Rams Make Aaron Donald NFL's Highest-Paid Non-QB

Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald
Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - We don't generally put up extra points for contract extensions, but Aaron Donald is the exception to a lot of rules. The Los Angeles Rams have re-worked the contract of the NFL's best defender, officially making him the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports that the new contract will grant Donald a $40 million raise over the next three seasons. He will be guaranteed $65 million over the next two years, with an option in 2024 to either retire or return for a guaranteed $30 million

An eight-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro, and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donald has 98.0 career sacks and 150 tackles for loss, both the most in the league since was drafted 13th overall in 2014. 

UPDATE: If you're not familiar with Donald's work, here's a brief primer:

Comments

23 comments, Last at 09 Jun 2022, 11:18pm

1 Retiring huh

Or not. 

Make sure you mention he'll fall off because of age even though he's a clear outlier. 

2 At some point, probably even…

At some point, probably even right now, its worth discussing where Donald ranks all time amongst defenders. I realize the era has mythologized the old defensive legends and severely marginalized the current generation. I still cringe when I hear analysts proclaim Deion has 0 rivals at cornerback even though CB, 1) afaik there were no independent counting stats for cbs during that era, 2) its never been harder to be a cornerback in today's nfl.

With that digression, Donald is the best defender I have ever seen since I've been watching. I think he's been better for longer than Warren Sapp, the only other defensive tackle I can think of that's in this insane stratosphere. I'd rather have Donald than any single edge rusher I've seen. He's more impactful than any linebacker or any defensive back. 

If people want to throw out LT or Reggie White, fine, I never saw them. But Donald needs to be in that rarified air of players. I think if they redid the NFL top 100, he probably cracks maybe top 25, but I think his name deserves to be in the top 15 and possibly top 10. 

For at least the last 4 years and maybe even the last 6, he's been the default answer for best defensive player in the league. I can't think of many non-qbs that have maintained such an epic peak like this. Its insane. 

3 Donald is one of the all…

Donald is one of the all time greats. Going past that is IMO impossible because:

1. The rules have changed a lot over the time the NFL has existed. This leads to unanswerable questions like "How would Donald have fared in the 1960s vs. Deacon Jones today?"
2. How much training/diet have changed.
3. How much sports medicine has changed. Ex : What would Gale Sayers' career have looked like if arthroscopic surgery had been available when he played?
4. The money has changed. Until the 1960s at earliest a lot of players had to take summer jobs to make ends meet meaning they couldn't stay in football shape and so they had to use training camp to get into shape.

4 Easily in the all time…

Easily in the all time greats. I have a personal bias for Reggie White who I loved to watch play. Peak JJ Watt was a blast too but that injury in 16 really derailed his career. But when I think of "Men among boys" for players I've watched those are the first 3 that come to mind. Most NFL players can have a highlight play where they look more than human, but White and Donald (and for a few seasons there Watt) would do it 2 - 6 times a game for a whole season. When you can pick just about any random game and find a player that does something that is potentially a season highlight for the average NFL starter that's impressive.

The way Donald and Reggie could just throw other huge men around is a thing of beauty to me as well. I've seen them push 3 blockers back at the same time. I've seen stupid levels of speed and agility for humans of their size. The fact Donald plays interior defensive line the majority of the time is a different type of impressive too. Yes Reggie would get multiple snaps a game inside with the Packers and peak JJ would get shifted inside at times but interior and exterior d line do play different. Donald and Reggie could synergize with just about anyone too (in the real sense of the word before it become corporate buzz slang). I mean White made Gilbert Brown seem like a valuable player. I think that is something, in addition to health and longevity at the top of their game, that sets Donald and White a bit apart from Watt as linemen. Yes Watt made things easier for other players on his line, like any great player, but I don't think he made the rest of the players around him look so consistently better than they were without them. I think they just had a better ability to know what their teammates were doing and take advantage of that or do things that would help them out more. I think it's just a processing speed deal where they could take in the information around them and just adjust to it better but some of those adjustments aren't just so they can make a play but so that they can help someone else make a play. Best I can describe it right now.

Now to be even more fair of all the players I've mentioned so far, I saw the most of Reggie and I didn't even see his best (as great as he was with Green Bay he was better in Philly) so that biases me even more. But I have zero issue putting Donald in that same conversation. I actually have a bigger issue with putting LT into the greatest defender of all time conversation than I do with Donald. Of course I still really enjoy the physical brutality of the game even though that has been continually lessen by rules over the years. That has, I firmly believe, helped players careers and post careers so I do not begrudge it, I just miss it sometimes. So Taylor being more speed and stupidly quick reflexes and less pure power and Donald and White being more pure power and less speed and stupidly quick reflexes really impresses me. Of course all 3 players demonstrate all those traits just different scales and Donald and White demonstrate the traits I prefer more.

As serutan pointed out it's very hard to ordinal rank them. I didn't see Deacon Jones play in anything but old highlight reels and a few old game films. He was playing a different game. Being able to literally smack someone on the head as part of your toolset is very different. Even Reggie played a different game than Donald, he could hit QB's in a lot more ways without risk of a flag than Donald can. What offensive lineman were legally and by consensus allowed to do has changed too (and no I do not believe holding happens on every play even by the letter of the rules in the modern NFL and it certainly doesn't by the enforcement of the rules). But that still didn't mean what I've seen of Deacon Jones vs other players of his era wasn't hugely impressive dude could have played in any era. As could Donald and Reggie. I can't rank those 3, but I can say all three were all time greats and be pretty confident in saying all three were the best of their era.

You mentioned Warren Sapp (who I lost all respect for when he intentionally and successfully injured Chad Clifton) and while he was a physical specimen (probably played 40 pounds heavier than Donald and could still move supidly quickly over short distance) and a very disruptive player I would say Sapp's peak years are Donald's down years. Donald is just better and from what I've seen not a dirty remorseless headhunter. But it's more to illustrate Donald's dominance when another All Pro caliber player at his best reminds me of Donald at worst. Admittedly part of that is because Donald's floor has been extremely high, his consistency from play to play and season to season is another pretty amazing thing. Also I will be amazed if this contract is his last. I figure he's got another 7 years of pro bowl level play in him if he wants to keep playing to hit 15 consecutive. So he could get the 14 consecutive by Merlin Olsen and Bruce Matthews record. Reggie only went to 13 straight.

 

And no I didn't touch on Junior Seau or Ray Lewis who are also some of the greatest defensive players I've ever watched live and I wouldn't balk at someone wanting to throw in the conversation of greatest defender ever but very different position for defensive linemen or edge rushers but also very fun to watch for different reasons and able to take over games as well.

5 Once again, than you for…

Once again, than you for your post.

Of the defenders of the last 20 plus years, there were only three players who stood out head and shoulders above the rest at their position in addition to Donald. Ed Reed, Revis, and JJ Watt.

Putting aside Revis and Reed for the moment, JJ was my default answer for best defensive player I ever saw. He was also the defacto answer for best defensive player in the league. Until Donald. But JJ also deserves some serious love as well.

Its funny. I came of age loving Peyton Manning and the Colts offense. But now I love and appreciate defense so much. It's an art in its own way

 

 

 

10 who stood out head and…

who stood out head and shoulders above the rest at their position in addition to Donald. Ed Reed, Revis, and JJ Watt.

At first I was gonna be "er?" but I think what you mean here is "when they were playing, these guys were head and shoulders above the other guys at their position at that time." Is that right?

When I read it, I read it as "these guys are head and shoulders above all the other guys at their position over the last 20 years." And that'd be a stretch to me. Watt's not leaps and bounds past Strahan and Peppers, Revis isn't that far beyond Bailey and Woodson. But those careers didn't overlap much.

I'd still argue against Reed, who while I would put him ahead of Dawkins and Polamalu, that gap's nowhere near that of Donald/Watt/Revis and their contemporaries. PFR partly only supa-loves Reed because they specifically have only an interception bonus for DBs and safeties aren't quite that one-dimensional.

11 Yes that's correct. They…

Yes that's correct. They dominated their positions at a time relative to their peers. Although, I would add that Peppers was never super consistent the way Watt was or Strahan was. 

The other thing. Bailey and Woodson spent the bulk of their careers before the charting stats starting to examine CB play. So, I think its a bit unclear to what magnitude they were better than their peers in the same way Revis was. Frankly, there really hasn't been a corner like Revis since Charting data became a thing. And likewise, there hasn't been a dtackle like Donald with charting data now available. And Watt's production from a 3-4 end is similarly an unheard of as well. That's why I singled out those 3 in particular.

As for Reed, I might agree and at the time, I was actually on the train that he was a bit overrated considering how often he gambled. I remember a game against the Bengals where his free lancing was a direct reason the Ravens defense sucked hard that day; something a giddy Carson Palmer mentioned afterwards.

However, both Belichick and Brady along with Peyton Manning swayed my views when they basically said - Reed changed their offensive approach. Because of his instincts paired with his speed and range; throws that looked open were in fact not. That Reed himself would pretend to be out of a play just so that he could goad the quarterback into making a routine throw such that he could intercept it. And they trippled down by saying absolutely no other safety in the game does this. Its entirely unique to Reed.  

22   However, both Belichick…

 

However, both Belichick and Brady along with Peyton Manning swayed my views when they basically said - Reed changed their offensive approach.

They've had similar accolades for Polamalu as well, and neither of them played Dawkins that much. It's not surprising to have "unique" claims there because Polamalu and Dawkins really don't play the same position as Reed.

Reed might goad you into throwing a pass you shouldn't: Dawkins frequently goaded you into attempting to throw a pass at all. Dawkins and Reed have basically the same amount of forced turnovers, it's just that Reed's primarily came from picks and Dawkins's were split between picks and forced fumbles.

13 The position thing is…

The position thing is interesting, because DT has traditionally been a low-acclaim position. In a lot of ways, it's very much like centers.

Donald is really good. He's a lock if he disappeared tomorrow. But he gets a ton of credit for being a DE-ish DT (Sapp did, too), especially in an era where most DTs are space-eaters who single-handedly stop opponents from rushing. If he were called the DE role he sometimes plays, his numbers aren't as impressive.

He's not the only guy who gets this. It's weird to realize Suh actually has a decent claim for the Hall. Everyone above him is either in, going to be in (Donald), and holy shit should already be in (Williams). He's way above a few guys who actually are in. Suh was basically a DE in DT's clothing for about 5 years, too.

Donald stands so far above in part because this is a fallow era for DTs, and it was never a sexy position. It's comparatively harder to stand out as a DE (which is part of why Reggie and Bruce were so amazing, because they did anyway).

 

23 I think Ed Reed and peak…

I think Ed Reed and peak Polamalu were head and shoulders (pun intended) above anything that came at safety afterwards except for one man. The short-cut career of Sean Taylor had as much a highlight reel as any player put on in an entire career. 

He wasn't perfect, no one is, and Sean was killed before he could hit his peak, but he is the one safety of which I say that if he'd be allowed to finish his career, he'd be considered the GOAT. 

6 Like it's been mentioned, it…

Like it's been mentioned, it's hard to compare across eras and players. For whatever it's worth, though, Brad Oremland ranked him #44 on his top 1000, which didn't even count Donald's 2020-2021 seasons. He was 19th among defenders, and 5th among DTs, behind Olsen, Page, Greene, and Lilly.

https://www.footballperspective.com/the-grand-list-part-24/

If he was to redo the list today, I'd imagine he would place Donald at least 3rd among DTs, and probably at least 2nd, putting Donald in the top 20.

12 There’s a longer answer, but…

There’s a longer answer, but Donald’s run as best living defensive player luckily coincided with Watt’s body falling apart. Watt was on a Donald-like run until he got hurt.

Compare them to Reggie White and Bruce Smith, who basically played badminton with DPOY between each other from 1987 to 1998. Are both men diminished because their careers overlapped, whereas Donald's was serial with his best peer?

7 2 words:

Joe Klecko   ;)

 

No one could block him.  

8 Joe Klecko

No one could block Joe Klecko.  

9 Recency Bias

Alan Page was magnificent.  Merlin Olson and Bob Lily were fabulous.  Not to mention Joe Greene.

14 Donald is great. I don't…

Donald is great. I don't think he's the greatest. It's not entirely clear he's the best DT. I'll let Randy White and Bob Lilly and Alan Page judge that. 

How many APs did each of Lilly and White and Page and Mean Joe Greene and Merlin Olson lose because they played at the same time as each other? (White and Lilly did not cross over, but each did with the others)

But in terms of utterly dominating positions, it's basically LT, or Reggie, or Bruce. (I love Bruce, but Reggie was better)

LT changed how offense was played. Reggie... Reggie was the best player on the best defense we know of. When he left Philly for GB, Philly stopped being a great defense and GB started. I don't think either of those are coincidences. But where Reggie really pulls away was he did this for 14 years, whereas Donald has done it for 8.

15 Honestly, defense is…

Honestly, defense is probably the hardest thing to era adjust for.  Can't even think of how you could compare Donald to Randy White. Bob Lilly or Alan Page  in any sane way. 

16 The problem is, we want to…

The problem is, we want to measure absolute performance but all our measurements are in relative performance. How much did Donald dominate relative to his opposition and relative to his peers. And that gets into the ultimate issue - was it because Donald's opposition and his peers were weak or were they average or were they strong? Depending on your answer; it makes Donald either awesome, otherworldly, or emperor of the universe.

I don't think btw, its an accident Donald appears as a one of a kind player. I don't think D tackles can be played meaningful snaps if they don't have great run skills first and foremost. If you are getting wiped out of your gap repeatedly, it just cascades across the defense. Thus, Donald being so superlative as a pass rusher from the d tackle position speaks more to Donald's uniqueness rather than some fortunate circumstances. 

In the end, I never saw LT. And I never saw Reggie White. Or Deacon Jones. Or Merlin + Page + Lilly. And at some point, we have to acknowledge that the league was just different back then. I think my point was only to say that Donald belongs in this rarefied conversation among the greatest defenders of all time. I think he's already done enough to merit that conversation. 

17 I agree the league has…

I agree the league has changed, but that's not an argument that can be used to dismiss other claimants in a GOAT argument. The Of All Time portion of the claim encompasses the full history of the league.

I will acknowledge that it's enormously hard to port arguments across the Free Substitution line. Also: Chuck Bednarick will beat you up.

18 One should still acknowledge…

One should still acknowledge the impact of era.

For some bizarre reason, everyone wants to era adjust current players down in the offensive environment without being logically consistent and adjusting defensive players up.

This is especially true for defensive backs; suggesting someone like Revis should be getting even more praise than he does.

19 This is why I generally…

This is why I generally prefer groups rather than strict ordinal rankings.  Even within an era it can be pretty hard (recall the Peyton vs Brady debates? When you start getting into supporting cast and how that affects things I give up). 

20 Even that is context…

Even that is context-sensitive.

Does Deion get in at all if he plays in the 1960s instead of the 1990s? He'd be a huge liability trying to set the edge against the Packers sweep.

He and Moss would have been a perfect matchup, as each guy could just take running plays off completely.

21 Assuming there is no XP for…

Assuming there is no XP for Kupp's extension, the Rams are committing huge money to Kupp, Donald, Ramsay, and Stafford. I guess when you have those 4 players, you are sort of forced to go that route. I'll be interested to see how they approach roster building from here on out. I can't imagine they can afford to trade for yet another star player for draft equity and pay the guy. Thus, they may be forced to keep their first rounders for a change.