Agent’s Take: Aaron Donald Contract Considerations as Perennial All-Pro Seeks New Market Deal with Rams

Agent’s Take: Aaron Donald Contract Considerations as Perennial All-Pro Seeks New Market Deal with Rams

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald became the founding member of the $20 million-a-year non-quarterback club in September 2018. He was the first to break the barrier when the Rams gave him a $135 million contract extension. for six years (US$22.5 million per year) with US$86.892 million in guarantees. His $40 million signing bonus is the biggest ever for a non-quarterback.

The $20 million-a-year mark is starting to become routine for non-quarterbacks. There are now 24 members of what used to be a very exclusive club. Donald is no longer among the 10 highest-paid non-quarterbacks in the NFL. This is a problem because Donald is arguably the best player in the league, regardless of position.

News of Donald’s possible retirement was revealed by NBC Sports’ Rodney Harrison on the pre-game broadcast of Super Bowl LVI. As a former agent, I immediately attributed the retirement conversation to the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, wanting his contract adjusted because he is underpaid.

A few days after the Rams won the Super Bowl, ESPN reported that Donald was aiming to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league, with a 15% margin to keep playing. Steelers edge rusher TJ Watt, the current NFL Defensive Player of the Year, currently holds that distinction with the four-year extension, $112,011, averaging $28,002,750 per year, he signed when the regular season began. 2021 was approaching. A 15% profit margin would be approximately $32 million per year.

Rams general manager Les Snead acknowledged about a month ago that the plan was to come up with a “win-win” solution with Donald allowing the team to compete at the highest level. Coach Sean McVay provided an update on a video conference with local media as the offseason training program began this week. He said there was “good dialogue” with Donald and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the 2021 NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl LVI MVP. New deals for Donald and Kupp are offseason priorities for the Rams.

Donald has three years left on his $55 million contract, which includes $5 million on the second day of the 2022 league roster of the year bonus that was earned on March 17. Base salary of $9.25 million where his salary cap number is $26.75 million. There’s $19 million and $21.75 million in 2023 and 2024. Donald’s 2023 and 2024 cap numbers are $23.5 million and $26.25 million.

How contracts are evaluated

It’s rare for a player to get a new contract with three years left. Typically, the existing agreement is not torn up as if a player is not already under contract and replaced with a new one when there is a significant amount of time left. That’s exactly what the Browns did by acquiring Deshaun Watson from the Texans last month. Watson had four years worth of $136 million remaining in the four-year span, averaging $39 million per year, he signed in September 2020. As part of the trade, the Browns gave Watson a fully guaranteed contract of five years and $230 million.

It’s hard to imagine the Rams applying the same basic concept to Donald. Proposing a new five-year deal (until 2026) for $150 million is likely to be quickly dropped by the Rams. Since Donald has $50 million left on his existing three-year contract because the March roster bonus has already been earned, the Rams would see that deal as a two-year, $100 million extension, averaging $50 million. per annum. Likewise, it would be surprising if the Rams agreed to pay Donald a total of $90 million through 2024, when his current contract expires. He would receive $35 million in new money without giving the Rams any new contract years. All the deals I made in my many years as an agent were about how much new money and how many new contract years when a player had contract years left.

There are two examples that can be used as a guide. The Dolphins dealt with the deal for All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard, who had three years left about three weeks ago. He is now under a five-year, $90 million contract.

David Canter, Howard’s agent, took issue with a suggestion on social media that Howard would not be happy with Browns cornerback Denzel Ward only signing a five-year, $100.5 million extension. He pointed out that Howard’s average new money was $25 million a year. It’s actually a two-year extension averaging $25,345,359 a year because Howard had $39,308,823 in his existing three years before the new deal.

The Cardinals have approached All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ three-year contract with $39.915 million remaining in 2020, several months after acquiring him from the Texans. He signed a two-year, $54.5 million extension, averaging $27.25 million a year, just before the start of the 2020 regular season. When signed, he was under contract for $94.415 million at the time. over five years. The last two numbers of the five-year total ending in “15”, as in its remaining three years, indicate that trading was about new money. The five-year total of $94.5 million or $95 million could have been used to suggest otherwise.

The only way to know the intention of the parties in these negotiations would be to have access to the proposals that were exchanged in order to know how the offers were being characterized. Based on my experience as an agent, I suspect the proposals were called two-year extensions, in which the new money was calculated.

Donald’s Contract Considerations

Donald’s six-year extension was hugely anticipated, where he earned $80 million in the first three new years. He would be justified in insisting that he will get the same $80 million for the existing three years if two new years through 2026 are added. That would be Donald getting $25 million in new money through his existing contract through 2024.

Assuming the Rams are comfortable giving Donald close to the 15% margin, where that’s a two-year extension for $64 million ($32 million a year in new money), have $25 million of cash. new over existing years would be consistent with what happened in the Hopkins case.

Hopkins has nearly 37% of the new money in the remaining three years of the 2022 contract. Donald getting $25 million in new money through 2024 would be 39.06% over a two-year extension, averaging $32 million per year. Hopkins also has just over 72.5% of the new money through his first contract year of 2023.

The Rams missed the opportunity to maximize the salary cap room that could be gained from a new deal with Donald by failing to get an extension before the $5 million bonus expired. As the $5 million has already been earned, it cannot become part of the signing bonus that Donald would receive at a prorated extension over the life of the contract, up to a maximum of five years, to help reduce his current $26. .75 million in 2022. salary cap number. Because of this, Donald’s signing bonus will need to be significantly less than the last $40 million for the Rams to have any real 2022 cap savings.

The signing/option bonus structure the Rams used in the recent Matthew Stafford extension and the Brandin Cooks extension in 2018 may be a necessity because of the smaller signing bonus. A benefit of this structure is that maximum numbers in early years are more manageable because an option bonus is prorated over the life of a contract up to a maximum of five years, including option years, starting in the league year when the option is exercised. The downside is that the maximum numbers will end up having a big spike because of the extra bonus ratio due to the option bonus.

Potential deal with Donald

One way to fit a two-year extension into these restrictions would be for Donald to get a $20 million signing bonus, where his 2022 base salary drops to $1.25 million fully guaranteed, while $4 million of cap space of 2022 would be created. Donald’s new 2022 limit would be $22.75 million.

The 2026 season would be an option year that would be chosen during a small window in the early days of the 2023 league year next March. A $25 million payout (i.e. option bonus), which would be prorated across the salary cap over four years from 2023 to 2026, would be required for the 2026 contract year. Initially, Donald’s base salary in 2023 would be $26.25 million fully guaranteed, which would decrease to $1.25 million when the option was exercised with the $25 million option bonus. The Rams would earn $7.5 million in cap room because Donald’s cap in 2023 would be $16 million instead of the $23.5 million it currently is.

There would be a big increase in Donald’s cap number in 2024 to $42.25 million because his base salary in 2024 would be $27.5 million. That $27.5 million would be guaranteed for signing injury and would become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2023 league year. A cap number of $42.25 million would be a $16 million increase over the Donald’s existing 2024 limit number.

Unguaranteed salaries of $19.5 million in 2024 and 2025 would be the rest of the deal. Five million of the $19.5 million in these years could be $5 million in league day two bonuses, as in the later years of Donald’s existing contract. The maximum numbers in those years would be US$ 29.75 million.

There would be $47.5 million fully guaranteed at signing, consisting of the $20 million signing bonus, $25 million option bonus, and $1.25 million base salaries in 2022 and 2023. The first two years would be fully guaranteed, excluding the $5 million roster bonus already earned in March. The total guarantee would be $75 million, which is the money for the first three years plus the casting bonus.

final thoughts

What approach the Rams will ultimately take with Donald’s contract remains to be seen. Regardless of approach, expect Donald to make a much harder bargain than Kupp with a new deal. Kupp said Tuesday that he’s looking for something fair and doesn’t need to reset an exploding wide receiver market.

Donald’s previous contract negotiations with the Rams were acrimonious. The Rams won the battle in a contest of wills during the 2017 preseason, when Donald ended his long stint as a three-year veteran before the start of the regular season without getting a new contract. It took a second resistance in 2018, which lasted until the end of preseason, before Donald became the league’s first $20 million-a-year non-quarterback. During the second holdout, the Rams drastically redefined the running back market with Todd Gurley when he had only played three NFL seasons, which Donald did not do. The dynamics of the past must not be ignored.

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