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How will Aaron Donald’s record contract impact NFL rosters? | You Pod to Win the Game

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Yahoo Sports’ Senior NFL Writer Charles Robinson and ESPN’s Senior National NFL Writer Jeremy Fowler discuss the 3-year, $95 million extension the All-Pro defensive tackle recently signed. Making him the highest paid non-quarterback in league history. Will teams have to cut ties with top defensive talent if they are already giving their quarterbacks over 30-50 million a year?Hear the full conversation on the You Pod to Win the Game podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen.

Video Transcript


CHARLES ROBINSON: The Donald deal, it was funny. You and I saw each other. We were kind of hanging out for the Super Bowl in the press box. And we're talking. We got on the subject of Donald.

And Jeremy and I were like, this is about money, right? This is retirement shit. This is totally a money thing. And of course-- no, it's, I'm really seriously thinking about retiring.

He's like processing this idea. He wants to spend more time with his family, all these different things. But at the end of the day, it was so clear and obvious that the deal he was locked into was so submarket for where it was going.

What was remarkable to me was I thought the $30 million mark was significant. That was sort of what I said last week. It's what I said a couple of weeks ago. Look, look at the $30 million mark. That's a big barrier.

That's a landmark moment for a defensive player. They surpassed it by 1-- in average-- and I think if he wants to earn all three years of the restructure, 31.6, if he wants to go through three years, that's what the average would be.

I think it's really interesting because now, I call it the quarterback money because it would make him, I think, the 12th highest paid quarterback in the league. And teams that have a top 12 quarterback do struggle with that number because they're like, we're locking ourselves in this franchise guy, the guaranteed money, all this stuff. Well, now, I think you're sitting there, and you're looking at the most elite of elite defensive players. We're talking the top 2, 3, 4 guys.

I think now all feasibly become $30 million guys. And so teams have to grapple with-- especially if they have a good quarterback, they have to grapple with, holy [BLEEP], like, do we pay this-- do we pay this money? Or do we do the unthinkable, which is what we've seen some teams do this off-season, and go, let's see what he's worth on the market?

Like Seattle, I do think part of the reason why Seattle traded Russell Wilson is because they know what that next contract negotiations going to look like. And it's going to be ugly. And they're like, we're not paying this guy $50 million.

JEREMY FOWLER: No. And they were already at odds. He was--

CHARLES ROBINSON: And they were already--

JEREMY FOWLER: He wasn't tenable.

CHARLES ROBINSON: Yeah, and so I wonder if some of these teams, depending obviously on the age of the defensive-- elite defensive player who they're talking about and then depending on where the quarterback is, are you on a rookie deal? Is it an aging veteran deal? Are you in the sweet spot of like-- it's like if you're doing like Chris Jones, you're sitting there going, holy shit, we already get to pay Patrick Mahomes $45 million a year, I wonder if now this puts teams into a position where-- we thought forever elite quarterbacks or top 5, 6, 7 quarterbacks wouldn't get traded.

Now, that happens. And now, I wonder if maybe elite defenders, we might as well-- if we've already said some quarter-- almost everybody is available with quarterbacks-- there's a spare, a few that aren't-- maybe we get to a point where everybody is available with the defenders, too.

JEREMY FOWLER: Yes. This is a fascinating discussion. There are a lot of layers here because you're talking about like where's the salary cap going to be, like these players are hoping-- and teams to an extent are hoping, hey, let's get to that $250 million mark or surpass it.

So we have just more cushion for these deals. I think you're going to see teams following the Rams closely, what they do here because they've been all in on the model of, OK, we want all-star blue chip players, five or six, seven guys. And then we'll backfill with top picks and taking flyers on young players that better produce, right?

And that's a dangerous place to be. But I think they're counting on Sean McVay, Les Snead to make that work from a valuation standpoint. Not every team can do that. But I think that's the model, right?

If you're good at-- and it depends on how good a guy is. Like Super Cup, top 2 receiver easily. Aaron Donald, probably best player in football. Matthew Stafford, top six quarterback probably.

So it depends on the guy. If you're number 12 of your position like-- eh. OK, I don't know if we're going to-- I don't know if we're going to make that call the same way. Rams just have-- are in an enviable spot of just having really, really elite talent all over the field.

And it's like-- think about this. Think about these ripples. Let's talk to somebody about this. You got Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, Justin Herbert in LA, Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, all need massive new deals.

Not-- Lamar Jackson right now. But Burrow and Herbert down the road. I wouldn't say those are teams where you have an owner that's just willing to spend billions all the time. You know what I mean?


JEREMY FOWLER: I think it depends, again, especially Cincinnati. Like, is he going to want to pay Joe Burrow $50 million a year? I don't know. Mike Brown, is he going to do that?

It depends-- now, we're talking tendencies of ownership level, what they're willing to tolerate from a financial standpoint of players. And that's-- I think that's where you could see some of it-- you could see even bigger trades. Like, is Joe Burrow going to get traded?

No. But because of the dynamics we're talking about, would it absolutely shock me if he's one day traded? No, just because the money has to talk at that point.

CHARLES ROBINSON: And I even think that's-- we've already kind of seen that with-- and even though I think this deal is going to get done, but I truly, honestly believe the Bidwill family and Kyler Murray, part of why they've-- Erik Burkhardt, Kyler Murray's agent, he's moved across swords so publicly and quickly is partly because he knows the owner he's dealing with. Well, he's like sitting there going, do I really think this owner is going to want to pay 40 plus, 45 million a year for my guy?