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Aaron Donald’s new contract means that Cooper Kupp is next

The Rams won’t get away with not rewarding Kupp for his 2021 Offensive Player of the Year season

Los Angeles Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 to win the NFL Super Bowl LVI football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Prior to the LA Rams rewarding Aaron Donald with a new contract on Monday that pays him over $30 million per season, I wrote that the Rams would soon be signing Donald to a contract that pays him at least $30 million per season. From May 27:

If Donald wants to be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player, he would have to be targeting a contract that pays him about $30 million per year—and since that is a round number, it would make sense that Donald could want to be “the first $30 million per year” defensive player in the league. He is the best defensive player in the league of his generation, so why not break the $30 million barrier first?

Following his recent appearance on I Am Athlete, many others speculated that Donald was closer to retirement than running it back, but I came away with the opposite take and said that based on that interview, Donald was going to soon sign a new contract.

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.”

On Monday, Donald did pretty much exactly what we expected here at Turf Show Times, signing a contract that adds no years to his current deal but rewards him with bonuses, guarantees, and a raise for his services so that he wouldn’t walk away from the game for a lucrative post-career career.

Donald was running out of guaranteed salary numbers and bonuses and so the Rams gave him $65 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons.

Donald will reportedly receive $65M in guaranteed money over the next two seasons, securing his return to the team after he contemplated retirement. The re-negotiated contract will allow Donald to retire in 2024 - and if he returns to the team he will earn a guaranteed $30M.

The takeaway is that Aaron Donald gets to call himself the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history, which was probably as important as the money itself. It was his mission to top the salary figures that the Steelers signed T.J. Watt to last August, which is when I first wrote about how the LA Rams were headed towards a “contract situation” with Aaron Donald in 2022...

Donald may not be concerned with any of this now, but his roster bonuses and non-guaranteed salary of 2022 is no longer a distant expectation. It could be that Snead and Donald’s agent have always planned to address the contract again well before it ended, knowing that player after player would be angling to top it and do better — and that no defensive player would end up actually being better than Aaron Donald.

If T.J. Watt signs for $29 million per season this month, then I am quite certain that once again Aaron Donald will be ‘feeling like 30.’

So I’ve seen this moment coming for the last nine months even though Aaron Donald was already under contract through 2024. When we were covering Jalen Ramsey’s contract negotiations in 2020, we knew that it was a foregone conclusion and never worried about rumors of a holdout or a stalemate.

And with the same amount of confidence as we had then, I will say this now: Cooper Kupp is going to get a new contract with the LA Rams prior to the 2022 season.

It has only been two years since Kupp signed a three-year, $48 million contract extension with the Rams, but unless he has some personal reason for wanting to get out of LA, he’s going to get back to the table for a new deal.

Kupp’s $14.8 million salary in 2022 is fully guaranteed, but then the Rams would be completely off the hook for guarantees in 2023, which is the final year of his contract. Kupp has been relatively healthy over the last three seasons. He’s also well aware that it only takes one injury to lower your value considerably, if not entirely:

  • He missed half of the season and playoffs in 2018
  • He saw Robert Woods tear his ACL in 2021 and get traded in 2022
  • He saw OBJ tear his ACL in the Super Bowl and OBJ is still a free agent

Kupp ranks third in 2022 salary cap hit among wide receivers, behind only Kenny Golladay (yes) and Keenan Allen. But because others have signed deals more recently, there are 16 receivers (including teammate Allen Robinson) who will take home more cash than the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

There might not be a better wide receiver in the NFL right now but there are quite a few who are better paid.

Les Snead has always shown as much of a willingness to pay his stars as he is willing to cut or trade them shortly thereafter. It is in Kupp’s best financial interest to pull a Donald and to make it clear that he would like to be taken care of before he puts himself at risk again. Kupp is not as vocal or as visible as Aaron Donald, but neither was Matthew Stafford prior to his own four-year, $160 million extension signed this year.

The other three most important players on the roster have all been paid. The Rams will add Cooper Kupp to that list before the season. Unlike Donald, his new contract will add new years to his agreement with LA. I would look for something in the range of a three-year, $75 million extension and it’s important to remember that even if Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown signed “monster” deals that pay them exorbitant average annual salaries, they won’t see a lot of that money.

Adams’ five-year contract includes a $40 million AAV on the final two years, neither of which are likely to happen on his current deal. That just raises that bar on his APY for the headlines. Cooper Kupp will be looking to get as much CASH as possible in the first three years. Because he is already signed at $14.6 million for 2023, look for him to get guarantees and a raise.

If he signs a three-year, $80 million deal, Kupp could probably have a $40 million final season, but what he would actually be looking at is a huge signing bonus that pays him immediately, a LOWER base salary over the next one or two seasons, and a huge cap hit in 2023 or 2024.

I expect this to happen sometime between now and the end of August. With Donald out of the way, there’s really not much else left for Snead to do.