Aaron Donald sat out the offseason in hopes of getting a new contract that is better in line with his production as the most devastating interior lineman in the NFL. That deal never came.
The Los Angeles Rams head into the 2018 offseason with a checklist of players they will try to retain. With Donald under contract at roughly $6.9 million for 2018 (fifth-year option), Rams general manager Les Snead said Wednesday he wouldn't make it his first priority to ink the Defensive Player of the Year candidate to a new massive deal.
"I don't know necessarily in terms of last or first, what I do know is, he's an important domino," Snead said, via the team's official website. "But the way we attack that list of names, can't say that Aaron would be first. We'll have them all going on simultaneously and try to knock them out. We've got a little bit of a general plan as it is now. We'll come back and fine tune it."
With several key players heading to free agency -- including corner Trumaine Johnson, safety Lamarcus Joyner and wide receiver Sammy Watkins -- Snead could put Donald's deal on the backburner. The Rams are expected to have about $50 million in cap space, per OverTheCap.com
"To be honest with you, I would be probably lying if I put a timeline on this one," Snead said. "But, like I've always said with Aaron ... we want him to be a Ram a long time. So when we ink that deal or not -- I can't put a timeline on it. But it is a major priority, as it always will be until we get it done."
Another issue with Donald's massive new contract could come in the form of Khalil Mack. It's possible Donald's agents could decide to wait until the Raiders' pass rusher gets his new deal before seriously considering any offer Snead makes.
As the most disruptive interior presence in the NFL proved in last weekend's playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Donald can destroy an offense's game plan. Of all the types of pressure quarterbacks face, the rushes up the gut, into their face, prove the most troublesome. Donald dominates in that area on a weekly basis. His sack numbers might not be as lofty as some edge rushers, but no defensive player requires as much attention, and seemingly fruitless game planning, as Donald.
Snead believes the playoff appearance and the presence of coach Sean McVay should strengthen Donald's willingness to sign a long-term commitment in L.A., whenever it happens.
"If you get to know Aaron, he's a no-nonsense [guy], somebody you just respect. As good as he was as an individual ... he probably hates to lose more than he likes to win. He's probably one of those guys," Snead said. "...that bothered him. That's important to him.
"I know he has told people here how much he respects Sean, the other coaches on the staff, the culture they're building. What we're building, he's a main part of. So I do think that definitely helps," Snead continued. "But I do think like most players, they also want to be compensated well, as well -- both sides of the street. But being part of a winner is something I know that's very important to Aaron Donald."
Being part of a winner is important. The respect shown by the number of zeros on the end of his eventual contract will also be key to keeping their best player happy. Sooner or later the Rams need to make Donald the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. The longer they wait, the more expensive it could get.