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Is Aaron Donald’s Contract Actually Undervalued?

Donald is an all-time great defensive player, but does his salary reflect that? A look at his pay and production.

Aaron Donald is regarded as the best defensive player in the NFL, and the Los Angeles Rams have paid him accordingly. In terms of salary, the three-time NFL defensive player of the year is the second-highest-paid player on that side of the ball in the entire NFL.

Although he makes an astronomical amount of money, let’s compare his on-field production to Donald’s current contract and see if he lives up to the cash.

Aaron Donald Salary & Contract Details

All dollar figures via Spotrac.

Age: 30
Contract length: 6 years
Total value: $135,000,000
Average annual value(AAV): $12,000,000
2021 salary: $22,500,000
Free agency: 2025 (unrestricted free agent)

Where Does Donald’s Salary Rank Among NFL Defensive Tackles?

Highest-Paid OTs in 2021 (Total Cash)

  1. Jonathan Allen (WAS): $31.1M
  2. Chris Jones (KC): $21.5M
  3. Aaron Donald (LAR): $19.8M
  4. DeForest Buckner (IND): $17M
  5. Dalvin Tomlinson (MIN): $16M
  6. Fletcher Cox (PHI): $16M
  7. Grady Jarrett (ATL): $13.5M
  8. Javon Hargrave (PHI): $12.7M
  9. Cameron Heyward (PIT): $10.5M
  10. Ndamukong Suh (TB): $10.2M

Highest-Paid OTs in 2021 by AAV

  1. Aaron Donald (LAR): $22.5M
  2. DeForest Buckner (IND): $21M
  3. Chris Jones (KC): $20M
  4. Jonathan Allen (WAS): $18M
  5. Vita Vea (TB): $17.7M
  6. Kenny Clark (GB): $17.5M
  7. Fletcher Cox (PHI): $17.1M
  8. Grady Jarrett (ATL): $17M
  9. Cameron Heyward (PIT): $16.6M
  10. D.J. Reader (CIN): $13.2M

2021 Regular Season Stats & Accolades

Sacks: 12.5
Tackles: 84

  • First-team All-Pro selection
  • Pro Bowl selection
  • NFC champion

How Much Did Donald Make Per Sack This Season?

Donald continues to dominate offensive lines despite being double- and tripled-teamed. He hit opposing quarterbacks 25 times last season and racked up 12.5 sacks. At $19.8M this year, Donald racked up $1.5M per sack in 2021.

For comparison’s sake, last regular season’s sack leader was TJ Watt with 22.5 on the year. With a total cash salary of $22M, he earned $977,777 per sack last season.

How Much Did Donald Make Per Tackle This Season?

As mentioned above, Donald had 84 solo tackles in 2021. Factoring in his total cash salary for the year, Donald earned $235,714 per tackle.

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks led the league in solo tackles with 109 for the regular season. With a total cash salary of $1.7M for the 2021 season, Brooks earned approximately $15,596 per tackle.

Is Donald Underpaid?

Donald’s record-setting six-year deal worth $135 million set a precedent for elite NFL players. Especially disruptors who heavily impact a team’s defense, and more specifically, the defensive line.

Donald changed the perception that a middle linebacker needs to shoulder the reputation of being a pilot on defense. As one of the best NFL players of all time, it’s no surprise that Donald’s contract is lucrative.

His 95.0 Pro Football Focus grade during the 2018 season was the best single-season grade ever recorded by a player at the position. Donald is so good that his 2015 and 2017 seasons follow that benchmark, making him the most outstanding defensive tackle ever and one of the best players on that side of the ball.

It’s safe to say that the body of work Donald has displayed on the field has earned him not only a spot on the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team but also a contract that reflects his all-time greatness.

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