Rams give Aaron Donald record-breaking raise, quell retirement talk

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While helping the Rams win a Super Bowl this year, Aaron Donald made some huge plays. With an eye toward defending its title next year — and making sure all of its core players return — Los Angeles gave him a huge raise.

With a record-setting, reworked contract finalized Monday, Donald became the highest-paid player in the NFL who does not happen to throw passes for a living. The 31-year-old defensive tackle, who was in the midst of a six-year deal, is set to be paid $95 million over the next three years, per multiple reports.

That amounts to a raise of approximately $40 million over what Donald’s previous contract had in store through 2024. It’s the most money, on an annual basis, for a non-quarterback in league history, surpassing the average of $30 million wide receiver Tyreek Hill will get from the Miami Dolphins following a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’m locked back in to go get us another ring,” Donald proclaimed in a video shared Monday by the Rams. “Why not? At SoFi Stadium, getting chills thinking about it. Let’s go to work.”

In the final moments of Super Bowl LVI in February, staged at the Rams’ home field, Donald made two massive plays to help Los Angeles hang on to a 23-20 win over Cincinnati. First, he stopped Bengals running back Samaje Perine on a 3rd-and-1 run and then, on fourth down, he pressured quarterback Joe Burrow into a rushed incompletion.

At a victory celebration two days later in Los Angeles, Donald echoed Coach Sean McVay’s chants of “Run it back! Run it back!

“We built a super team,” Donald told the cheering crowd then. “We can bring the super team back. Why not run it back? We could be world champions.”

That sentiment clearly delighted McVay and probably pleased others in the Rams organization who were well aware of rumors — plus a pregame report by NBC Sports’ Rodney Harrison — that Donald might retire if the Rams won the Super Bowl.

More recently, Donald noted that his own past comments had fueled speculation about possible retirement plans, and that the win over the Bengals changed his perspective. He still indicated, however, that his compensation would play a role in the decision.

“Me talking about retirement, that was happening way before we won a Super Bowl,” Donald said last week on the “I Am Athlete” podcast. “I’ve been saying that since I got into the league, that I was going to play eight years and be done. That’s just what I’ve been saying. It just came out, and then everybody thinks that, ‘Oh, he said if he wins a Super Bowl he’s going to retire.’ Nah, I got teammates, coaches, my family who know about this. I said I’m going to play eight years, and I’m going to probably be done playing football.

“But winning a Super Bowl, you get kind of a little addicted to it. I want to feel that again. I ain’t going to lie, that experience is like none other. So if I was to play, it’s just to win another Super Bowl, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business, and it’s got to make sense to me and my family.”

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Donald’s new contract guarantees him $65 million over the next two seasons, and if decides to return for the 2024 season, he is guaranteed another $30 million, according to ESPN. Only 10 players have contracts with a higher average annual value than Donald’s deal (per Spotrac). Sixth on the list is Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who received a contract extension in March worth a reported $160 million over four years. The well-paid group is led by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who also suggested he might retire before getting a new contract this year worth approximately $50 million per year over three seasons.

While Rodgers is considered to be an all-time great at his position, Donald is making an even stronger argument for greatest-ever status among interior defensive lineman. A three-time NFL defensive player of the year, he is just one of three defensive players since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons in the league (per ESPN). The other two are former linebackers, the New York Giants’ Lawrence Taylor (10 Pro Bowl seasons to start his career) and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Derrick Thomas (nine), and according to ESPN, Donald and Lawrence are the only defensive players top have hit the following career benchmarks:

  • Defensive rookie of the year award
  • Multiple defensive player of the year awards
  • At least five first-team all-pro selections
  • Super Bowl champion

In addition, Donald has graded out as Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated defensive players for six straight years. He is already up to fourth among all defensive tackles on Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor metric, behind only Bob Lilly, Randy White and Alan Page, all of whom played at least 14 seasons, compared to just eight for Donald.

Among active players listed at defensive tackle, Donald’s new contract puts further distance between himself and the pack, after his previous pact already made him the highest-paid at his position. His $31.67 million average annual value is over 50 percent greater than the next-highest-paid defensive tackle, DeForest Buckner of the Indianapolis Colts ($21 million, per Over the Cap). The Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Jones is next at $20 million, followed by the Washington Commanders’ Jonathan Allen at $18 million.

“It’s a big deal, and he’s earned it,” McVay said of Donald’s new contract on SiriusXM radio. “He truly is one of one, in my opinion, and means so much to me, to our organization. I think the respect that he’s garnered around this league from guys that have done it at such a high level, what he’s accomplished through his eight years, is unparalleled.

“So [we] wanted to be able to find a solution to getting him taken care of and having him continue to lead the way for our team, for our defense.”



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