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MAQB: Rams Reward Aaron Donald in the Ultimate Show of Faith

Donald’s extension with Los Angeles is a unique agreement in that the team didn’t gain anything from a contractual standpoint. Plus, the ramifications of the latest Deshaun Watson accusation, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s one career regret and more.
Donald: Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) celebrates after hitting Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) as he threw on fourth down forcing a turnover on downs with the less than a minute to play in 4th quarter during Super Bowl 56, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, at SoFi Stadium. Watson: Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) walks off the field during organized team activities at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.  Crennel: Houston Texans head coach Romeo Crennel looks on in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Let’s jump into the week’s news …

• The deal that Rams just gave Aaron Donald is, well, pretty wild.

Donald had three years left on the deal he did in 2018. He was due $14.25 million this year, $33.25 million over the next two years, and $55 million over the remaining three. Under the new agreement, he’ll get $31.5 million this year, $65.5 million over the next two years, and $95 million over the next three years. That means, roughly, he’s doubling his cash this year, doubling it again next year, and getting a $40 million raise over three years.

Now, here’s the kicker—there were no real new years added to the deal (the team out voidable years on the contract for 2025 and ’26 for cap purposes). That means this is a straight-up $40 million raise with three years left on his deal at 31. Normally, teams will get a couple more years of control on the back end in exchange for this kind of raise. But the Rams aren’t even messing around with that here.

So what does it mean? It means the Rams are doing their best player a huge solid, and a benefit would be showing everyone else in the building the types of people they reward. And the precedent of doing this sets up interesting possibilities down the line for star players on contracts they feel like they’ve outperformed.

• The pressure is certainly ramping up on the NFL to act in the Deshaun Watson case, with the internal investigation complete, and graphic details from the 24th lawsuit filed against the Browns quarterback grabbing headlines on Monday morning.

The league is, to be sure, in a tricky spot here. The sensible thing to do is to wait until the pretrial discovery process is complete, at the end of the month, and really take as much time as it can to allow for any further developments in Watson’s legal situation to surface before a decision is rendered. The flip side is not making a decision now means that Watson will be at Cleveland’s mandatory minicamp next week, with the latest news still fresh.

And that’s where the fact that the league ceded some disciplinary decision-making power to an independent arbitrator (in this case, former U.S. district court Sue Robinson) in the last C.B.A. negotiation is key. The league would likely be moved by public sentiment. I can’t imagine the arbitrator will be, which means the NFL can rightfully say the timing isn’t being decided at 345 Park, and let Cleveland deal with the P.R. fallout.

For those who don’t know, Robinson will, eventually, pass on the case to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with a recommendation on a penalty. Goodell can then alter a suspension, unless there’s no suspension at all. After it goes through Goodell, then Watson will have the right to appeal the penalty, and I’d imagine all this will be expedited once the arbitrator rules.

I also wouldn’t ignore the rulings of two grand juries, the same way it wouldn’t be smart to dismiss the 24 lawsuits because Watson wasn’t charged. Both are factors for the arbitrator.

• I got one last leftover from my Friday talk with Ryan Fitzpatrick—I did ask if after playing 17 years with nine franchises (and starting games for all of them), whether he was retiring with any regrets.

“I just think it’s a bummer the way that last year ended,” Fitzpatrick told me. “The fact that I got hurt in the first game of the year, I get hit probably the same way I’ve gotten hit a thousand different times in my career, and just so happened to hurt my hip. That one, it’s just unfortunate, it’s part of the game, it happens. So I wish it ended differently.”

And then, Fitzpatrick went right back to relationships he built, and how meaningful all of those were for him.

“I know that I’m so fortunate to have 17 years, to have mostly a healthy career,” he said. “And again going back to those relationships, the people, the lifelong friends—this is not just the guys I played with—having a big family and lots of kids, especially Buffalo and beyond, everywhere we went with the whole brood, there are so many people from those communities that we will forever be friends with.

“That’s probably the coolest part about moving, we have met so many great human beings that have nothing to do with any of these organizations, that just have to do with the communities that we plopped ourselves into. And that for me and for my wife and for all the kids has been maybe the most rewarding part of this whole journey.”

• Speaking of retirements—best wishes to Romeo Crennel, as he walks away from the Texans and coaching, after spending the last 52 seasons working in football, the last 41 of those in the NFL.

Crennel won two Super Bowls with the Giants (one as special teams coach, the other as defensive line coach under Bill Parcells), and three more as Patriots defensive coordinator, and in the latter role was always a little underappreciated since he was working for the greatest defensive mind in NFL history in Bill Belichick. He did enough to earn head-coaching shots in Cleveland and Kansas City, and got the Browns to 10 wins in 2007, the franchise’s only such season in its first 20 back in the NFL.

But if you ask anyone who knows him, it always starts with who Crennel is as a person. “Great coach/player/whatever, better man” is so often used it’s become cliché. In this case, it 100% applies.

“Romeo is one of the best coaches I have ever been around,” texted Bill O’Brien, who hired Crennel in Houston in 2014. “He was loyal, hard-working and he cared deeply about his players. I also enjoyed my personal relationship w Romeo. He is a great man.”

And as O’Brien inferred, the sentiment is echoed especially by those players.

“Within a Belichick/Parcells coaching staff, it’s business 24/7,” said Tedy Bruschi, who played for Crennel in New England in 1996, and from 2000-04. “So to have a coach that is like, I’ll call it what is, a father figure, is so valuable, and really necessary. I mean, I got there super young, a rookie, and RAC had some meaningful conversations with me about developing as a player and saw me all the way through. He was absolutely instrumental in my development, success and enjoyment of the NFL.

“He played the other side all the time, when Belichick is getting in your ass, you’d go in the meeting room, and have these talks after getting the tongue lash, and he’d put it in a different perspective. You have to have that. You have to, to make it work.”

In Bruschi’s case, Crennel gave it to him as he worked to get on the field as a nickel pass-rusher his rookie year, then helped him turn into one of the game’s best off-ball linebackers later in his career—“There wasn’t a position he couldn’t coach.” And fittingly, Crennel’s actual offspring, Christine, eventually wound up running for Tedy’s Team, the Boston Marathon team led by Bruschi that raises funds for stroke and heart disease awareness.

Fair to say Crennel’s roots ran pretty deep with Bruschi, and a lot of other NFL folks he came across. So his impact will continue to be felt, even as he eases into retirement.

Josh McDaniels looks into the distance at practice wearing a Raiders visor.

Josh McDaniels looks set to learn from his mistakes in his first head coaching stint over a decade ago.

• When I was asking Josh McDaniels’s staffers about their boss’s second chance, Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi told an interesting story that, I think, illustrates perfectly how some guys get it right the second time around and others don’t. Vegas senior offensive assistant Jerry Schuplinski, who has known McDaniels forever (he was in his recruiting class at John Carroll when both were still players), had just finished explaining how open McDaniels was about what went wrong in Denver in 2009 and ’10.

“When I was in San Francisco—and this piggybacks off what Jerry’s talking about—working for Jim Harbaugh, Brad Seely was special teams coordinator,” Lombardi said. “And he brought [Eric] Mangini in to be a senior assistant helping out on offense, defense, special teams, whatever. I didn’t really know Eric. … . And it was like, Aw man, how’s this gonna go? Me and the other QCs … we were skeptical. But he was such a great dude. He was Eric the assistant. So after two months, me, him and Ronald Curry are having lunch one day, and Ron just out of the blue goes, Hey man, why does everyone think you’re an a--hole?

“And he went into this whole thing, and said, The worst thing that ever happened to me was I got the Cleveland Browns head coaching job right after the Jets, so I never thought that anything I did at the Jets was f---ed up. I never had time to decompress and go, Hey, what did I do wrong and where can I grow? So I just did what I did in New York, and I ended up failing in Cleveland, just like I failed in New York.

I think this sort of thing, frankly, exists a lot. It was there with Rex Ryan going from the Jets to the Bills, and with Adam Gase going from the Dolphins to the Jets. And I’m not suggesting, by the way, that a guy should walk away from a team offering him a head-coaching job right after he got fired on principle. But it does seem pretty clear that there’s a benefit in having time to reflect, and grow before getting a second chance.

It sure seemed to work for Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan, anyway, both of whom waited years (Belichick worked as an assistant for four years between jobs, Shanahan did five) before taking their second, much more successful swings at running a football operation.

• The 49ers’ decision to excuse Jimmy Garoppolo from minicamp this week makes plenty of sense. San Francisco spent the spring developing an offense for Trey Lance, and the next three days will be a good evaluation period for everyone on where that stands. And Garoppolo wouldn’t gain a whole lot just hanging around while that’s going on.

By doing it this way, the Niners and Garoppolo are proceeding like they have through the balance of the spring, with Garoppolo still available for teams that might come out of their offseason programs less than satisfied with where they are at quarterback.

• Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz is, for sure, looking to benefit from the uptick in the market at his position, with the new line to clear at $14 million per. And so if Dallas isn’t willing to go there with him, I can understand his frustration.

But I’m not real sure what skipping the eighth week of the offseason program does, especially if he’s back for mandatory minicamp next week.

• I wouldn’t be stunned if the Broncos’ bidding gets to $5 billion. Why? Well, the new TV deals and influx of gambling money are factors, for sure. But the Broncos bring a lot to the table, including a stadium property with land that could be developed, and a footprint that goes well beyond Colorado—a state that’s bordered by six states that don’t have an NFL team. Bottom line, beyond just the value of NFL teams in general being bonkers right now, this one in particular makes a lot of business sense as one for a multi-billionaire to buy.

• And if it is Rob Walton that gets the team? That would appease some owners’ desire to have more people like, say, Arthur Blank involved, that aren’t just money guys or real estate guys, but run legacy companies.

• Donald’s deal again proves one important thing—the price will always go up if you wait to do a contract. So just as the Cardinals are now feeling the effects of the Deshaun Watson, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr deals in working with Kyler Murray on a new contract, the Donald deal puts the Niners in a similar position with Nick Bosa.

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