In a mind-boggling development, it's Week 1 of the NFL season and Donald's holdout continues with no end in sight. It's highly counterproductive to the cause, on and off the field. Late last week, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported that the two sides are still negotiating, but "not close" on a new deal. Ugh.
Truth be told, I begged my editor to write this column back in July, when the holdout began. My editor wouldn't bite, saying the Rams would undoubtedly pay the man before a holdout could cut into the regular season. I don't blame my editor. Hindsight's 20/20. And a couple months ago, this kind of a prolonged stalemate did seem unfathomable.
Yes, Donald is under contract for two more years on his rookie deal, set to make $1.8 million this season and $6.9 million in 2018 (with the Ramspicking up his fifth-year option in April). But is that anywhere near the amount of money Donald deserves -- less than $2 million this fall? Of course not. Donald has significantly outplayed the compensation of the slotted rookie pay scale. Give him the loot!
But what about the precedent that would set, giving Donald a new deal with two years left on his contract? How does this affect the other players who aren't thrilled with their current status?
Yeah, yeah -- I know this line of debate. But let's be honest: Not every contract situation -- and certainly not every player -- is created equal. You rip up Donald's contract and start anew because he's a bona fide star and a great guy. You rip it up and start anew because he's the franchise's best player. You rip it up and start anew because 2017 is set up for him to enjoy his best season yet.
Back in May, before this holdout became official, Aaron Donald was my pick for Defensive Player of the Year. One big reason for my bullishness: Wade freaking Phillips is now in the building. The defensive mastermind has maximized the talents of Von Miller, J.J. Watt, DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Think he wouldn't be able to do some major damage with Mr. Donald? You pay the DT now to get ahead of his greatness -- or at least the greatness he hasn't already flashed ...
Donald is one of the top five defensive players in the NFL today. That's not hyperbole -- if anything, that statement undersells his impact on the game. Three years into his NFL career, Donald has three Pro Bowl nods, two first-team All-Pro designations and a Defensive Rookie of the Year trophy. Since 2014, the year Donald entered the NFL as the No. 13 overall pick in the draft, he leads all defensive tackles in sacks with 28. That's four more than the next-closest man, Gerald McCoy. In 2016, he led the entire league in QB hits with 31, five more than the trio tied for second place (Geno Atkins, Cliff Avril and Khalil Mack). Remember, this guy is an interior defensive lineman, a legit DT. This kind of QB disruption isn't normal. And yes, he's a game wrecker against the run, too. No wonder Pro Football Focus projected him as the top player in all of football for 2017 back in June.
Donald wants to be one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. And you know what? He deserves to be. Watch the games. This guy is a one-man wrecking crew. He's also a silent assassin who lets his play talk. Donald doesn't dance. He doesn't do commercials like Miller or Watt. He plays for a team that's been out of the spotlight for years, not an immensely popular club like Mack's Raiders. Don't let that cloud your opinion of his genius. This guy is the best defensive tackle in football, bar none.
Donald just turned 26 a few months ago and has yet to miss a single game in three NFL campaigns. Locking up this kind of player on a long-term, megabucks deal is a no-brainer. Two years ago, Ndamukong Suh changed the game for defensive tackles, signing a six-year, $114,375,000 deal with just under $60 million guaranteed. This is the kind of dough Donald deserves. No, he's not in free agency, like Suh was at the time of his deal. But yes, he's better right now than Suh was at age 26 -- and he doesn't have any of Suh's baggage, to boot. This cat is absolutely crucial to the Rams' success, in the long term and in the coming months.
If Donald's holdout extends into the regular season, this might derail what could be a feel-good turnaround season for the Rams under their exciting, young, energetic new head coach, Sean McVay.
Optimistic feelings should be flying around the Rams. I love the 31-year-old McVay. Jared Goff will improve under his guidance; Todd Gurley will return to form after Jeff Fisher nearly ruined him. The Sammy Watkins trade was a great one. The Rams ranked dead last in total yardsand scoring last season. That will not be the case in 2017. But on the other side of the ball, it all starts with the freak up front in the No. 99 jersey. The Rams' front office is doing a real disservice to the first-year head coach, taking away the most transcendent talent on the roster (by far).
When I spoke to McVay in mid-August on my SiriusXM show, "Schein on Sports," he sounded like quite an Aaron Donald fan.
"We certainly would love to have Aaron here and have nothing but the utmost respect for him as a player and as a person," McVay told me, before turning the conversation back to the team as a whole, as coaches do. A minute later, though, he did add this: "He's very important to us. I've always had a huge deal of respect, just going against him. You know, when I first go here, I said, 'I'm certainly glad I don't have to play against you anymore.' "
This should've been easy. And my editor was right: This column never should have been necessary. But this situation has not adhered to conventional wisdom. And unfortunately, a Hollywood ending seems less probable with each passing minute.