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First and 10: Aaron Donald’s Historic Contract; Winning with Defense in the NFL



Super Bowl LVI

For a long time in the NFL, quarterbacks have ruled, both when it comes to which teams have the most success and what teams are willing to pay for in contract negotiations.

But a long-term shortage of talent at that position has left most of the teams without a franchise-type quarterback. Lesser talents have been getting drafted higher and paid more to compensate, but that hasn’t necessarily brought those teams results. Instead, most teams have had success with their quarterbacks on rookie contracts, better able to spend money elsewhere.

The Los Angeles Rams paid quarterback Matthew Stafford $19.5 million last year to take them to the Super Bowl. This year, his contract went down, to $13.5 million, but it climbs back to $20 million in 2023 and then to absurd heights of $49.5 million in 2024 and $50 million in 2025.

The odds of Stafford, already 34 and of middling statistical impact, playing out that contract seem to be about none. Instead, the Rams are investing in defense.

Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the league. He might be the best defensive tackle ever. He might be the best defensive player ever by the time he’s finished with his career. The Rams signed Donald to a new contract on Monday that set the record for the highest-paid defensive player in the history of the league. His cap hit never rises above $38 million.

Do you think anyone in their right mind would trade Donald for Stafford? The comparative cost of building with defense, as opposed to paying a lot of money for good but not great quarterback play makes that strategy a no-brainer. By signing Donald, the Rams are signaling that they won’t keep Stafford, and that it’s their top defense that they’re more focused on keeping together.

The Steelers look to be taking a similar tact. They gave big money to T.J. Watt. All signs point to them doing the same for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Meanwhile, the quarterback position is manned by Mitch Trubisky and his $3.66 million salary cap hit.


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The Pittsburgh Steelers will report to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side for the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp. Saunders, Farabaugh, Chris Carter, Ed Thompson.

The team still has one unsigned pick remaining from the 2022 NFL Draft: QB Kenny Pickett. Bechtold

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