After holding out all of training camp, defensive tackle Aaron Donald reported to the team today for a physical, per NFL’s Jason La Canfora.

 

Doanld, 26, is entering his fourth NFL season and the Rams have him under contract until 2019 after exercising their fifth-year option on the two-time All-Pro. He ranked fifth overall in our pass rush metrics, registering a pressure score of 120, the third best in football and easily the best mark among defensive tackles.

While he won’t play against the Colts, getting Donald back is obviously a big boost to the Rams defense. Donald is an absolute force to be reckoned with and one of the best defensive players in football, and he’s well aware of that given his holdout as he seeks a bigger contract. Donald’s base salary is just $1.8 million this season.

Los Angeles needs to do everything they can to retain him. He is a building block for a franchise who has not had a winning season since 2003. That being said, they aren’t entirely without options. After the 2018 season, Los Angeles can use their franchise tag for a reasonable price. The cost of tagging a defensive tackle last spring was $13.4 million.

But using the franchise tag can leave a bad taste in the mouths of the player. Just ask the Redskins how Kirk Cousins is doing, or the Steelers with Le’Veon Bell, who just ended his own holdout, or the Lions with Ndamukong Suh or even Tennessee with Albert Haynesworth. Players in general don’t like receiving the franchise tag, and things tend to get worse when both sides can’t come to agreement.

Because of this, the Rams are better off making Donald happy and paying him. And just because Donald is back and the regular season has begun doesn’t necessarily mean that a deal isn’t going to happen. As former NFL agent Joel Corry has noted, Rams teammates Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers struck new deals on Sept. 13 and Sept. 16 in seasons past. But if the two sides decide to call off talks until the offseason, it will be a priority for Los Angeles once the season is over.

Donald’s new contract won’t be cheap, but the Rams will have nearly $60 million in cap space next offseason. Expect Donald to land the richest contract handed to a defensive tackle in NFL history, surpassing the six-year, $114.4 million pact Ndamukong Suh signed in 2015. Donald could even challenge for the richest contract ever handed to a defensive player.

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