Being highest paid on defense might not be enough for Aaron Donald

In the salary-cap world, 20 months is an eternity.

That’s the amount of time that has passed since the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player, Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, signed on the dotted line. It’s enough time for Miller’s contract to almost be considered obsolete as a potential comparison for Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the man who is expected to eventually surpass Miller with his own extension.

Since Miller’s deal, the salary cap has jumped from $155.27 million to $167 million to $177.2 million. When he signed it, Miller was the NFL’s 14th-highest-paid player. Now, heading into the 2018 season, he ranks 19th in terms of average salary.
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This offseason alone, we have seen five quarterbacks — Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford — sign contracts worth more than Miller’s. Two others — Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers — will soon agree to deals that reset the market altogether.

When it comes to Donald, the most relevant question isn’t necessarily how his contract should compare to Miller’s; it’s how many quarterbacks should rank ahead of him.

The average per year (APY) of the 18 quarterbacks ahead of Miller currently sits from $28 million down to $19.25 million for 2018. If Donald signs his extension this offseason — he’s heading into the final year of his rookie contract, but the Rams and Donald’s agents have set a timeline for negotiations — his average salary will sit somewhere between those figures.

But where, exactly?

For comparison’s sake, we identified the last three highest-paid defensive players and looked at how many offensive players were still earning more once they signed. Information was provided by Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com.

Aaron Donald finished the 2017 season with 11 sacks in just 14 games, once again proving he might just be the single most dominant player in the NFL. The fact that he led the NFL with 91 pressures from the interior adds to that sentiment.

He closed out the year with an overall grade of 99.7 from Pro Football Focus, 0.2 shy of a perfect grade. That’s eye-popping, to say the least. Not only was that the highest of any player at his position, but it was the best Men’s Los Angeles Rams Aaron Donald Navy Navy Game Jersey in all of football.

His best game came at the most crucial time, too. In the Rams’ Divisional Round loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Donald had a game grade of 98.6, which was No. 1 among all interior defenders last season.

Donald dominated the Falcons’ interior offensive line from the start, as he totaled 10 of his 11 pressures through the first 30 minutes of play, tying Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt for the most first half pressures recorded in a single game in the PFF era (2006-2017). Adding to his feat, Donald needed just 20 pass-rush snaps to pick up 10 total pressures, while Watt did so on 30 pass-rush snaps in 2014.

Despite moving to a new position, Donald was the same dominant player he had been in the Rams’ previous 4-3 defensive front. Players his size that play his position aren’t supposed to generate as much pressure or record as many sacks as he does.

As far as game grades go, the next-closest player was Kenny Clark at 95.1 in Week 6 against the Vikings. Donald, unsurprisingly, had three of the five-best games by interior defenders in 2017.

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