-year, $95 million extension On Monday.

Turns out it was all posturing. Amazing how that all worked out?

Donald, the Rams All-World defensive tackle, muses on a podcast about retiring last week, saying he’d be ‘at peace’ with the decision and that he only planned on playing eight years. The story gets picked up nationally.

(What NFL player picks eight years as their timeline? I mean, 10 years is one thing, but eight?)

On Monday, Donald signed the richest contract for a non-quarterback in NFL history. The Rams basically ripped up the deal Donald was on where he was set to make $14.25 million this year and said, here’s $95 million for the next three.

RELATED: Rams Super Bowl odds | Projected win total

Short-term the deal keeps Donald happy and chasing quarterbacks for the next three years in a Rams jersey. Long-term, it’s still a salary cap friendly deal.

Is Aaron Donald worth it?

Let’s go back to Super Bowl LVI, 39 seconds left, the Bengals have a shot at fourth-and-one, down 23-20 near midfield. Joe Burrow drops back to pass.

Donald, who hadn’t been a huge factor most of the game, turnstiles poor Bengals guard Quinton Spain. He harasses Burrow into a quick incompletion in the flat.

Rams win Super Bowl

Aaron Donald gets paid. 

Quinton Spain is a free agent.

If there is an NFL player that’s a non-quarterback worth $30 million a year, it’s Aaron Donald. He just turned 31 two weeks ago. He’s been NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times. He’s made the Pro Bowl eight times (ok, that doesn’t mean that much) he’s been first-team All-Pro seven times (that does mean a lot).

But is Aaron Donald slowing down?

Donald is entering his ninth year with the Rams out of Pittsburgh. His performance has remained remarkably consistent. He set a career-high in tackles with 84 in 2021. Sacks aren’t the greatest metric for evaluating a defensive lineman, but Donald had 12.5 sacks in 2019, 13.5 in 2020 and 12.5 again last year.

And while there is no straight comparison to Donald in the history of the NFL, let’s look at two of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history: ‘Mean’ Joe Greene and Reggie White.

White played his first eight years with the Eagles, then became a free agent and signed a huge (at the time) deal with the Packers as a free agent, four years $17 million. White had six more great years with the Packers and was Defensive Player of the Year at age 37.

Greene played with the Steelers his entire 13-year career. In his ninth year, he was first-team All-Pro at age 31. And the Steelers would win two more Super Bowls with Greene in 1979 and 1980.

Is it conceivable that Donald is just now entering his prime? 

Looking at Greene and White tells us that great defensive linemen can have impactful careers for 12-15 years.

What about the salary cap?

Yes, you’ll always hear that one internet critic saying that a team wrecked its salary cap structure when it signs a player to a big deal. 

This year the NFL’s salary cap is $208.2 million. The Rams are right up against it. 

The Rams worked out Donald’s deal with two extra years on the back end to spread out the salary cap hit if necessary. 

All that is boring accountant work. I know when I go to an NFL game on Sunday, I always worry about the salary cap.

Here’s the thing about the salary cap in the NFL, it’s just like property taxes, it only goes up. The NFL is seeing a huge boost in revenue from sportsbook partnerships and more television rights fees (Amazon, anyone?). The Rams have the money. Every NFL team has the money, it’s up to them whether they want to spend it. Teams that aren’t spending the money are basically telling their fans they don’t want to win.

Of course, an injury to Donald would turn the deal into an albatross and set the Rams back on the field, but if he got hurt….that would happen whether his cap hit was $2 million or $30 million.

The NFL’s $30 million players

According to NFL.com these are the NFL players set to make $30 million or more in 2022. Raiders, what are you doing?

  • Aaron Rodgers (Packers), $50.272 million
  • Deshaun Watson (Browns) $46 million
  • Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) $45 million
  • Josh Allen (Bills) $43 million
  • Derek Carr (Raiders) $40.474 million
  • Matthew Stafford (Rams) $40 million
  • Dak Prescott (Cowboys) $40 million
  • Russell Wilson (Broncos) $35 million
  • Kirk Cousins (Vikings) $35 million
  • Jared Goff (Lions) $33.5 million
  • Carson Wentz (Commanders) $32 million
  • Aaron Donald (Rams) $31.6 million
  • Tyreek Hill (Dolphins) $30 million
  • Matt Ryan (Colts) $30 million