And so the agent for the greatest defensive tackle to ever play sent a letter to the only team Donald played for, the Rams, and informed them of his decision to retire, according to multiple sources briefed on the situation.
The letter, which has been an unreported secret since it was sent, was on Athletes First letterhead and addressed to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Simply put, it stated that Donald informed the Rams that he retired effective May 9. It came with instructions to send it to the league office.
But the letter was never sent to the NFL.
What happened next paved the way for a massive contract adjustment for Donald to commit the Super Bowl champions for another two years. He will be on the field tonight against the Bills in the 2022 NFL draft regular-season opener (8:20 p.m. ET on NBC).
Near that point back in May, contract negotiations for Donald, who was about to turn 31 and had three years left on his original six-year, $136 million extension, stalled. His agent Todd France at Athletes First pushed for a big raise but no new years in his deal – something that never happens for a defensive player, with the biggest such example for an offensive player being then-Patriots quarterback. Tom Brady received an $8 million in revenue in 2019.
What Donald and his camp were looking for was much bigger than $8 million.
The contract negotiations looked bad based on the views of everyone involved, and Donald appeared to be done playing in the NFL. He has accomplished everything there is to accomplish, with eight Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro selections, three Defensive Player of the Year awards and now a Super Bowl title.
So, the letter was sent to the Rams, and Donald was at peace with his decision. The only caveat was this: The Rams brass, Donald and his agent had a zoom set up the next day to discuss his contract. The letter remained unearthed until that meeting just to be sure that nothing could be done. Meanwhile, the Rams were endlessly respectful of Donald, regardless of his decision, simply wanting to know when and how to properly honor him for his stellar career.
Instead, there was a slightly encouraging conversation between Donald’s agent and the Rams and another was planned. And then another. And another. And suddenly the two sides became even more emboldened that an impossible deal could be made.
Also, a key date on June 1 loomed. If Donald’s retirement letter had been sent to the league at that time, it would have triggered a $21.5 million salary cap hit in 2022 for the Rams. After June 1, the $21.5 million became just $9 million. So, time was important.
The thought of Donald’s retirement was very real. For both sides, however, continuing to talk made sense. Triggered by Donald’s letter, whether it was strategic or real, the parties had time and a window to make a new contract.
Was Donald serious enough to back off? Would the Rams have sent the letter? Was it a business move aimed at transferring a player with three years left with some leverage?
No one will know. But Donald’s situation was treated with the necessary seriousness on all sides, and finally an agreement was reached on June 6.
A raise of $40 million over three years — without adding new years — meant Donald would earn $95 million over three years. The average salary of $31.6M resets the market for all defensive players, but looking only at the average annual salary does not tell the whole story about this unprecedented increase of $40 million.
Basically, a two-year commitment to the champions, with a chance to play a third if it made sense. And so, Donald will not back down.
Instead, he will play tonight.