The Los Angeles Rams and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who is scheduled to earn $6.9 million in the final year of his rookie deal, remain in a contract dispute that dates to 2017.
Here are answers to a few key questions as negotiations continue ahead of training camp:
Why don’t the Rams just “pay the man,” as Marcus Peters said?
It’s all about the salary cap. The Rams must maintain space under the cap for large contracts that loom in the not-so-distant future, including fourth-year pros Todd Gurley and Peters and third-year pro Jared Goff. The Rams made several moves that cleared cap space this offseason — they’ll have room for $41.5 million in 2019 and more than $120 million in 2020 — but they must maintain space to sign other stars.
How much money does Donald want?
Donald, 27, wants to reset the market for non-quarterback players. Currently, the highest paid non-quarterback is Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who is scheduled to make more than $19 million this season. Neither Donald nor the Rams have publicly discussed financial terms, but it is thought that Donald is seeking a deal that will pay him more than $20 million per season.
Didn’t Donald hold out last year while seeking a new deal?
Yes. Going into his fourth season, Donald skipped most of the offseason program but reported to mandatory minicamp to avoid about $80,000 in fines. He did not participate in drills.
Donald then skipped training camp and reported to the practice facility a day before the opener — without a new deal in place. The Rams activated Donald in Week 2. He finished the season with 11 sacks in 14 starts.
Will his holdout last that long this season?
It could, but that seems unlikely. Because Donald held out of training camp last year, he lost an accrued season toward unrestricted free agency, which requires four seasons. Therefore, if Donald does not report by Aug. 7 — 30 days before the season opens — he will lose another accrued season and would be a restricted free agent next winter.
How long do the Rams have Donald’s rights?
If Donald reports to training camp by Aug. 7, he will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. However, whether he’s an unrestricted or restricted free agent, the Rams have the option to franchise tag him for two years at below his market value and then another year at just over his current market value. The Rams basically hold the rights to Donald through the 2021 season.
Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, did not report to Raiders minicamp as he seeks a new deal entering the fifth season of his rookie contract. It has been speculated that Donald and Mack are paying close attention to each other’s situations. The first to sign a deal will reset the market. The second to sign will likely up the ante to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league. But unlike Donald, Mack can hold out of training camp and still become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Are the Rams concerned Donald’s absence will affect the team’s performance?
No. On the final day of minicamp, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips deadpanned: “He didn’t come until later last year and did OK. I guess he fit in, in a 3-4, everybody was worried about that.” The Rams know Donald is working out at his home in Pittsburgh and will be ready to contribute if he reports.