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Rams surely want to “pay the man"; the challenge is coming up with the right number

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald wants a new contract, but his injury risk will play a major factor in the negotiations.

It’s easy for people like Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers to tell his team to “pay the man” in reference to defensive tackle Aaron Donald. It’s much harder to determine the right dollars and structure of the deal.

The problem arises in large part from the fact that the Donald has two years left on his rookie deal. Which means that the Rams would be assuming the injury risk from Donald for the next 32 regular-season games, plus any postseason games the Rams may play (stop laughing).

It’s one thing for a team to assume the injury risk for a quarterback or a receiver or a cornerback. Linemen are constantly stuck in a scrum of bodies that may or may not result in a broken limb or worse on any given play. So the injury risk is much more real for guys like Donald than it is for players like Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Speaking of Cousins, Donald has a longer path to the year-to-year franchise tag approach that Cousins currently is pursuing, because Donald was picked in round one. He’ll need to play five full years before he’s eligible for the franchise tag for the first time. Then, the Rams could give him a 20-percent raise over the tag for a seventh year before facing the prospect of giving him quarterback money or a 44-percent raise, whichever is higher.

That’s four more seasons before the Rams would have to pay market value to Donald, and at that point he’ll be 30.

“Market value” possibly is the key term here. Donald may be looking at the Ndamukong Suh contract, worth $20 million per year, as reflecting the market value Donald wants to match or beat. But Suh got his money by hitting the market, thanks to a puffed-up franchise tag number (due to the pre-2011 rookie compensation system) that the Lions couldn’t/wouldn’t use. So Suh became a free agent and got true, literal market value.

Donald is at least two years, probably three years, and maybe four years away from that same situation. Thus, the Rams will be reluctant to give Suh money to Donald, especially with two years left on his deal. To get the Rams to assume the injury risk now, Donald necessarily will have to take far less than what he could get if he were hitting the market or, at a minimum, embarking on the franchise-tag path.