- Aaron Donald is once again absent at the start of training camp for the Los Angeles Rams as he holds out for a new contract.
- Donald is still on his rookie deal, and would currently be the 38th highest-paid defensive lineman in the league despite being the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
- The Rams hold all of the leverage, but after spending so freely thus far during the offseason, it’s hard to justify continuing to underpay their most valuable player.
The Los Angeles Rams have not been shy about throwing money around this offseason.
With their star quarterback Jared Goff locked into a rookie deal that subsidizes huge spending elsewhere on the roster, the Rams have made a slew of signings and extensions that turn what was already a solid squad into one of the most fearsome rosters in the league heading into 2018.
But even with the Rams spending big money on the likes of Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley, they have refused to pay the player who might be the most important on their roster – Aaron Donald.
Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has now played four seasons with the Rams, all on his rookie contract. In that time, he has been one of the most devastating defensive players in the league, disrupting both the passing and rushing game and forcing opponents to game plan around his presence.
After holding out until just days before the start of the 2017 season, Donald is once again absent at the beginning of training camp for the Rams as he vies for a new deal, and it’s hard to blame him.
Despite being voted the best defensive player in all of football, Donald made under $US2 million for his efforts last season. He’ll get a raise for the final year of his rookie deal to roughly $US6.9 million, making him the 38th highest-paid defensive lineman in the league.
While the two sides have yet to come to terms, both Donald and the Rams seem to agree that Donald deserves to be the top-paid defensive player in football – general manager Les Snead acknowledged that Donald “on the verge of being the highest-paid defensive player in football,” while speaking with Peter King in April.
Even with the team admitting that Donald deserves to get paid, the franchise still holds all of the leverage.
Not only does Los Angeles have Donald under contract for the 2018 season at a wildly under-market value, but they could also potentially use the franchise tag on him in future deals. That would keep him with the team for another year or two on top of that, all while paying him far less than the potentially $US20+ million annually his next contract will be worth.
But even though the Rams could keep Donald in Los Angeles at a bargain for seasons to come, they’d be smart to make the deal sooner rather than later.
First and foremost, it’s clear they have the money – after giving a huge extension to Cooks and essentially resetting the market price for top-tier running backs in their deal with Gurley, the Rams have shown they’re not shy about spending. Any protestations that there isn’t enough cap space or money on hand to make the deal happen would be met with a hearty laugh.
More importantly, when you have one of the best players in football on your team, you want them to want to be there.
There’s a reason stud quarterbacks almost never hit the open market, and it’s because it’s virtually impossible to overpay them within the confines of the salary cap – because of how much they can swing the fate of a franchise, they are worth whatever a team gives them and more. Donald, who demands a double-team with nearly every rush, is a similarly impactful player on the defensive side of the ball and will be for years to come.
For now, Donald’s holdout continues, and as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport notes, it could go on for some time.
On #Rams DT Aaron Donald: If he doesn’t report by Aug 7, he doesn’t get an accrued season for free agency and he’d be restricted in 2019. I’m told that date is not considered relevant by those involved — in part because they may just franchise him, anyway. This should be lengthy.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 26, 2018
While the threat of being a restricted free agent would be a concern for a mid-level player hoping to test the open market, Donald is a unique case in that he would demand huge offers from opposing teams even if he were restricted, and the Rams would likely franchise him before that could happen in the first place.
It’s also possible that Donald wants to keep from making a deal until the Raiders and Khalil Mack reach an agreement, ensuring that he is, in fact, the highest-paid defensive player in football. Even if that is the case, this shouldn’t be a difficult negotiation once the sides come together – Donald’s camp should say a number, and the Rams should agree.
The Rams might think the frugal move is to keep Donald around for as cheap as possible as long as possible. In reality, all the team is doing is extending an exhausting and unnecessary tension between its star player and his teammates, coaches, and fans.
Thankfully for Los Angeles, there’s a simple solution – pay him.
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