The Rams have paid plenty of money this year to two guys who never have worn the team’s uniform in a preseason or regular-season game. So when will they pay the player who has become in four seasons one of the most dominant forces in the entire league?
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald reportedly has told others that he anticipates having a new deal before the start of training camp. But we’ve been hearing “almost there” for months. Will the deal finally get done?
The answer surely resides in the fundamental differences between what Donald wants and what the Rams will offer. Donald undoubtedly is looking for market value. The Rams, however, can keep him off the market until 2021 at the earliest, via a $6.892 million salary in 2018 and two years of the franchise tag (and roughly $15 million in 2019 and $18 million in 2020).
Under the Rams’ calculation, that’s a three-year haul of just under $40 million. If Donald is looking for $20 million per year, that’s a $20 million gap over the first three years.
The Rams may want to meet in the middle. Donald may be trying to hold firm. His leverage (other than holding out and losing real money) comes from going year to year and forcing his way to the market in 2021, when his franchise-tag number would be close to $26 million (a 44-percent raise over 2020) or the quarterback franchise tender, whichever is greater.
Of course, the Rams may decide to pay whatever it takes to keep him in 2021. Even if the quarterback franchise tag gets to $30 million by then (unlikely), the Rams will have paid $70 million for four years — and that’s still $10 million less than what Donald likely wants over four years.
So then the can gets kicked to 2022, which is an eternity as far as NFL teams are concerned. By then, the player will be closing in on 31, with four more years of wear and tear and Father Time possibly commencing the process of making Donald mortal.
The analysis ultimately is a lot like what the Steelers went through with Le'Veon Bell the last two years. What will it take to get the Rams to surrender the right to squat on Donald for the next four years at something in the range of $70 million?
In answering that question, here’s an important consideration: What will the potential impact on the locker room be, if the Rams continue to stiff Donald after giving Ndamukong Suh $14 million for one year and Brandin Cooks a five-year, $81 million deal? Also, with other key players (like Todd Gurley and Jared Goff) eventually due for new deals, will they fear that their efforts under a wage-scale rookie deal will be rewarded with a protracted game of hardball?
The more immediate concern should be whether Donald would actually hold out and skip game checks. Given that Donald caved last year on the eve of Week One, the Rams could be banking on Donald not passing on his weekly bank deposits.