One of the NFL’s best players is taking his contract holdout to a new extreme and there’s no end in sight

  • Aaron Donald’s holdout reached a new level on Tuesday.
  • Because Donald did not report to the Los Angeles Rams, he lost an accrued season and will be a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted free agent if the two sides don’t agree on a new deal.
  • Donald is seeking to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, but if the two sides don’t come to an agreement, the door could open for another team to make him an offer next season.
  • Donald reportedly has no plans to report any time soon unless he gets a new deal.

There’s no end in sight for Aaron Donald’s contract holdout from the Los Angeles Rams.

Donald is one of the premier defensive players in the NFL – Pro Football Focus ranked him as the best player in the league in 2015 and 2017 and the second-best in 2016. Still on his rookie contract, set to pay $6.4 million this season, Donald is now taking his holdout into training camp for the second straight season. Last year, Donald finally reported to the Rams on the eve of Week 1 and played without a new deal. This year, things seem different.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Donald has no plans to show up until he has a new contract. And because this is the second straight year Donald is holding out, Tuesday marks an important deadline that could affect his future.

Donald had to report to camp by August 7 to accrue another career season and become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. However, because Donald did not report, he did not accrue another season, meaning in the eyes of the NFL, he has not played the four years necessary to become an unrestricted free agent next season. That means this coming offseason he’ll be a restricted free agent.

That might not mean much for Donald or the Rams, but it’s a sign that Donald is driven to get a new deal.

As a restricted free agent, the Rams can place a tender on Donald, meaning other teams can offer him a new deal. The Rams could match that deal, or they could let him walk and they would get a first-round pick in exchange. For Donald, that might be a win, as someone would offer him a deal and be willing to give up a first-round pick in exchange. The Rams could also place the franchise tag on Donald, potentially setting up further contract negotiations (if a deal is not done this year).

Rams head coach Sean McVay told reporters on Monday that he doesn’t expect to see Donald soon.

“I don’t think anything is going to change with that in the near future,” McVay said. “I’ve had a little bit of dialogue with Aaron and we’re hopeful that we’ll get something done, but I don’t think there’s any realistic deal to August 7th being a date that changes really anything, but you never know.”

At the heart of the issue, as Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer explained to Rich Eisen, is the need for a market correction. While contract values for quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs have all inflated in recent years – the Rams just gave $80 million and $60 million to wide receiver Brandin Cooks and running back Todd Gurley, respectively – defensive lineman have essentially stayed put.

According to Breer, both Donald and Oakland Raiders defensive end Kahlil Mack are holding out for contracts that would set new standards for defensive players, much like the deals Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller signed in 2015 and 2016. If Donald and Mack were to make 80% of the top quarterback contracts, they would make around $24 million per year. Currently, no defensive player makes more than $20 million on average, according to Spotrac.

The Rams have gone all-in this season, paying their core and making trades to acquire top talent. That Donald remains unpaid begs the question of how far apart the two sides are on a new deal. Rams GM Les Snead had off-handedly said he expects Donald to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.

When the two sides come to that deal, and what the final numbers are, remain a mystery. As Donald loses an accrued season, it doesn’t seem as if that agreement will happen soon.