NFL News & Analysis

Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald to become the highest-paid non-QB in NFL history

Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) celebrates after a pressure in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be back with the Los Angeles Rams this season on a re-worked contract.

According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Rams gave Donald a $40 million raise over the final three years of his contract in a deal negotiated by Todd France of Athletes First.

The star interior defender can make $60 million by 2023 and $95 million by 2024, making him the highest-paid non-QB in the NFL.

Donald: PFF grades and rank since 2014
Season PFF grade Grade rank
2021 93.5 1st of 131
2020 94.2 1st of 136
2019 93.6 1st of 124
2018 94.8 1st of 125
2017 94.4 1st of 133
2016 92.6 1st of 141
2015 92.9 1st of 137
2014 90.2 2nd of 141

Click here to view Aaron Donald's career in PFF Premium Stats…

Donald has been PFF’s highest-graded defensive player for six straight years and has never graded below 90.0 over a single season. 

Since being drafted by the Rams 13th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, the star interior defender has earned a 97.2 overall PFF grade and racked up 713 quarterback pressures, both comfortably the best marks among defensive linemen.

Over the last five seasons, Donald has generated 4.13 Wins Above Replacement, almost double the number of wins as the next closest interior defender, Baltimore‘s Calais Campbell (2.07).

The now nine-year pro helped the Rams capture a Super Bowl title last season, totaling seven pressures — two sacks, one QB hit and four hurries — against the Cincinnati Bengals to earn a 90.1 pass-rush grade for the game.

To no one’s surprise, Donald recently earned the top spot in Ben Linsey’s 2022 NFL interior defender rankings.

AARON DONALD'S NEW CONTRACT

The total value of Donald’s deal is now three years, $95 million, with $65 million guaranteed over the next two seasons.

The $31.67 million per-year average (APY) — without heavy backloading, like some of the other top deals across the league — is the richest for a non-quarterback in NFL history. Among defensive players, Donald now surpasses Pittsburgh Steelers edge defender T.J. Watt’s $28.002 million APY by a considerable margin. 

Pittsburgh's Cam Heyward set a record for interior defenders over the age of 30 with the four-year, $65.6 million extension he signed in 2020. Donald will now earn close to that total in half as many years, with effectively an option year in 2024 for an additional $35 million.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes earned $63 million from 2020 to 2022, which included his fourth rookie contract season and essentially a placeholder for a 2021 fifth-year option, but this still underscores the magnitude of Donald's payday.

The 31-year-old's $31.67 million per-year figure is over $10 million more than the next highest-paid interior defenders, with the New York GiantsLeonard Williams and Indianapolis ColtsDeForest Buckner earning $21 million annually.

While no player currently in the NFL — and arguably in NFL history — is quite like the great Aaron Donald, this is undoubtedly great news for a handful of young interior defenders: Tennessee Titans breakout star Jeffery Simmons stands to benefit most from a position market that just had the roof blown off it, as do Miami Dolphins interior defender Christian Wilkins and New York Jets interior defender Quinnen Williams, eventually. 

What's next for the Los Angeles Rams? 

The next order of business for the Rams is a new contract for wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he earned the “Triple Crown” by posting a league-best 145 receptions, 1,945 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns.

Kupp is the first player to accomplish the feat since 2005 when Steve Smith Sr. led all three categories with the Carolina Panthers.

Reports have suggested that Kupp expects to be compensated more in line with his remarkable production over the course of the 2022 season, but not so much so as to cripple the Rams' ability to spend elsewhere on their roster.

The Eastern Washington product signed a three-year, $47.25 million ($15.75 million per year) extension in 2020 that still has two years remaining. Expect him to comfortably join the list of wide receivers making more than $20M per year annually, likely closer to $25 million-plus.

The Rams now have around $8 million in 2022 cap space, 27th in the NFL.

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