Rumor had it after the Rams Super Bowl victory it was either the bank or the beach (retirement) for All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Rams chose the bank.
Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Lead Writer - @ChiefsFocus
In an offseason that has continually doled out jaw dropping contract details for free agents and players who were traded and extended, we may have just peaked. News broke this afternoon that the Rams and Canton-bound defensive tackle Aaron Donald reached an agreement on a reworked deal for the remaining three years of his contract. In short, Donald is getting about $40 million additional over the next three seasons, bringing the total value of his contract for the next three years to $95 million. He is the first non-quarterback in NFL history to surpass $30 million per season.
Donald has done literally everything that could possibly be expected on the field to earn this type of payout. He’s been first team All Pro every year he’s been in the league with the exception of his rookie year, when he was named Defensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Speaking of the Pro Bowl – 8 seasons, 8 Pro Bowl selections. He won AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, 2018, and 2020 and has finished top 5 in voting for that distinction every year since his rookie season. And as of February, he led the Rams to a Super Bowl championship and could have arguably been named Super Bowl MVP.
So, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Aaron Donald is the best defensive player of this generation – probably the best interior defensive lineman to ever play the game - and the NFL and its teams are making more money than ever before. It’s clear that with the new revenue sharing and TV deals being done in the past few years that NFL contracts are heading the way of NBA and MLB money. With the NFL’s in house (NFL Network) streaming services coupled with the new presence of Amazon streaming Thursday Night Football, the good ol boys club of Fox, CBS, and ESPN have had to pony up to keep their place in line in regards to NFL broadcasting.
We’ve seen it time and time again this offseason. First, Aaron Rodgers reset the entire market with a $50 million a year deal to stay in Green Bay. Russell Wilson’s trade to the Broncos had everyone guessing that he’d want something similar, which is rumored to be true as of the past few days. Good luck with that, Denver. Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams changed zip codes and subsequently became the two highest paid wide receivers of all time. Even Donald’s short-term teammate in LA, Von Miller, got a deal worth (potentially) $120 million in Buffalo. He’s 32. That’s without even mentioning the fully guaranteed $230 million deal Deshaun Watson got from Cleveland before he even got fully cleared of all of his legal woes.
This is not a trend that is going away anytime soon. Players who produce and come into free agency now have new monetary benchmarks, and players who have signed contracts with their existing teams and are still performing will introduce a newly terrifying word to NFL fanbases across the league – restructuring.
The Chiefs are not insulated from this potential outcome. When Patrick Mahomes signed his 10-year, $504 million contract after the 2019 season it was looked at as outrageous. Rodgers and Deshaun Watson have already surpassed him, and Justin Herbert is entering year 3 where the Chargers will surely be looking to reward him with a handsome contract extension to stay in LA and attempt to knock Mahomes and the Chiefs off the top of the AFC West mountain. Joe Burrow will be due up soon, and Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray and on the verge of being paid themselves.
What seemed like a monstrous contract at the time is now a pretty team friendly deal. Do we expect Mahomes to keep producing the way that he has and be cool with being the 5th, 6th, or 7th highest paid QB in the league? I guess it all depends on how much he loves Kansas City, but in my opinion – he shouldn’t. While he has made incredibly wise investments so far in his young career, he should be compensated at a value commensurate to his production and place in the league’s quarterback hierarchy. Unless I’m missing something, he’s still that guy.
Then you have Chris Jones, who Chiefs fans have been clamoring for the team to extend all offseason. “It’ll free up cap space! We can go get more pieces!” Well, yes…it would. In the immediate future. But what do you think Aaron Donald getting $31.6 million a year means for a potential Chris Jones extension? Jones is not the player than Aaron Donald is. I don’t think any Chiefs fan, no matter how delusional, would try to say that. But he is widely considered the second-best defensive tackle in a league where defensive players (edge rushers specifically) are starting to get paid big boy money just like their wide receiver and quarterback brethren.
Jones has a unique ability as a pass rusher from the interior of the defensive line. We just heard the debate from George Kittle about how Travis Kelce should be paid like a wide receiver based on his production. Tight end is just a position title, right? Well, defensive tackle is too, and if Jones doesn’t restructure soon and has another 10+ sack campaign in 2022, his price tag will inevitably go up tremendously.
All this to say – it’s not like every team won’t have the same concerns. Each franchise will have tough decisions to make regarding paying star players over the course of the next few seasons and beyond. The good news? The cap will also increase. Teams with savvy GMs, like the Chiefs and Brett Veach, will continue to thrive.