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How the Rams screwed over the NFL last year without winning games

Though the L.A. Rams are in salary cap hell, they’ve also created nightmare holdouts for some opponents

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams may have gone 5-12 last season and put the team in such a financial hole that the franchise had to part ways with many key veterans this past offseason, but it is in fact those 2022 contracts that have also helped create several nightmare situations for their opponents. The new deals for Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp in 2022 mean that the Rams have three of the highest-paid players in the league at their positions and are unable to afford much else on the roster right now.

But because of the size of those contracts and when Les Snead paid them out that players like Chris Jones and Zack Martin have yet to report to training camp with threats to holdout into the regular season. It could even cause teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys to consider if they have futures with those players.

How Aaron Donald’s deal kind of screwed both the Chiefs and the Cowboys

The Rams were under no obligation to give Donald a raise last year, but coming off of the high of winning the Super Bowl and under the potential threat of retirement if AD felt like he had now ‘done it all’, Snead ripped up his old deal and gave him a gigantic raise.

Donald’s previous contract was a six-year, $135 million extension signed in 2018 that obviously made him the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL at $22.5 million per year.

There were three years and $52.25 million remaining on that contract, which doesn’t sound like much if you’re the best defensive player in football and now you’re set to make like $18 million per year on the remaining seasons.

So Snead went back to the table and gave Donald a three-year, $95 million deal with $65 million set to be paid in the first two years alone. That’s a huge raise: An additional $43 million total and $13 million more in two years than he was set to make in three years.

I’m not saying that Donald considering life after football in 2022 was bluffing, but the Rams could have said, “Do what you feel is best for you, we’re not going back to the table when you’ve got three years left. We’ll gladly go back to the table in 2023.”

They didn’t do that and now Donald makes $5 million more this season than the rest of the entire Rams defense combined. He also makes way more than the next-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL, creating a separation between first and second place unlike any other position. Keep in mind that Quinnen Williams, Jeffery Simmons, Daron Payne, Dexter Lawrence, and Javon Hargrave are also more recent deals. Nobody can come close to Donald even after the fact.

At $31.6 million per year, Donald is almost $8 million more per year than second-place Williams, who signed his deal less than a month ago.

There are two obvious outliers on that list:

1) Donald, who the Rams decided to go above and beyond and beyond for to guarantee that the greatest defensive tackle in NFL history would not leave last year.

2) Chris Jones, who isn’t reporting to Chiefs training camp because he’s “only” at $20 million per year despite the fact that he was the best defensive tackle in football last year.

Three years younger than AD, Jones has a good argument to be made that there shouldn’t be another defensive tackle in the NFL who makes more than him other than Donald. That means that he can’t make less than Quinnen Williams and he probably doesn’t want to even be that close. Williams was great last year, recording 12 sacks and 28 QB hits.

He’s not Chris Jones yet.

Because of that higher ceiling created by the Rams, it means that Jones is shooting for $31 million instead of just shooting for $24.5 million. If Donald’s deal didn’t exist, Jones could merely shoot for barely getting paid more than the highest-paid defensive tackle. Instead, he’s shooting for something closer to Donald than Williams and it’s looking less and less likely that he’s going to be back with K.C. before the end of training camp.

Chiefs GM Brett Veach insists that Kansas City wants to pay Jones a new deal and reward him for what he’s worth. They have “no intention” of trading Jones, but they’re also over a barrel here: Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce can make up for the loss of Tyreek Hill in 2022. Nobody on defense can make up for the loss of Chris Jones.

Even after they re-sign Jones, who has one year remaining on his deal, another reason he 100% won’t play again until he’s extended, there is talk that Kansas City needs to go out and sign more defensive line help.

There is a non-zero chance that with Jones potentially demanding $30 million per year that the Chiefs will be forced to consider trading him so that they can use the new cap space to bring in defensive tackle help and then regroup with their additional first round draft picks next year. Most likely, this situation is resolved with an extension for Jones north of $25 million per season, if not north of $27 million, which is in part thanks to the Rams decision to pay Donald by far the most money for any defensive tackle in the NFL.

But the decision extends further, creating havoc in Dallas between Jerry Jones and All-Pro guard Zack Martin.

Donald, Kupp contracts came very early

Like Donald, the Rams also tore up Cooper Kupp’s old contract and decided to pay him a three-year, $80 million deal to be one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers after he won Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. Again, not something that Snead was forced to do, only something that he chose to do to avoid having an underpaid and unhappy Cooper Kupp.

Well, because Snead and company chose to do that, it means that other great players in the NFL feel like they can renegotiate when there’s a lot of time left on their contracts.

Martin signed a six-year, $84 million market-setting contract with the Cowboys in 2018 that paid him through 2024. At the time, the deal was making him one-of-one at guard, but that’s the problem with six-year contracts: They can’t catch up to the quickly changing market unless you’re a running back.

Martin’s $14 million average annual salary now ranks well behind Chris Lindstrom’s $20.5 million, Quenton Nelson’s $20 million, plus Brandon Scherff, Wyatt Teller, Elgton Jenkins, Joel Bitonio, and Joe Thuney. Jason Kelce also makes a little more than Martin, and so do a couple of running backs.

Because his contract was restructured, Martin only makes a $1.7 million base salary in 2023 and he’s looking at a non-guaranteed $13 million base salary in 2024. This is similar to why I felt confident that Jalen Ramsey would ask to be traded this year: His contract didn’t have any guarantees after 2022 and L.A. wasn’t going to be the one to help him get those. He was dealt to the Dolphins and they immediately guaranteed his 2023 and 2024 salaries.

Well, Jerry Jones also doesn’t show any interest in giving into Martin’s demands.

“You just move on,” said Jones, related to the Martin situation. He’s been fined over $500,000 already by holding out and Dallas has shown no budge with regards to his contract demands. They don’t want to negotiate his contract while there are multiple years left on the deal.

The Rams did that for Donald and Kupp. They did it in a major way. Martin is thinking that he should be making $20 million per season—he’s. been first team all-pro in six of nine seasons, including four of the last five—and maybe he also sees players like Ramsey get hurt and thinks, “Wow, now I really want to be guaranteed.”

It seems possible that Martin will not be on the field when the Cowboys play the Giants on Sunday Night Football in Week 1. The Cowboys play the Rams in Week 8.

We’ve talked a lot about how Snead’s contract for Todd Gurley impacted the running back market. Perhaps it doesn’t just end there.