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- Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack have won the past two Defensive Player of the Year awards, but both players are absent from their teams just days before the start of 2018 while waiting on a new contract.
- Both players are expected to reset the market at their respective position, and the recent monster deal signed by Aaron Rodgers gives both players a case that they should be making well over $20 million a year.
- While quarterback contracts have skyrocketed in recent years, defensive players have seen their pay remain stagnant, but Donald and Mack both have the sway and talent to serve as a market correction.
On Wednesday Aaron Rodgers agreed to a contract extension with the Green Bay Packers that will once again make him the highest-paid player in football.
The deal could see Rodgers make up to $180 million over the next six years, including $80 million that Rodgers will be due by next March.
Rodgers’ new deal is yet another reset of the market when it comes to quarterback pay, coming just months after Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan both set new high marks for what an NFL player could make on a per-year basis.
But while quarterbacks around the league are certainly celebrating their exponentially growing value, Rodgers’ new deal could also have huge ramifications for players at all positions, especially for some of the high profile defensive superstars currently holding out for a new contract.
Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack have both been absent from their respective teams through the preseason as they attempt to work out new contracts. There’s little doubt that both players will reset the market at their positions.
At the crux of both negotiations is what an elite defensive player is worth compared to a quarterback. Both Donald and Mack have been rumored to be aiming for deals worth more than $20 million annually – a price range only achieved by quarterbacks thus far.
While $20 million might seem like a lot of money for non-quarterbacks, spending in the league is relative. As Joel Corry at CBS Sports noted, the market on QBs has exploded in recent years, with the top contracts at the position seeing an increase of almost 67% since 2011. For non-quarterbacks, the top contracts have increased just 18% in that time.
It makes sense that quarterbacks are the most valuable players on the field, but as the NFL salary cap continues to skyrocket – it’s jumped at least $10 million every year for the past five years and is on pace to clear $200 million by 2020 – it’s easy to understand why players at other positions are feeling underappreciated. There’s more money to be had in the sport, but it all seems to be going to one spot.
As Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer told Rich Eisen, there’s a need for a market correction.
“When Ndamukong Suh signed his deal with the Dolphins three years ago, he was making 86% of what the top quarterback was making. The market on defensive players hasn’t moved since then,” Breer explained. “What Suh and what [Von] Miller are making is now just 63% of what the top quarterbacks are making.”
Mack and Donald find themselves in a position to be that market correction. As the winners of the past two Defensive Player of the Year awards, they can demand to reestablish an NFL economy that gives the top defensive talents 80% of what the top quarterbacks earn.
With Rodgers’ new deal potentially netting him over $33 million annually, Mack and Donald both have even more of a case to be making comfortably more than $20 million. Such a pay increase would represent a necessary correction for both the increasing salary cap and the skyrocketing contract value of quarterbacks.
If Donald’s deal involves the sides quibbling over the difference between $24 and $22 million annually, Los Angeles might be best served to pay up and get their star player back before his absence negatively impacts their season, because prices are going up, whether the Rams like it or not.