By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald agreed to a massive new contract with the Los Angeles Rams on Friday, ending his second consecutive preseason holdout as the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
The Rams announced a new six-year deal through 2024 for Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
This Oct. 22, 2016, file photo shows Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald on stage during an NFL Fan Rally in London. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File)
ESPN and the NFL Network reported the new deal is worth $135 million over six years, with a $40 million signing bonus and $87 million guaranteed. Donald is already under contract this season for $6.89 million in the final year of his rookie deal.
Donald was chosen for the Pro Bowl after each of his four NFL seasons. The 27-year-old Pitt product is the centerpiece of the Rams’ defense and one of the NFL’s most dominant linemen, demonstrating remarkable effectiveness against the run and the pass.
Donald was a key component of Los Angeles’ extraordinary one-year turnaround under rookie coach Sean McVay in 2017. With Donald leading their defensive efforts under veteran coordinator Wade Phillips, the Rams won their division for the first time since 2003 and ended the franchise’s streaks of 13 consecutive non-winning seasons and 12 straight non-playoff seasons.
But Donald also took a hard line in negotiating his football future. He skipped the past two training camps and preseasons while seeking a new contract, and he also skipped the Rams’ entire offseason program this year.
He didn’t report last year until the day before the regular season opener, forcing him to miss the Rams’ first game. He still earned recognition as the NFL’s top defensive player despite playing in only 14 games, racking up 11 sacks and 41 tackles while forcing five fumbles for the NFC West champions. He also led the NFL with 91 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
With his holdout ended, Donald finally will be able to team up with Rams newcomer Ndamukong Suh and veteran Michael Brockers on a potentially destructive defensive line. Donald has yet to work out alongside Suh after the five-time Pro Bowl selection joined the Rams as a free agent in March.
Earlier this week, McVay said Donald should be able to play in the Rams’ Monday night regular-season opener in Oakland on Sept. 10 if he reached a deal with the Rams within the next few days. Donald has been working out at home in Pittsburgh during his holdout, and McVay checked in regularly with him.
“Getting him in here sooner than later, which is something that we do feel good about, is hopefully going to happen,” McVay said Tuesday.
The Rams managed to maintain a civil relationship with Donald throughout the two years of difficult negotiations. Donald and his representatives were determined to make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid players at any position, while the Rams wanted to reward Donald while keeping their overall salary structure intact.
Los Angeles demonstrated its willingness to pay top dollar for talent in recent months while agreeing to lucrative long-term deals with NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley, receiver Brandin Cooks and right tackle Rob Havenstein. With Donald in camp, they’ve finally got their near-term roster settled while still maintaining significant room on their payroll for 2019 — just in time for quarterback Jared Goff to reach the fourth year of his rookie deal with the chance to negotiate a long-term contract.
A compact powerhouse with a ferocious work rate, the 6-foot-1 Donald has been uncommonly dominant since joining the Rams in St. Louis in 2014 as the 13th overall pick in the draft. He was the defensive rookie of the year, and he only sharpened his game while the Rams returned home to Los Angeles in 2016.
Although Donald has 39 sacks in four NFL seasons, traditional statistics don’t reflect the full measure of his disruptive play on the line. Phillips rhapsodizes about Donald’s ability to force opposing offenses into bad decisions by his ability to wreck any blocking scheme with his low, ferocious charges through the offensive line.
After months upon months with no change in the Rams’ talks with Donald’s representatives, a breakthrough clearly was achieved in the past few weeks. Rams general manager Les Snead both began to speak of the process with new optimism, and McVay brightened recently at the thought of not talking about Donald’s contract during every preseason media briefing.
“I don’t really know anything else,” McVay said with a laugh.