How Aaron Donald's situation might be tied to Khalil Mack's

From ESPN - January 11, 2018

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Aaron Donald will probably, at some point, become the game's highest-paid defensive player -- for some time, at least. His extension, whenever it gets done, promises to have a profound impact on the structure of the Los Angeles Rams' salary cap, the type that can greatly affect who can return and what can be added.

Given that, Rams general manager Les Snead was asked whether the defensive tackle represents the first or the last domino of his offseason.

"I do not know necessarily in terms of last or first," Snead told a group of reporters Wednesday afternoon, four days after the Rams' season-ending loss to the Atlanta Falcons. "What I do know is he's an important domino."

Another important domino could be Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, who might need to sign his deal before the Rams and Donald's representatives can get serious about their own extension.

Mack was drafted eight spots ahead of Donald, with the fifth overall pick in 2014. Like Donald, Mack is approaching the final year of his rookie contract (except Mack will make $13.85 million, more than double what Donald is scheduled to earn because he was selected within the first 10 picks and plays a historically more lucrative position).

Donald is an interior lineman who affects games more than any edge rusher. He could win Defensive Player of the Year -- an award Mack won in 2016 -- and has been widely considered the game's best defensive player for at least the past two seasons, most notably by evaluators at Pro Football Focus. Donald's representatives at CAA would probably lean toward waiting to see if Mack's rep, Joel Segal, will set the market first, which is at least part of the reason a deal was never finished last year.

"To be honest with you, I would be probably lying if I put a timeline on this one," Snead said when asked about Donald's potential extension, which could pay him $20 million a year. "We want him to be a Ram a long time. So when we ink that deal -- or not -- I cant put a timeline on it. But it is a major priority, as it always will be until we get it done."

It's a priority because of Donald's stature but not necessarily because of Donald's contract. The 26-year-old is under control at a very reasonable price this coming season, at $6.89 million, and the Rams can use the franchise tag on him up to three times thereafter. More pressing, from a practical sense, are potential free agents such as safety Lamarcus Joyner, cornerback Trumaine Johnson and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a potential candidate to be tagged.

"Well have them all going on simultaneously and try to knock them out," said Snead, who plans to reconvene with his executives shortly after the Super Bowl. "Weve got a little bit of a general plan as it is now. Well come back and fine-tune it."


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