What could make Rams star Aaron Donald go back or retire?

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer

For Aaron Donaldthe experience of winning his first Super Bowl earlier this year tops the list of his many accomplishments in the National Football League and serves as its engine to return in 2022.

“Once you’re actually in that moment, it’s different,” Donald said during a recent appearance on former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s “I Am Athlete” podcast. “It’s hard to put it into words because all that hard work that you’ve done over the years, all that you’ve sacrificed to play this game, you’ve finally completed the mission. It’s just different.

“Then you can have your family, your kids there with you playing in the confetti. Every interview I was at, my kids and my wife were with me. It was just different. There’s no another feeling like that.”

Donald is usually a man of few words, but in an interview that lasted over an hour, he went on to say he understood Tom Brady’s motivation for not retiring and returning to the field after won seven Super Bowls.

But for Donald, it’s not just about returning to the field. The 31-year-old Pittsburgh native wants to be paid for who he is: the best defensive player in the NFL — and maybe ever.

Currently, Donald is expected to earn $22.5 million in total compensation in 2022, making him the league’s sixth highest-paid defensive player. Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher TJ Watt sits atop that list with an average annual salary of $28 million.

When Donald signed his six-year, $135 million contract four years ago, he was the highest-paid defensive player in the league. However, with three years remaining on his contract, that is no longer the case.

The Rams understand the situation and are ready to renew Donald’s contract, according to coach Sean McVay. Currently, Donald does not participate in team activities held at the LA headquarters in Thousand Oaks, CA.

“The dialogue has been good,” McVay told reporters last week. “He’s done a great job communicating. And he’s getting to spend time with his family right now. So I feel good about that.”

Donald said after the Super Bowl that he would just retire. However, during the team’s Super Bowl parade celebration, he said he wanted him back. Now, with his representation working with the Rams on a new deal, Donald has once again reiterated his willingness to retire if the two sides cannot reach an agreement.

Who’s retirement would hurt the Rams more?

Who's retirement would hurt the Rams more?

After the Super Bowl, Sean McVay and Aaron Donald hinted at retirement. At that time, Nick Wright and Chris Broussard discussed which retirement would be most detrimental to the Rams in the long run.

Donald’s words don’t sound like an empty threat to ensure a new contract is in place by the time the season begins.

“Me speaking of retirement, this was happening long before we won a Super Bowl,” Donald said on the podcast. “I said that since I came into the league, that I was going to play eight years and it would be over. That’s exactly what I said, then it just came out, and now everyone thinks that if he wins a Super Bowl, now he’s going to retire.

“No, I have teammates, coaches and family who know about this: I’m going to play eight years and then I’ll probably be done playing football. But winning a Super Bowl, you get addicted to it, and I want to feel that again. I’m not going to lie. This experience is unlike any other. So if I was going to play, it’s to win another Super Bowl. But at the end of the day, it has to make sense. for me and my family.”

Donald said his relationship with the Rams organization is going well and he is going to McVay’s wedding to model Veronika Khomyn this week.

“I’m happy,” Donald said. “I’m fine. The thing is, I don’t need to play football to be fine. I was lucky enough to play this game to earn the money I earned. The achievements I’ve done in eight years, I’m like, I “I’m complete. If I can win another Super Bowl, great. But otherwise, I’m at peace.”

That said, Donald expects to be on the court this season.

“It’s probably going to be figured out,” he said. “But if it wasn’t, I’m not going to be mad at the organization. That’s good. That’s cool.”

Selected No. 13 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Rams, Donald has been the best player on the defensive side of the ball over the past decade. He was a seven-time first-team All-Pro and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year (2017, 2018, and 2020). He has the most sacks (98), tackles for loss (150) and quarterback hits (226) in the NFL during the regular season during that span. He is the only player in the league to have recorded at least 11 sacks in each of the past five seasons.

Overall, he has been the highest-rated defender by Pro Football Focus in each of the past six seasons. And Donald helps Los Angeles close out the games. His 32 fourth-quarter sacks since 2016 are the most in the NFL over that span.

After signing frontline players such as linebacker Bobby Wagner and wide receiver Allen Robinson in free agency, the Rams have a shot at defending their Super Bowl crown. But they need to make sure a healthy and happy Donald is on the season-opening roster.

Donald has shown over the past few years a willingness to hold on if money isn’t right, so the Rams understand he’s not bluffing. And they also know that Donald is still training and won’t show up to training camp in bad shape.

“It’s not about the money,” Donald said. “It’s a business, so that’s what you have to see at the end of the day. But for me it’s about winning. I don’t want to play football if I can’t win.

“I feel like if I have a real opportunity to win another Super Bowl, then it makes sense to play. But again, it’s still a business. We have to deal with the business side of things. And if it wasn’t to be managed, then [it’s a] that’s what it’s kind of situation. I’ll be fine no matter what.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for over a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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