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Former NFL agent details contract negotiations for Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald, Oakland Raiders EDGE Khalil Mack

Here’s an informed look at what’s going down behind the curtains.

Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald walks to the field against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, January 1, 2017.
Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald walks to the field against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, January 1, 2017.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Former NFL agent Joel Corry has a good read over at CBS Sports on the contract negotiations for Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald and Oakland Raiders EDGE Khalil Mack and just what those negotiations involve.

While the market for quarterbacks continues to set the ceiling for the market in free agency (reminder: bill’s coming due on QB Jared Goff...), Mack and Donald are set to push the bar for non-QB contracts as Corry lays out both because their performance has been similar, they were both selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft and they’re nearly the exact same age.

Corry details the lead agent for Donald and how his deals around the league have set him up to get Donald paid:

Signing players of this magnitude is supposed to be a smooth process. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Raiders and Rams are having sticker shock. I suspect that restoring the traditional financial relationship between the highest-paid quarterback and non-quarterback that’s existed under the current CBA is the end game with these dominant defenders. Both have high-powered representation that has helped shape the upper portion of the non-quarterback market with player-friendly deals.

Todd France, Donald’s agent, negotiated Marcell Dareus’ 2015 extension with the Bills, which made him the NFL’s second-highest-paid NFL interior defensive lineman behind Ndamukong Suh at $15.85 million per year. The six-year extension was worth a maximum of $100.35 million thanks to salary escalators based on All-Pro honors. Dareus’ $60 million in overall guarantees was a record for non-quarterbacks. His $42.9 million fully guaranteed at signing was on par with the top quarterback contracts in existence at that time. The six-year, $102 million extension with $63.299 million of guarantees France got defensive tackle Fletcher Cox from the Eagles in 2016 also raised the bar for non-quarterback guarantees.

As for Mack, it’s worth noting his agent, Joel Segal, oversaw negotiations with a player who got a huge deal this offseason after playing the franchise tag game: former Rams and now New York Jets CB Trumaine Johnson.

Corry then looks at the top non-QB contracts in the league and ties them to the major QB deals. In doing so while looking at the megadeal for Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan that made him the first $30m per year player, he suggests deals for Donald and Mack would come in “slightly over $23.6 million per year.”

The question then turns to guaranteed money, a discussion made more difficult in the afterflow of the Minnesota Vikings’ contract for QB Kirk Cousins: a three-year, $84m deal that was fully guaranteed. Again looking at the non-QB to QB relationship financially, Corry says “Mack/Donald would be justified in insisting upon approximately $67.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.”

Based on the information currently in the marketplace, the data suggests the following contract for Mack/Donald.

Average per year: $23.5 million
Overall guarantees: $85 million
Fully guaranteed: $67.5 million
Contract length: 6-year extension

The Raiders and Rams are surely more comfortable with a modest increase over Miller’s contract instead of a drastic re-setting of the non-quarterback market. The suggested deal would be nearly 25 percent more than Miller’s contract. The modest increase would be in line with the trends of becoming the highest-paid non-quarterback since the lockout. The average increase over the previous standard during the five times when a player has become the highest-paid non-quarterback under the existing CBA is slightly under five percent. The biggest jump was in 2014, when Suh raised the bar by almost 15 percent as he replaced Watt. Standard growth would put Mack/Donald at approximately $20.025 million per year. If my suspicions are in the same general ballpark as France and Segal’s actual offers, bridging the gap won’t be an easy task.

And that’s the rub. The salary cap is growing so quickly by such a margin while rookie deals remain so out of sync with player value (reminder: Donald made less than $2m last year and is making less than $7m on his fifth-year option this year as a player worth roughly $23.5m per year...), the gap to bridge here is unprecedented.

So where does that leave us?

I suppose it’s up to fans as to when they’ll truly grow concerned about the potential for Donald to reach free agency. Obviously, each day passed is a metric in and of itself. We’ve passed tons of keypoints on the timeline already. And many point to Mack and Houston Texans EDGE Jadeveon Clowney as the domino they’re waiting to fall. Once they re-sign (and that assumes Mack even does re-sign which isn’t a fair assumption at all), then what?

So as we continue through the offseason toward training camp and the preseason knowing that Donald has to show up by the August 7 deadline, we know what recent contractual history suggests is going to be required to get a deal done.

Now, we’ll have to see if the Rams really are willing to #paytheman.