AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
If the Rams are serious about winning, why not pay star defensive tackle Aaron Donald top dollar? If they want him to stay around in Los Angeles for a very long time, why not fill the man’s pockets with that dirty green?
If I were Stan Kroenke, the Rams owner, I would certainly reach into my wallet, scrape up any loose change, then spread the Benjamin Franklins out on the table and begin to talk business with the All-Pro.
Either that, or Donald, entering the final year of his rookie contract, will surely break up with the Rams and deeply commit to a healthy relationship someplace else in the league.
He had an amazing year last season and there’s no denying that he’s a highly respected leader of men, a powerful force, a hulking beast on defense. His holdout for a new contract started on Monday when he reportedly informed the Rams that he would skip the organized team activities.
He’s the NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year but not appreciated or valued by the organization. He’s the most dominant pass rusher on the gridiron but ownership isn’t rushing to get a new deal done.
He’s the fastest interior lineman who beats blockers and violently flattens the quarterback but the Rams are running from him terrified to lock him up. He’s the most important player who is meaty, and very strong and very tough but disrespected by an inept franchise.
It became clear that Donald wouldn’t be a participant at offseason programs. The blame falls on the Rams for having their priorities out of order. It’s quite understandable that he’s taking a stand until he gets what he wants from his employer.
Still, there’s a good chance Donald shows up to Rams’ mandatory mini-camp scheduled for June. He’s mandated to report in the summer, and failure to make an appearance on the practice field could jeopardize his financial wellbeing.
With only three weeks to go before deadline, Donald knows that he can lose financially if he does not report to the Rams. This time last year, he produced more pressure, he disrupted offseason plays but the Rams avoided the sack.
Donald surely believes he has shown the Rams last season that he’s worthy of a long-term deal to make him the NFL’s highest-paid defender. He surely should get the raise that he’s seeking and deserves, but the two sides haven’t come to an agreement over a lucrative contract extension.
Donald’s demand of $22 million per season with more than $75 million in guarantees would take up 10 percent of the team’s cap space in 2018. And should the Rams not compensate him as the top defensive lineman, they can place the franchise tag on him next season.
He can’t afford to miss preseason or even the season opener, because if he’s not there 30 days prior to the first day, then he won’t become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. He’s not that much of a fool to receive penalties for skipping offseason workouts, training camp and the entire preseason.
But, right now, since it’s not optional to participate in these offseason workouts, he’s low key attempting to force his bosses to pay him. The prolonged stalemate won’t resolve the situation, however, because the NFL’s rookie-wage scale instituted under the 2011 collective bargaining agreement was designed to appease team owners instead of the rookies.
It seems as though he’s even more upset over the fact that the Rams signed Ndamukong Suh to a 1-year, $14 million deal. It feels as though he’s even more outraged that Suh is getting paid more than twice what he is set to make. It sounds as though Donald is even more annoyed while he waits for the team to get its act together.
His teammates have shown up to begin voluntary offseason workouts in Thousand Oaks with a clear understanding that Donald is being denied a raise. Even Marcus Peters, the Rams’ recently acquired cornerback, backed Donald in his absence. “Hey man, pay the man,” Peters said. “I mean … I mean you win the MVP, man. Come on now.”
Just like last offseason, he’s continually making a loud statement with his holdout that could have an impact on the Rams’ promising season if he decides to stretch it well into the regular season. Donald is offering a friendly reminder of how vital his defense is for the Rams by not being present at the team’s voluntary OTAs.
And maybe he finds it incredibly insulting, perhaps even blasphemous. And, of course, it doesn’t sit too well with Donald that the money is going to someone else who plays the same position. He has the power to sit at home and disconnect himself from the team until it offers him more money.
Their most productive pass rusher sat out all of last year’s voluntary workouts, mandatory minicamp drills and training camp. But Donald, like he did last summer, shows that he’s still unhappy over a contract dispute.
That’s not to say the Rams could certainly see a drop off in production. He was, no question, beyond irritated with the team coming into last season. Still, he managed to put his differences aside and worked through it. After much acrimony during the offseason, he piled up 11 sacks and a league-leading 91 pressures. Under Wade Phillips, the team’s defensive coordinator, Donald has engineered a great defensive turnaround and flourished as the cornerstone.
Donald is acting as if he’s a mercenary, and rightfully so when he’s played like the NFL’s best defender. And keep this in mind, he’s obviously playing his tail off for the big bucks. The Rams have shown interest in making him a franchise player and see the greatness in him and seem confident about getting something done.
In the final year of his rookie contract, he is slated to make $6.89 million this season. The chances of signing Donald to a mega extension seems realistic at this point when the Rams have more than enough wiggle room.
Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was acquired by Los Angeles from New England, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Rams placed the franchise tag on safety Lamarus Joyner. And then Suh is on an expiring contract as well.
That would leave them with plenty of dough to focus on their main character, Donald. The dream of winning a Super Bowl seems distant if Donald isn’t around to make a difference.
Les Snead, the team’s general manager, has a history of using the franchise tag to his advantage, then later meets with the player and his representation to finally reach an agreement.
It’ll be interesting to see if anything happens between now and August that would put an end to the year-long drama. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been much of a big deal, something that hasn’t affected the team during the regular season.
The Rams should make him happy ASAP with more than enough in the bank to spend. They’d be crazy not to agree to Donald’s asking price. More to the point, they can afford to hold onto him in the future.