As the Rams prepare for their first padded practice of 2018, defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to stay away, still waiting for his long-awaited long-term contract and reportedly intent on not showing up until he gets it.
It’s still not clear when, or if, he’ll get it. As one league source explained it recently to PFT, the Rams focused on getting a Donald deal done. After it became apparent that an impasse still existed, the Rams turned their attention to trying to get receiver Brandin Cooks and safety Lamarcus Joyner signed to long-term contracts. (The Rams went 1-for-2 in that regard, since the window closed for signing Joyner on July 16.) Then, sensing a chance to get running back Todd Gurley signed to a win-win deal before Le'Veon Bell sets the bar ridiculously high in free agency, the Rams got that one done, too.
While the Rams surely still have the cash and cap space to get Donald done if they truly want to, the problem continues to be what Donald wants. There’s a loose belief in league circles that he’s looking for $20 million per year with the first three fully guaranteed — basically, the deal that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh signed with the Dolphins three years ago. The Rams could opt to instead go year to year, with Donald’s fifth-year option followed by two years of the franchise tag. The end result would be an investment of less than $40 million over three years.
The only good news is that, despite the contractual conundrum, the player and his head coach are in communication.
“I spoke with him in the last day or so and we’re just checking in, seeing how he’s doing,” Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters on Saturday. “With regards to some of the specifics, that’s not really what our dialogue entails. Aaron knows how much I love him, we love him as an organization and want him to be here. But, we also respect and understand exactly what’s going on.”
Here’s what’s going on: Under an obscure provision of the CBA, Donald’s fifth-year option status subjects him to fines of $30,000 per day (not $40,000) for now. But once he misses a preseason game, the fine escalates to a regular-season game check. At $6.892 million in salary for 2018, that’s more than $400,000 per preseason game, and more than $1.6 million if he misses all four.
There’s another dynamic that’s relevant to Donald, given that he skipped all of training camp a year ago. If the doesn’t show up within 30 days of the September 6 season-opening game between the Falcons and Eagles, he won’t get a year of credit toward free agency. Which will keep him at three. Which will make him technically ineligible for unrestricted free agency in 2019.
None of these details matter if Donald is simply committed to not showing up until he gets his new deal. At some point, however, Rams owner Stan Kroenke (who didn’t amass billions by making bad business decisions) may say, “That’s the most I’m willing to do.” And if Donald refuses to ever take it, then he will have essentially retired.