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ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Donald and the Rams are on the verge of finalizing a six-year, $135 million extension, which includes $87 million in guaranteed money. The deal will make Donald the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
Despite holding out this summer, Donald is expected to be ready to play in Los Angeles’ season opener on Sept. 10 against the Oakland Raiders.
While he ultimately earned the contract, Donald held out each of the last two years and saw wide receiver Brandin Cooks and running back Todd Gurley sign extensions with the team before him earlier this offseason.
In April, Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times reported Donald wasn’t expected at the team’s voluntary offseason workouts until he received a new contract. Klein noted he was looking for more than $20 million per season.
“The goal is still the same,” general manager Les Snead said at the time, per Klein. “Make Aaron Donald a Ram for a long, long time.”
Adam Schefter of ESPN then reported in July, “There is a belief from some around the league that, no matter the fines or the effect on his free agency, Aaron Donald will not play another down on his existing contract. In other words, his holdout is likely to last until a new deal comes along.”
Donald also skipped the Rams’ organized team workouts and training camp before the 2017 campaign with a holdout that lasted until September, and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk explained two straight holdouts impacted his status moving forward.
The collective bargaining agreement states players are only credited with a season toward free agency as long as they report to camp by the 30th day before the regular season. Since Donald didn’t do that two years in a row, he has three years of credit even with 2018 being his fifth in the league, which would have made him a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted one next offseason before this contract.
Even with those concerns, Florio reported on Aug. 26 the Rams were “on the verge of a deal that will make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history” and added “the contract will be in the neighborhood of $22 million per year, with as much as $80 million guaranteed.”
The 27-year-old ultimately played last season and earned his fourth straight Pro Bowl nod with 11 sacks and a career-best five forced fumbles.
Donald was in line to make approximately $6.9 million in 2018 with his fifth-year option of his rookie deal.
That type of payday doesn’t match up with Donald’s head-turning production since the Rams selected him with the No. 13 overall pick in 2014.
Donald didn’t miss a game and was a Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons, won the 2014 Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year, won the 2017 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year and is a three-time member of the First Team All-Pro.
He notched nine sacks as a rookie, 11 in his second season and eight in 2016 as a defensive menace who consistently generates pressure in opposing quarterbacks’ faces and either tallies the sack himself or creates rush lanes for his teammates.
What’s more, he is still just 27 years old and figures to be a critical cog in the Los Angeles defense for years to come.
Now Donald will attempt to bring the franchise its first Super Bowl title since the 1999 campaign.