The Rams made a TON of noise during the off-season. The additions of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh, among others is seen as a major risk. Fortunately, even if all the personalities don’t mesh it’s not a big deal. When teams go all in it usually necessitates signing players to contracts that decimate the salary cap for years to come.
Les Snead didn’t do that. Instead, Talib, Peters, Suh, and Sam Shields are only on the hook for a year. They’ll have an estimated $90 million in cap space next season. A sizable portion of that is earmarked for Aaron Donald. The problem is that like last year, Donald and the Rams are still at an impasse.
Earlier this week Sean McVay seemed optimistic when asked about the situation. McVay stated that “He’s responding more than he was at this time last year”. Les Snead backed that up by iterating that Donald is “budgeted in the budget”. Of course, their optimism is expected whether or not it’s genuine. Luckily, the negotiations haven’t seemed hostile so it seems as if it’ll be a matter of time before Donald is locked up long term.
The drama over Donald is warranted. After all, he is the reigning defensive player of the year. Last season he held out, missed week one and still amassed 11 sacks. He also had 32 tackles and five forced fumbles. He has gotten better each season he’s played. This is all while being the Grandmaster’s champion on the planet Sakaar.
That hasn’t stopped the pearl-clutching from a certain sect of fandom. Some even suggest that the team trade Donald now rather than see him walk during free agency. Others would even suggest that Donald isn’t worth the money and that the team should learn from the deal Miami gave Suh. In a vacuum giving Donald the GDP of a small country is a slam dunk. The thing giving people pause is that he’s not the only bill coming due.
During the off-season, the Rams picked up the 5th year options on Peters, Donald, and Todd Gurley. All three are due for extensions as well as safety Lamarcus Joyner and possibly receiver Brandin Cooks. So the Rams estimated $90 million doesn’t seem like a lot once all those potential extensions are factored in. That’s not to mention the looming decision on quarterback Jared Goff. If Goff continues to get better he too will be looking at a monster extension that will set the market.
It’s possible Snead can do some cap Kung Fu to make all this work. The sticking point as always is the guaranteed money. Kirk Cousins blazed a new free agency trail by getting his entire $84 million dollar contract guaranteed.
The ripple effect has been seen with quarterbacks but not positional players. Khalil Mack is the first test case for this new reality. Mack will likely set the market for star defensive players and then Donald will, of course, reset it.
There is a corner of fandom that thinks the Rams should eschew this drama by trading him for a bounty of picks. This is, of course, ridiculous as Michael Brockers, while talented, isn’t the same player by a long shot. Suh is a one-year rental and he isn’t viable long-term. Plus it’s not as though there’s another Aaron Donald waiting in next year’s draft.
On its surface, the Aaron Donald conundrum is an easy one to solve. Pay the man! However, the structure of that deal will be a challenge. He deserves to be the highest paid defensive player in the league. The questions the Rams need to ask themselves are what do they need to give up to make it work. Donald will want to get this locked up by the summer because he’s one injury away from severely depreciating in value.
Optimism among management might be the company line but given the recent track record of the organization, its possible they know what they want to do. They know once you have a leviathan you pay him and the rest they’ll figure out later.