Aaron Donald currently stands as the highest-paid interior defensive lineman with an average annual salary that is only destined to balloon.
After pledging he’d return to make a second straight run at a Super Bowl, Donald has yet to sign a deal that matches his market value. Yes, he’s already making the most per year at his position, but it’s not by a wide margin, and there are five edge rushers making more than one of the best defensive players to ever play, regardless of position.
He’s also a newly minted champion, and perfectly content with walking away. It is important to note though, as Donald explained it during an appearance on Brandon Marshall’s “I Am Athlete” podcast, this isn’t some sudden leverage play.
“It ain’t about the money, but it’s a business at the end of the day,” Donald said. “That’s what you’ve got to see. For me, it’s about winning. I don’t want to play football if I can’t win anyway, so I feel like if I got a real opportunity to win another Super Bowl, then it makes sense to play. But again, it’s still a business. We’ve got to handle the business side of things, and if that wasn’t to get handled then, you know, it is what it is type of situation. I’ll be fine regardless.
“But me talking about retirement, that was happening way before we won a Super Bowl. 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 think 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.”
Donald reached that eight-year mark in 2021 and posted yet another stellar season, finishing with 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 84 tackles (19 for loss) and 64 quarterback pressures (sixth-most in the league among all defenders, per Next Gen Stats). All of that was good enough for his seventh first-team All-Pro selection, eighth trip to the Pro Bowl and, frankly, a pay raise.
Had Donald not finally reached the mountaintop, this might not be a topic of discussion. Sure, he’s still outperformed his existing contract according to the current market, but it sounds as if that triumph at SoFi Stadium gave him the itch that he might always be stretching to scratch.
“Winning a Super Bowl, you get kind of a little addicted to it,” Donald told Marshall, former cornerback Adam Jones and former running back LeSean McCoy. “I ain’t going to lie. I want to feel that again. That experience is like none other. 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 got to make sense to me and my family.”
Should the business side of matters break down, Donald made it known he’s fine with walking away, forgoing the $14.25 million in money he’s set to make in base salary ($9.25 million) and a roster bonus ($5 million) in 2022. That’s the number that’s simply too low, and Donald told Marshall, McCoy and Jones he’s “at peace” with leaving football.
Still, the allure of pursuing glory catches many in its grasp. The only feeling better than finally winning it all is doing it again (and again, and again, and again, if you’re a certain wearer of No. 12).
“Once you’re actually in that moment, it’s different. It’s different,” Donald said. … “There’s no other feeling like it. When I talk about me saying I’d be done in eight years, but then you experience something like that, it’s like, I want to do whatever I can to experience that again. Now I see why Tom Brady can play this game for so long, because this guy won seven of these.”
It’s likely going to cost the Rams north of $30 million per year to get Donald to come back on a term shorter than his most recent extension signed in 2018 for six years. Yes, one of the greatest to ever play the game is worth $30 million per year. Just run back the tape of Super Bowl LVI to find your proof.