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How the Rams save money with Aaron Donald’s new contract

How the Rams manage to manage the salary cap

NFL: Los Angeles Rams OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The question every NFL fan is asking: Does the salary cap even exist for the LA Rams? I’m here to tell you that it definitely does, even though it may not seem like it.

This article will explain to you how the salary cap works and how the Rams were able to sign Aaron Donald to his new mega-deal (making him the highest paid non-QB in league history) despite having very little cap room.

The Aaron Donald Deal

His existing contract was basically torn up and replaced by this new mega-deal. The old contract had three years, $52.25M remaining and the new deal pays him $95M over the next three years.

He gets $65M guaranteed in the first two years. After that Donald will have the option to either retire or come back in 2024 and earn an additional $30 million guaranteed.

Here’s a breakdown of the deal:

Year 1 - 2022

  • Base salary: $1.5 million
  • Signing + Roster Bonus: $13M + $5M
  • Restructure: $4.5M. This amount comes from the money owed in the last contract.
  • Dead Cap Hit: $73M

Total Cap Hit in 2022: $24M

Year 2 - 2023

  • Base salary: $10 million
  • Signing + Roster Bonus: $5M + $5M
  • Restructure: $4.5M
  • Dead Cap Hit: $44M

Total Cap Hit in 2023: $38M

Year 3 - 2024

  • Base salary: $10 million
  • Signing + Roster Bonus: $5M + $5M
  • Restructure: $4.5M
  • Option Bonus: $6.66M
  • Dead Cap Hit: $19.5M

Total Cap Hit in 2024: $31.166M

The contract also includes a pair of voidable years in 2025/2026 which allows the Rams to spread out his cap hits, which are going to be sizeable.

How the Rams SAVED Cap Space

Donald’s cap hit is actually going down from $26.75M to $24M on this reworked contract. What makes the savings possible is the fact that the Rams used two void years in 2025 and 2026 to spread out the cap hits.

However, this creates a problem down the road in 2023 where he’ll have a cap hit of $38M. But you can bet that they Rams will restructure his contract at that point as well to move those cap hits further into the future.

In essence, the Rams keep kicking the can down the road on these cap hits. How long can the LA Rams keep doing this?

Why This is Actually A Good Strategy

  1. The cap will keep going up, it always does (barring any new pandemics).
  2. This raises the bar for other pass-rushers like Nick Bosa, who is in our division. Other teams will have to pony up to pay these guys with Donald’s deal as the new benchmark.
  3. While it seems like the Rams have been going “all in“ for about five seasons now, they have a championship window right now and this window will close quickly once Donald decides to retire.

How Long Will Aaron Donald be a Ram?

I’m no psychic but based on the structure of the contract, I strongly believe that Donald will be wearing horns for two more seasons then will retire at the end of 2023. The contract is structured to make it financially feasible for this to happen and I bet the Rams and Donald have had in-depth conversations to accommodate his desires, as they seem to take care of their players well.

The world of contracts, cap hits and salaries is a complicated one in the NFL and I’m not going to pretend that I understand all of its intricacies. All I know is that the LA Rams brass seem to have it all figured, or at least they have it figured out a bit better than the majority of the other 31 teams.