On July 25th, @ericsgeller tweeted the following with regards to the Aaron Donald contract situation
Just got confirmation. SOURCES: L.A. @RamsNFL offering @AaronDonald97 4 yr. $21M per making AD highest paid D player in NFL history.
AD’s agent “insulted” by offer. He’s looking for north of $25M per for AD which is QB $$. Not going to happen, nor should it. #MobSquad #SignAD99
Why would AD’s agent be insulted by an offer that would apparently make Donald the highest paid defensive player in the NFL? And how dare they ask for $25m a year, considered “QB money” by some. Well, actually, the statements about the apparent contracts offers/proposals are incorrect.
Would a $21m per year contract make Aaron Donald the highest paid defensive player in NFL history?
The last two big contracts signed by defensive players in the NFL were Ndamukong Suh’s 6 year, $114.375m deal, signed with the Miami Dolphins on March 11th 2015, and Von Miller’s 6 year, $114.1m contract signed with the Denver Broncos on July 15th 2016. Both of these deals worked out to be around $19m year on an average basis. Looking at it on a pure per year average basis, it would appear that a contract offer of $21m a year would be enough to make Aaron Donald the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
But comparing these contracts on a pure per year average neglects to incorporate any allowances for the rapidly increasing NFL salary cap.
In 2018, the NFL salary cap has been set at $177.2m. In 2016 it was $155.27m, and in 2015 a paltry $148.28m. The salary cap has increased by almost $30m in just three years! To really compare the Aaron Donald contract proposal to that of Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller, it would be more accurate to look at the per year average in relation to the salary cap at the time the deal was signed.
per year avg
Salary Cap for Year
Per Year Contract Avg
As a % of Salary Cap
As you can see, Aaron Donald’s contract offer of $21m a year falls below the contracts signed by Suh and Von Miller in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In real terms, an offer of $21m would not make Aaron Donald the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
What would it take to make Aaron Donald the highest paid defensive player in the NFL?
The easiest way to determine a suitable contract for making Donald the highest paid defensive player in the NFL is to look at the salary cap increases from when Suh and Miller signed their big money deals, and extrapolate those contracts to a 2018 contract equivalent.
From 2016 to 2018, the salary cap increased from $155.27m to $177.2m, a change of $21.93m. This is a 14.12% increase on the 2016 figure. If you apply this same increase to Von Miller’s $19m per year contract, you get a contract of $22.12 per year. This again makes the $21m apparently offered to Donald at the moment look cheap.
It looks even cheaper when you compare it to Suh’s 2015 deal. The salary cap rose from $148.28m in 2015 to the $177.2m it is at now in 2018, which is an increase of $28.92m. On a percentage basis, this is an increase of 19.50%. Applying that increase to the $19m contract signed by Suh you end up with a per year deal of $23.6m a year. On real terms, the contract offered by the Rams to Donald is $2.6m a year light compared to Suh’s deal with the Dolphins.
It is important to note that the contracts signed by Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller are slightly different to each other. Suh was a free agent following his time at the Detroit Lions, and he was able to go to the highest bidder. This generally results in larger contract numbers compared to resigning with your current team, like Von Miller did, as the contract offers can only come from one team in that instance.
Putting this aside though, if the Rams truly want to make Aaron Donald the highest paid defensive player in history, they need to be offering him in excess of $23.6m per year
But Aaron Donald doesn’t deserve “QB Money”!
The $25m apparently requested by Donald’s agent (although I suspect this is a haggling point and the contract signed will be lower than this) has been referred to by many as “QB money”. But is it really?
The Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr signed a 5 year, $125m deal in June 2017, which works out at $25m a year. But since then there have been four QB contracts signed for more than this: Matt Stafford of the Lions signed a 5 year contract with a per year average of $27m later in 2017, and in 2018 the 49ers gave Jimmy Garoppolo $27.5m a year, the Vikings gave Kirk Cousins $28m a year, and the Falcons gave Matt Ryan $30m a year.
Only one of these players has ever won a playoff game, and that’s, of course, Matt Ryan, who has also previously won an NFL MVP award. Carr, Stafford, Cousins and Garropolo combine for zero playoff wins but are still earning 25m a year or more. The $28m a year given to Cousins was the first fully guaranteed NFL contract too.
Notwithstanding this, the QB market is also due to a resetting in the coming years, as after the 2019 season the following QBs will be Free Agents if they are not resigned beforehand:
Eli Manning, Drew Brees
It’s quite safe to say that even the $25m demanded by Donald’s agent is not QB money anymore, and certainly, in a couple more years Donald’s contract will be the norm for top defensive players, with QBs earning $30m per year or more.