Aaron Donald destined to be NFL's next highest-paid non-QB

Did McVay sway Donald into returning? (1:50)

Adam Schefter talks about the impact Rams head coach Sean McVay's impromptu visit with then-holdout Aaron Donald may have had. (1:50)

LOS ANGELES -- Aaron Donald finally ended his holdout Saturday. On Monday, he worked out with his Los Angeles Rams teammates. On Tuesday, he was listed as the starting defensive tackle for Week 2 in the team's unofficial depth chart.

It's back to normal now -- except for that whole thing about a massive contract extension.

There's no telling when Donald and the Rams will come to an agreement or what specifically they will agree on, but this is pretty much certain: When it happens, Donald will be the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback. The Rams sound willing to make that happen, even with two years left on Donald's rookie contract. But the two sides haven't been particularly close to an agreement, which might have to do with how much money is guaranteed up front or how much more he will make relative to the game's highest-paid defensive player. Or, perhaps, both.

Remember: These contracts are always based on comps, with the guaranteed dollars being far more important than the total value. For reference, I took a look at the last five players who held the distinction of being the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterbacks, relative to guaranteed money. Some interesting points: Each of those five were defensive players, and three of them were interior linemen. But only one had completed just three NFL seasons upon signing his deal, as Donald and his CAA reps are attempting.

No player was the highest-paid non-quarterback for more than nine months, a product of the salary cap's yearly increase.

The average increase in guaranteed dollars: 7.1 percent, but it varied.


Guaranteed: $70 million

Contract: Six years, $19.08M AAV (average annual value)

Signed: July 2016

Miller signed this deal after five NFL seasons, and it put him behind only Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck for the game's richest at the time. He amassed 60 sacks from 2011 to '15 and finished that stretch as the Super Bowl MVP while leading the NFL's best defense. Miller was slapped with the franchise tag, worth more than $14 million, shortly after the Broncos won it all. That triggered five months of on-again, off-again negotiations that grew testy. Miller didn't show up for the Broncos' offseason workouts. He wrote on social media that there was "no chance" he would play under the franchise tag and even cropped general manager John Elway out of a White House photograph. The deal got done when the Broncos bumped up their guarantee. For reference, Miller's representatives pointed to this next contract ...


Guaranteed: $63.3 million

Contract: Six years, $17.1M AAV

Signed: June 2016

Cox got his deal after just four years and only one Pro Bowl appearance. He probably should've made the Pro Bowl in 2014, when he had four sacks and recovered three fumbles. But he was even better in 2015, posting a career-high 9½ sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits. Cox also skipped offseason workouts and ultimately got what he wanted. His deal came with $36.3 million fully guaranteed at signing, with another $19.25 million coming his way this past March and another $7.75 million due to him in March 2018. Miller later topped Cox with $42 million guaranteed at signing. Like Donald, Cox is a first-round pick who fell outside of the top 10 and thus had a cheaper fifth-year option. Cox was mostly a defensive end before signing this deal but switched to tackle in a 4-3 system immediately thereafter.


Guaranteed: $60 million

Contract: Six years, $15.85M AAV

Signed: September 2015

Dareus, who, like Cox, was heading into his fifth-year option, replaced an upcoming $8 million salary with a deal worth about $100 million more than that. The 2011 No. 3 overall pick was coming off a 10-sack season and had amassed 28½ of them from 2011-14, making two Pro Bowls. The Bills had reportedly set the regular-season opener as a deadline for negotiations on this deal. It was finalized three days before that. Leading up to their agreement, Dareus was asked if he had a specific number in mind. His response: "Thank you, Suh." And that brings us to the next contract ...


Guaranteed: $59.96 million

Contract: Six years, $19.06M AAV

Signed: March 2015

Suh is the only one in this list who actually ventured into the free-agent market to get his massive contract. He ditched the Detroit Lions for the Dolphins, who offered him more money than anybody else (especially when considering that Florida has no state income tax). In the five seasons leading up to this deal, Suh made four Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro on three occasions. He compiled 36 sacks while playing in 78 of a possible 80 games from 2010-14, with his only two missed games a product of suspensions for violations of player-safety rules. Contract restructures left Suh with a $22.4 million cap hit for that 2014 season, which means his franchise tag for 2015 would've been nearly $27 million. The Lions opted against assigning that to Suh, and ultimately they lost him.


Guaranteed: $51.88 million

Contract: Six years, $16.67M AAV

Signed: September 2014

The last person on this list serves as the best comp for Donald for three key similarities: Watt got his deal after playing only three NFL seasons; he got it as a first-round pick who fell outside of the top 10; and he was being hailed as the game's best defensive player at that time. Regardless of all that, his guarantee and his average annual value were the highest among defensive players in NFL history when he signed it. In the three seasons leading up to his deal, Watt compiled 36½ sacks, was a two-time first-team All-Pro and even won the Defensive Player of the Year Award (he went on to win it two more times). Unlike Donald, Watt did not hold out. With this deal, Watt surpassed the $50 million guaranteed that Mario Williams got from the Bills two years earlier.