When the rookie wage scale was introduced in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement it was welcomed by all. Now we wouldn’t have players being the highest paid at their position before taking a snap, teams wouldn’t be financially handcuffed to a rookie who doesn’t turn into the star they were drafted to be.
However, there was a different impact, which has been in the spotlight during this offseason. Underpaid young stars.
Odell Beckham has gone in the top 6 of nearly every fantasy draft this past weekend, but he’s being paid just $1.8 million in base salary this year. While that will jump to $8.4 million when his option takes effect, even that is below what his production deserves.
The same rings true for the Rams’ brilliant defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Since he entered the league in 2014 Aaron Donald has been one of the best players in the NFL. He is better at what he does than basically everyone not named J. J. Watt.
In his three years in the league, Donald has racked up 28 sacks, 57 tackles for loss, and 81 QB hits. Which are insane numbers for an edge rusher, never mind an interior defensive tackle. He has made All-Pro guards looks like they are Division III fullbacks with a disgusting regularity.
What sets Donald apart is a lot of what some draftniks counted against him in the spring of 2014, he measured in at the Combine at 6 foot and ¾ inches, and 285 lbs, that’s not the stature of your usual defensive tackle. But then, he didn’t test like your usual defensive tackle either.
As you can see, Donald is simply more athletic, quicker, and more agile than his contemporaries.
His percentiles in the measurables are actually very close to that of another great undersized defensive tackle, Geno Atkins, except Donald’s play has even surpassed him. He is simply a monster that lives to kill quarterbacks.
Donald hasn’t been seen in a Rams uniform all preseason. He’s been holding out for a new contract, and looks set to continue into the regular season. He didn’t report to training yesterday, and both sides are reportedly still far away on a new deal.
New head coach Sean McVay has said that he is optimistic Donald will return soon, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Donald is set to make $8.7 million over this and next season, which is an incredibly good deal for the Rams, as long as Donald actually plays under it.
Both sides at fault, and both in the right
It’s entirely understandable that someone who is playing like one of the best players in the league wants to be paid like it too. There are eight pure defensive tackles with a base salary of $7 million or more in 2017, including the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Marcell Dareus, and Dontari Poe. And not a single one of them has been as productive over the last three years and Aaron Donald has been.
However, you can also understand the Rams’ resistance to giving Donald everything he wants. In a hard salary cap league a team paying $1 more than they have to for a player is losing out, and the Rams have every right to expect a player to honor the contract he signed, especially with two full seasons remaining on it.
Neither side is blameless in this situation. After the likes of J. J. Watt got an early contract extension due to good play, Donald was always going to want one too, and general manager Les Snead should have had an idea this was coming and been prepared for it, but instead the Rams are sitting on just $639,000 in cap space, severely complicating matters.
Rams - Donald = dull
There is very little to get excited about with the Rams this year. Maybe Todd Gurley will have enough blocking to break games open again. Maybe Jared Goff with be laughably poor again. The only reason for a neutral to watch the Rams, or go to a game at the enormous Coliseum, was to see just how Aaron Donald would punish opposing quarterbacks.
Without him, a Rams defense that was full of potential could easily lose its way. Wade Phillips’ introduction to the team this offseason had the opportunity to really make Donald a star in a top level defense, rather than a standout in an average one.
I can’t implore the Rams strongly enough to get a deal done with Donald. He is the kind of talent that comes along all too rarely for a team, and having moved cities and taken a seeming bust at quarterback they need someone like Donald to bring some excitement for 2020 when the new stadium arrives. Because if Donald isn’t playing in Hollywood Park, the Rams will be all the worse for it and could face being in a city that simply doesn’t care about them.
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