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A Look At A Potential Deal For LA Rams DT Aaron Donald

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Could Over The Cap’s analysis offer a guideline for the Rams and Aaron Donald?

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

As the days go by, Aaron Donald’s representatives and the Los Angeles Rams continue to look forward to negotiating a long-term deal that will keep AD in LA for a while. Neema Hodjat at Over The Cap details a great piece surrounding a potential deal for Aaron Donald. I really suggest you read it, so I’m just going to cite a portion:

As a former first round pick entering his fourth year in 2017, Donald’s contract is subject to a fifth year team option for 2018. In a move that surprised no one, the Rams have already picked up his fifth year option, which will pay Donald $6.892 million in 2018 (guaranteed for injury only). So Donald’s salaries are set for the next two years, but both the team and the player can benefit here by entering into a long term extension that will tie Donald to the Rams for years to come.

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When projecting a new contract for a quarterback, you need to look at the contracts of other comparable quarterbacks as the point of reference, and the same deal with wide receivers, cornerbacks, etc. So the next step here is to review recent contracts for top defensive tackles and use those deals as the starting point for Donald – with one caveat. With a generational talent such as Donald, merely looking at the top defensive tackle contracts doesn’t by itself provide you with the information necessary to reach a deal. In this case, Donald’s proper comps are the deals for the top defensive lineman, with the inclusion of the league’s highest paid non-lineman defensive player (Von Miller) as well, since we’re talking about potentially the league’s best player in Donald. Certainly Donald’s negotiating team will take this approach, and it’s not an unfair position. With that said, we’ll take a look at the contracts for the following three defensive linemen – Ndamukong Suh, JJ Watt and Fletcher Cox – and the aforementioned linebacker Von Miller.

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We have Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller setting the goal posts with AAVs of just over $19M per season, with Suh’s contract also setting the mark with the highest percentage of cap at time of signing (13.30%). JJ Watt’s deal comes in a bit lower than Suh and Miller, but it’s important to note that Watt never hit free agent status, unlike Suh, nor did he complete his contract as Miller did (albeit with Miller receiving the franchise tag prior to negotiating his new deal). Watt entering into an extension prior to hitting free agency explains why his contract numbers are lower, despite universally being considered the league’s best defensive player as recently as two years ago. Fletcher Cox is an outstanding player in his own right, but he trails a bit in league standing in comparison to the other three players here. This, plus the fact that he also entered into an extension, explains why Cox’s contract lags behind the rest of the group.

Now assuming Donald enters into an extension this year, we know that he will not be hitting free agency at the time he receives his second contract, as he has (i) the last base year of his rookie contract in 2017, (ii) the team option in 2018 and (iii) the franchise tag hovering over him for 2019. This means that Donald’s bargaining power, while powerful, is not unlimited....On the flip side, Donald has no less cache than Suh, Watt and Miller had when signing their deals, so it’s safe to expect that his numbers will comfortably surpass Cox’s contract and slot in closer to Suh and Miller. Donald’s contract status most closely resembles Watt’s, and as such, Watt’s contract remains highly relevant with respect to the cap percentage and deal structure, just with a slightly outdated AAV with the extension having been signed three years ago.

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The Rams could actually control Donald’s salary for 2020 as well by slapping the franchise tag on him for a second year in a row, which would come at 120% of the 2019 value. However, for purposes of this article, we’ll keep it simple and consider Donald’s contract subject to Rams’ control for the next three years. What this means is that the Rams can hardwire Donald’s cost for the next three years at a total fixed amount equaling roughly $24 million. This point likely will, or at least should, keep Donald from eclipsing Ndamukong Suh’s numbers, even though Donald is by most accounts considered the superior player.

The article then lays out a proposed contract extension that would bring stronger terms for Donald than Suh or Watt while ensuring he’s under contract when the Rams open their new stadium in 2020.

A great and detailed article. Hopefully for both parties, there’ll be a resolution soon.