The Los Angeles Rams have finally made 27-year-old defensive end Aaron Donald the highest paid defensive player in the NFL’s history. He has reportedly agreed to a six-year, $135 million extension, with $87 million guaranteed. Adding in his current rookie deal, Donald can make up to just under $142 million over the next seven seasons.
This is the type of contract that we see quarterbacks get, which makes it extraordinary for a defensive player because all the money is going to quarterbacks nowadays. The $87 million guaranteed is third only to Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. And with this deal, upcoming quarterbacks can use this as a barometer as well, and not just other QB contracts.
Donald is worth every single penny of the extension. He has made the Pro Bowl during all four of his seasons since being drafted 13th overall by the Rams. Also, he is a three-time First-team All-Pro selection, the AP Rookie of the Year, and the reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year.
He continues a recent trend of historic deals from just this week, where the New York Giants handed Odell Beckham Jr. the largest wide receiver deal ever, along with the Green Bay Packers rewarding Aaron Rodgers the biggest contract ever in NFL history.
And the deal was long coming, as Donald held out the last two summers. But this one was more significant because he had just one year left on his deal, and won the Defensive Player of the Year award, so the urgency to get a new deal done was much higher. But it wasn’t like the Rams were frugal; they were busy handing out contract extensions left and right to other players, just not to Donald.
Todd Gurley signed a four-year, $60 million extension this summer, with $45 million guaranteed. Offensive lineman Rob Havenstein was extended for four years and $32.5 million. Brandin Cooks extended for a five-year, $81 million deal, with just under $50 million in guarantees, after coming over from the New England Patriots, and without playing a single snap for Los Angeles. The front office also handed Ndamukong Suh $14 million for one year. And just last year, they gave Robert Woods $39 million over five years in free agency.
It’s like someone went into the settings on Madden and turned off the salary cap because it feels like the Rams shouldn’t be able to continue paying so many people, but they continue to turn heads by pulling money out of nowhere. However, they have now (theoretically) shortened their Super Bowl window because of how much money they have invested in the team. The team’s other stars will have to be paid in a couple of seasons.
Quarterback Jared Goff is the big name, and it could come as soon as in two seasons. He is heading into his third season of a four-year deal, but the Rams have a club option for a fifth. If he renegotiates a deal before the team picks up the option (which would still have a significant cap hit), the Rams may be looking at another huge contract, granted he builds off this season and continues to improve. Quarterback contracts are going up each season, so the Rams will have to break the bank, whether Goff is worth it or not, to retain him.
Defensive lineman Michael Brockers will be a free agent after the 2019 season, and he is the type of quality player that you want as your complementary depth. Star and All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters is up in two seasons too, and if he continues to play as he has, he will get a massive deal for a cornerback (somewhere between $10-$15 million).
Standout safety LaMarcus Joyner is playing under a franchise tag right now but is a free agent after this year if they don’t franchise him again. But you want to lock up a player of his quality for the long-term if possible. Two starting offensive linemen in Roger Saffold and Jamon Brown will be off the books as well. And the Rams will most likely be losing Andrew Whitworth and Rob Sullivan to potential retirement (because of age) around the same time, so losing both of them (or even one) could mean they would have to completely rebuild the offensive line.
Luckily, they will have over $100 million to work with within two seasons, but the likelihood is that they won’t be able to retain everyone unless they pull off some wizardry. It’s a lot of guys to pay. But that is a problem to address when the time comes.
For now, the problem is up north in Oakland, where all eyes will be on the Raiders and defensive end Khalil Mack. It’s no secret that he is holding out for a new deal, thus has not shown up to training camp. But the Raiders do not appear willing to give him one, even with his Hall of Fame Talent. One of the reasons is that they don’t have the cash to afford him (that’s what people are speculating), and another is that they have one of the highest payrolls already. But the belief around people who have been involved with the game is that if you want to sign or keep someone, you make it work somehow, especially with someone of Mack’s caliber.
Donald’s contract now sets a price point for Mack, who will no doubt be looking for at least the same amount, if not more. He is from the same draft as Donald was, just taken eight spots ahead of him. Mack is a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-team All-Pro selection, and a former Defensive Player of the Year winner. He and Donald are the two best defensive players in the game today and are the ultimate game-changers on that side of the ball.
If the Raiders don’t want to pay him, they may look to trade him, which rumors have suggested. Whatever happens, the drama will be intriguing to keep up with.