This era’s premier defensive player has still not definitely said he will play again in 2022, though this situation continues to lean that way. The Rams and Aaron Donald have been discussing a contract adjustment for several weeks, and the future Hall of Famer confirmed the retirement rumors are at least partially contract-related.
Donald, who turned 31 last week, is tied to his 2018 extension, one that briefly represented an defender-record deal (six years, $ 135MM). But several players have passed the all-world defensive tackle in the years since.
“For me, it’s about winning. I don’t want to play football if I can’t win anyway, so I feel like if I got a real opportunity to win another Super Bowl, then it makes sense to play”Donald said during an appearance on the I Am Athlete podcast (via Bleacher Report’s Erin Walsh). “But again, it’s still a business, and we got to handle the business side of things, and if that wasn’t to get handled then, you know, [it’s an] it-is-what-it-is type of situation.
“I’ll be fine regardless, but me talking about retirement, that was happening way before we won a Super Bowl. I’ve been saying that since I got into the league I was going to play eight years and be done. That’s just what I’ve been saying. … If I was to play, it’s just to win another Super Bowl, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business and it got to make sense to me and my family. ”
The Rams have been on this for months now. They have hammered out a Matthew Stafford extension and have since turned their attention to two players who still have multiple years of team control remaining. Donald and Cooper Kupp are signed through 2024 and 2023, respectively, but have outplayed their contracts. Donald is now the NFL’s sixth-highest-paid defender; Kupp is the league’s 18th-highest-paid receiver. It is not known if Kupp will receive a full-blown new deal, but the next Rams-Donald transaction is expected to be an extension – rather than a restructure or a mere one-year salary bump.
Donald’s 2022 cap number marks the highest on his current deal ($ 26.75MM). The Rams can lower that via an extension. Although teams do not make a habit of redoing the deals of players signed for three more seasons, Donald is now a seven-time All-Pro who will coast to first-ballot Canton enshrinement. The Rams’ chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions would take a major hit without Donald, who has never missed a game due to injury. His only absences (two in 2017) came due to a holdout.
Later during his podcast interview, Donald said this situation will “probably” be resolved, via The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue (on Twitter). It will be interesting what numbers the sides land on, if indeed a new deal comes to pass. TJ Watt is currently the NFL’s highest-paid player, at $ 28MM per year. Donald becoming the league’s first $ 30MM-per-year defender is well within the realm of possibility, given his seven straight All-Pro nods, joining Lawrence Taylor and JJ Watt as a three-time Defensive Player of the Year honoree, and the impact the Pittsburgh native made in the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI win.