Aaron Donald’s appearance on a recent episode of the “I Am Athlete” podcast has people again asking if he’s going to retire before next season. There’s been a lot of highlighting of a single phrase from that podcast, that Donald is “at peace” with everything he’s done in the NFL, implying that he doesn’t need to prove anything else and that it’s up to the Rams to make him at peace with his contract.
Donald mentioned in the interview that he believes there should be a smaller gap between pay for the top defensive players and quarterbacks, which is currently set somewhere around a $28 million average salary for a defensive player and $50 million APY for a signal caller. Donald didn’t say he should be making as much as quarterbacks, but made it clear that there should NOT be a $22 million difference between someone like T.J. Watt and someone like Aaron Rodgers.
On his current contract, Donald’s APY is $22.5 million, but he carries a $26.75 million cap hit in 2022. However, his base salary accounts for only $9.25 million of that. Next season, Donald’s base salary jumps up to $14 million.
Donald did say that he was “at peace” with everything from not needing the money to finally having a Super Bowl win under his belt, but then other comments he made were completely contrary to those proclamations of being satisfied with his career. Donald does not seem to be at peace with his current contract and also mentioned that he’s held out twice before for more money from the Rams organization before joining the team, and there are signs pointing towards another holdout in 2022 coming off of his first Super Bowl championship.
He says that he doesn’t need to earn more money to be happy with his NFL career, and at the same time keeps implying, if not outright saying, that he won’t play again without the Rams giving him a raise or a bonus.
And even though Donald said that the last thing he needed to accomplish was a Super Bowl victory, which he earned this year as the best player on a very talented team, he also kept talking about how the feeling of winning it all was so good that he now understands what keeps Tom Brady from walking away from the game.
It’s clear that Aaron Donald, obsessive about being the best football player in the league, is not completely satisfied with only one Super Bowl championship.
The number one reason that Donald will not retire this year is that the Los Angeles Rams have a better-than-average chance at repeating as Super Bowl champions.
I say “better than average” because even though you’d think that reigning champions always have a leg up on winning a Super Bowl, we haven’t seen a repeat Super Bowl winner in almost 20 years. If we were going on the last 17 Super Bowls alone, we’d say that the odds of repeating are close to zero.
But the Rams seem to have an even clearer path to winning the NFC than they did last season. Russell Wilson is in the AFC; Deebo Samuel is holding out, while the 49ers sort out whether Trey Lance is actually an adequate starting option for 2022; Kyler Murray is holding out and DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the season.
The Rams play in a difficult division, with three teams winning 10 games last year, but LA may have increased their lead over the 49ers, Cardinals, and Seahawks.
Elsewhere, the NFC South seems destined to be ruled by Brady, as Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Sam Darnold man the other quarterback jobs in the division, while Sean Payton and Bruce Arians both stepped out of head coaching roles.
In the NFC North, Davante Adams went to the AFC West too. No other team in the North was above .500 and Kirk Cousins remains the second-best quarterback in the division.
The Eagles, Commanders, and Giants also stayed the course at quarterback from last season, leaving the Cowboys in a position to try and not blow it again for the 27th year in a row.
But the Rams may have gotten better this offseason. Though Von Miller went to the Bills, Robert Woods was traded to the Titans, and Odell Beckham remains unsigned, LA signed Bobby Wagner and Allen Robinson.
And as mentioned in the podcast, Aaron Donald worked to recruit Wagner to the Rams. Did he really do all that campaigning for Wagner to come help LA “run it back” just so that he could run into retirement? That doesn’t make any sense.
Donald said he wouldn’t play for the Rams, or any team, again unless he felt they were good enough to win a championship. Nobody is capable of predicting who will even make the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl, but we’re all allowed to be judges of the situation.
And the situation for the Los Angeles Rams couldn’t be much better than it is right now. So reasonably speaking, what I heard on “I Am Athlete” is that Donald is ready to play for many more years to come. He just wants to posture like he isn’t because as he said, “This is a business.”