With the free agency period set to begin in less than a week, the Los Angeles Rams are already looking down that path with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald despite him being under contract for two more seasons.
According to ESPN's Alden Gonzalez, general manager Les Snead on Thursday voiced much confidence that the team can work out an extension before his rookie deal expires.
"It’s definitely coming," Rams general manager Les Snead, speaking from the scouting combine on Thursday, said about beginning extension talks with Donald and his representatives. "The guy deserves a raise, there’s no doubt. Whether he gets a raise or not, he’s going to show up, do the things he does. But that’s coming."
Since being drafted with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Donald has quickly developed in arguably the best defensive player in the NFL as a game-changer on the defensive line. In his first three campaigns, he has made a living in the backfield as he leads all defensive tackles in sacks (28.0), and tackles for loss (57.0). During this span, he ranks second in the NFL behind two-time Defensive Player of the Yeardefensive end for tackles for loss.
Despite experiencing a decrease in his sack total to just eight in the 2016 season, Donald finished with 36 tackles, 31 hits on the quarterback, two forced fumbles, and a league-leading 17 tackles-for-loss. According to Pro Football Focus, he recorded 82 total quarterback pressures, which was five more than any other interior defensive lineman and was tied for second-most in the NFL behind just 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Oakland Raiders' defensive end Khalil Mack.
With all that in mind, the decision to pursue an extension with the 24-year-old would be in the team's best interest moving forward. Although it will be a hefty deal that the Rams will have to offer the three-time Pro Bowler, he has already proven that he is more than deserving and well worth the risk that comes with that type of contract commitment as the cornerstone of the franchise.