Amid rumors that he could holdout for more money, what should the NFL’s highest-paid DT ask for?
Rumors that star defensive lineman Aaron Donald is open to retiring this year have been rampant since the morning of the Super Bowl. This could be nothing more than a rumor without merit, it could be posturing for a new contract, or Donald could be seriously considering a massive change in his life that leads to an early retirement.
But if it is posturing for a new contract, what would that cost the Los Angeles Rams and at what point should they tell the best defensive player of his generation, “No”?
Right now, Aaron Donald is on a six-year, $135 million contract with $86.8 million in total guarantees and it ties Donald to the Rams through 2024. Donald has a $9.25 million base salary in 2022 — $5 million is guaranteed — and that becomes a $14 million base salary in 2023 and a $16.75 million base salary in 2024.
Donald’s $22.5 million annual salary is $1.5 million more than Leonard Williams and DeForest Buckner, tied as the second-highest paid defensive tackles in the NFL. The $50 million full guarantee is $5 million more than Williams’, and the $86.9 total guarantee is almost $27 million more than second-place Chris Jones.
However, Aaron Donald transcends the “defensive tackle” position and he should be categorized as simply the NFL’s best defensive player.
Under those terms, Aaron Donald is still paid more than any cornerback, safety, and inside/off-ball linebacker in the NFL. But among edge rushers, Donald has room for more money to catch up to the highest-paid defensive players.
There are now five edge rushers who make more per year than Donald, including T.J. Watt ($28 million APY), Joey Bosa ($27 million), Myles Garrett ($25 million), Khalil Mack ($23.5 million), and Maxx Crosby ($23.5 million). It’s really when you get to Mack and Crosby that it becomes apparent why Donald would be confused about his $22.5 million APY these days, even if those are the terms that he agreed to when he signed the deal, knowing that within a couple of years his contract figures would be outpaced by those who agreed to deals after him.