The Rams have yet to give defensive tackle Aaron Donald the long-term offer he wants, probably because he wants market value. The Rams, clearly, don’t want to pay him market value.
One obvious reason for that comes from the fact that the Rams could choose to pay Donald on a year-to-year basis over the next three or four seasons and, in turn, pay him much less than the $20 million per year he surely wants. But there’s another less obvious concern that may be motivating the Rams.
Over the years, some defensive tackles who cash in with big-money deals seem to lose the edge that fueled their effort to get those big-money deals. Let’s call it the Albert Haynesworth effect; the former Titans defensive tackle never lived up to the $100 million deal he signed with Washington after spending a couple of years under the franchise tag in Tennessee.
While there’s no reason to think Donald will suddenly take his foot off the gas once he gets paid, no one really knows how any player will react to getting paid until he gets paid. For the Rams, who can continue to dangle the carrot on a year-to-year basis, there has to be at least some concern that, by paying a lot more, they’ll get a lot less.
Then there’s the J.J. Watt conundrum. Although he more than earned the first two years of the $100 million deal the Texans gave him after only three seasons, injuries have limited Watt to only eight games over the last two years, and there’s a concern that Watt may never be the same, thanks to the cumulative effect of seven seasons of being double- and triple-teamed.
Watt’s injury issues became significant after his fifth NFL campaign. Donald is entering his fifth NFL campaign. If Donald is destined to begin to break down physically, it will be much better for the Rams to not give Donald, for example, $60 million fully guaranteed over the next three years.
Faced with these circumstances, it’s no surprise that Donald reportedly won’t play another down of football under his current contract. But that position ignores the reality that, if Donald doesn’t show up at all this year, his $6.892 million salary for 2018 bumps to 2019. And if he doesn’t show up in 2019, it bumps to 2020.
Maybe the Rams will eventually decide to trade Donald to a team that would be willing to roll the dice on the possibility that Donald won’t physically be able to earn his long-term deal. Maybe they’ll eventually blink and pay him what he wants, or at least something close to it. Or maybe they’ll dig in, reluctant to make a major investment on which they may never get a full return and refusing to blink as Donald prepares to skip training camp, and possibly beyond.