What does saving the Super Bowl and being arguably the best NFL player — certainly the best one not named Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers — get a person? Fortunately, for Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams, not a contract dispute that lasts into training camp. There have been rumors of Donald retiring after 2021 since during the season. He had said before that he originally only wanted to play eight years in the NFL, and reiterated that on Brandon Marshall’s I Am Athlete podcast last week.
He also said very early in the podcast, “winning the Super Bowl you get kind of addicted to it. It’s like, I wanna feel that again though.” Throughout the podcast he did not sound like a player who was ready to put in his retirement papers. What he did sound like was a person who knows his worth, has always known his worth, and is going to play on his terms. Brandon Marshall also got Donald to push back a little bit when said he believes there’s a good reason that quarterbacks make so much more money than other players in the league. Donald firmly believes that the gap should not be as wide as it is.
The Rams, and owner Stan Kroenke, absolutely showed how much they value Donald by not giving him a monster extension with three years left on his deal, they simply gave him a $40 million raise. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the next three years on Donald’s deal will pay him $95 million — $65 million guaranteed over the next two years — making him the highest paid non-quarterback in the history of the NFL. His new guaranteed money is also more than what Matthew Stafford received from the Rams this spring, per Yahoo’s Charles Robinson. There was a smile on Donald’s face signing the deal as big as those traps that require triple teams on a regular basis.
He had to sign this deal. Donald is an interior defensive lineman in the NFL and is in his early 30s. There is a chance this is the last major payday left for him, and the Rams offered him an ironclad $65 million from now through 2023. Coming off a Super Bowl and three Defensive Player of the Years already under his belt, he won. He won it all, the kitchen sink, the new car, the RV and the boat from the Showcase Showdown.
But this is still a deal for the Rams. Maybe not in terms of salary-cap percentage, but they already have mathematicians working for them who have secretly figured out where Pi ends to make the numbers work for Donald, Stafford’s new money, what they pay Ramsey, and still field a full NFL roster.
Donald’s name on every scouting report outside of Duval County is lit up like Christmas meets the fireworks at Disney World. Committing more than half of an offensive line to stop him is logical football. Yet, he still finds a way to record double-digits sacks every season. The Rams are not the Legion of Boom, or even the 2018 Chicago Bears on defense. The stars are Ramsey and Donald — and for half a season Von Miller in 2021. Ramsey and Donald were the Rams’ only Pro Bowlers on defense and they play nowhere near each other. Yet the Rams has the sixth-best defense in the sport last season, per weighted DVOA, and in 2020 they had the best.
Ramsey is probably the best cornerback in the NFL, but he’s on an island a lot of the time. Donald is in the mix, face in the buzzsaw on every down, opposing offensive lineman glued to his every move like they’re the defensive backs and in constant fear that Donald is going to score a 75-yard touchdown.
What that does for the Rams defense as a whole, allowing favorable matchups all along the front seven and creating a dynamite pass rush, is easily worth $50 million per year. Since Donald was drafted by the Rams in 2014, they have finished outside the Top 10 in weighted defensive DVOA twice. Ramsey has only been there since 2019. Donald’s presence as an interior defensive lineman guarantees a Top 10 NFL defense. That’s the impact that a top-tier quarterback provides, except it might be better because Donald is destroying the heart of opposing offenses.
He’ll be ready to go barring injury Week 1 when the Rams get their rings in the NFL’s Thursday night season opener against the Buffalo Bills. It took a lot to get Donald there, but for as much of the cap as his salary will eat up, the Rams got off easy.