The Future of Aaron Donald

Kyle Garlett

By almost any way you measure it, he is the best player in the NFL. Not just the best defensive tackle or defensive player, but the best player in the league. Period.

Now Aaron Donald is also a Super Bowl champion, and he says that if the Rams aren’t going to pay him like he’s the best player in the league, he’s fine with retirement. It’s a position he stated early in the offseason, and it’s position he reiterated on Monday.

“It ain’t about the money. For me it’s about winning. I don’t want to play football if I can’t win anyway, so I feel like if I got a real opportunity to win another Super Bowl, then it makes sense to play. But again, it’s still a business. We’ve got to handle the business side of things, and if that wasn’t to get handled, you know, it is what it is type of situation. I’ll be fine regardless.”

He will be fine. In eight seasons, Donald has made just over $97 million. But he’ll be even better if he plays out the remaining three years on his contract, which will pay him another $52 million.

And yes, if the Rams decided to rip up those remaining three years of the contract he signed in 2018 and offer him an even bigger deal, he will be even better.

Is It About Winning?

Aaron Donald isn’t wrong about being underpaid. His per season average base salary of $22.5 million ranks 27th in the NFL. At 31-years-old, Donald also realizes that with a contract that doesn’t expire until he’s 34, these offseason negotiations are his last chance to get another big payday.

But he already has the biggest cap hit of any of the Rams, at 13%. His $26.7 million cap hit for 2022 is twice that of quarterback Matthew Stafford. And as it stands today, the Rams have almost no flexibility in their team cap for 2022. There will have to be cuts and restructures in order for the team to fit under the cap by the beginning of the season.

But this team is the defending Super Bowl champion, and as it is currently constructed, this team has an excellent chance of winning another title. And there’s no reason to think that the window closes after the 2022 season. 

Cam Akers is just 22. Cooper Kupp is 28, as is Allen Robinson. Jalen Ramsey is only 27. Stafford is 34, but after the season he had last year, there is no reason to think he can’t compete at a high level for another three or four years. Certainly through the life of Donald’s current contract.

Donald isn’t wrong to seek more money, but he sends a confusing message when he says that the crux of the issue is “winning.”

How Serious is the Retirement Talk?

If the Rams hold fast on the contract that Donald already signed, how likely is he to really walk away from the NFL?

“Me talking about retirement, that was happening way before we won a Super Bowl. I’ve been saying that since I got into the league that I was going to play eight years and be done. That’s just what I’ve been saying. It just came out and then everybody think that, ‘oh, he said if he wins a Super Bowl he’s going to retire.’ But winning a Super Bowl you kind of get addicted to it. I ain’t going to lie. I want to feel that again. That experience is like none other. If I was to play, it’s just to win another Super Bowl.”

So it’s not the contract, necessarily, that’s keeping him in the game, but the prospect of winning. Although the new contract would be nice, but if it doesn’t come to fruition, Donald is at peace with that.

“I don’t need to play football to be fine. I was blessed to play this game, to make the money I made, the accomplishments I made in eight years is, like, I’m complete. If I can win another one, that’s great. But if not, I’m at peace.”

At peace, complete, and willing to stop playing football if it comes to that.

As fans, let’s hope it doesn’t.