Less than three weeks after Tom Brady announced he was unretiring and returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in mid-March, coach Bruce Arians decided to retire.

Despite the timing of Arians' decision to step away, Brady denies having any problems with his former boss.

"Zero whatsoever," Brady said of Arians on Thursday. "He and I have a great relationship. Part of the reason I chose here was because of Bruce.

"I have great respect for him. He knows how I feel about him – that's the most important thing. And I know how he feels about me."

Brady and Arians won the Super Bowl in their first season together with Tampa Bay in 2020.

Shortly after the 69-year-old coach announced his decision to retire on March 30, future Hall of Fame quarterback Brady took to Instagram to say Arians was a major reason he decided to join the Bucs and that he'll be "forever grateful".

Todd Bowles is taking over from Arians as Brady is returning for his third season with Tampa Bay and 23rd in pro football after leading the league with a career-high 5,316 passing yards in 2021, while also ranking first in passing touchdowns with 43.

The soon-to-be 45-year-old led the Buccaneers to a 13-4 regular-season record and NFC South crown last year, but their season ended with a 27-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Brady's long-time companion, Rob Gronkowski, was targeted 11 times in the loss to the Rams, but it's uncertain if he'll be suiting up again this season.

Though many expected Gronkowski to announce he would return after Brady unretired, the 33-year-old tight end has not revealed any decision, and Brady, who has already lured Gronkowski out of retirement once, said he is unaware of his plans.

"I think it's just obviously totally up to him," Brady said. "We'd all love to play with him, but he's got to make the best decision for himself, and he knows that.

"Anyone who cares about him knows that he's doing what's right for him, which is trying to figure it out. We don't have training camp for about six weeks, so whatever he's got to do to figure it out.

"We'll be hopeful if he does, and if he doesn't, then we still gotta go out there and figure out what to do."

The oft-injured Gronkowski is a free agent so does not have to return to the Bucs, though he has implied that if he does play, it will be with Brady.

Brady was reportedly courted by the Miami Dolphins in the last few months while still under contract with Tampa Bay, and he did not refute the rumours that they wanted him as their quarterback or in a front office role.

"I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people," Brady said. "I've had for the last three or four years of my career about different opportunities when I'm done playing football so, I kind of made a decision of what I'd like to do, and I'll get to be in the game of football.

"I think for me, the most important thing is where I'm at now and what I hope to do for this team. That's been my commitment to this team and this organisation.

"It's been so much fun for me to come here two years ago. It's been almost two and a half now and it's been an incredible part of my football journey. And it's not over."

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have found their long-term answer at quarterback in this year's draft, but the future may not be now just yet for rookie Kenny Pickett.

Mitch Trubisky has taken the majority of reps with the first-team offense during the Steelers' offseason training activities and the mandatory mini-camp that began Tuesday, and the five-year veteran told reporters he is operating with the mindset he will be the starting quarterback when Pittsburgh open the season at the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals on September 11. 

"I'm preparing to be the starter," Trubisky said. "I feel like no matter what position you're in, you should prepare [that way].

"I wouldn't read too much into [the first-team snaps], but I'm getting a lot of good reps and I'm feeling really comfortable in the offense.

"I like where we're at right now and I feel very confident."

With 50 career starts under his belt, Trubisky is the most experienced of the three quarterbacks vying to be the successor to the now retired Ben Roethlisberger, a group that includes Pickett – the former University of Pittsburgh standout taken with the 20th overall pick – and holdover Mason Rudolph.

And with the Steelers having no immediate plans to rebuild following a second consecutive playoff appearance in 2021, the 27-year-old seems to have the inside track at opening the post-Roethlisberger era under center.

The opportunity to start again played a large role in Trubisky's decision to join the Steelers on a two-year, $14million contract in March.

He went 29-21 over four seasons with the Chicago Bears from 2017 to 2020 and helped the team to two playoff appearances during that period, but he did not have his fifth-year option picked up and spent last season as a backup to Josh Allen with the Buffalo Bills.

Trubisky said the transition to a new offense and new team-mates has so far gone smoothly.

"I thought we've gotten better every day," he said. "I feel like I'm throwing the ball really well. We've put a lot in and I think the guys have handled it well. We're executing at a pretty high level right now."

While Trubisky saw Pittsburgh as a spot to potentially reestablish himself as a viable NFL starter, the Steelers are hoping the 2017 number two overall pick's arm strength is a good fit for an offense that often struggled generating big passing plays with the ageing Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh's 6.05 yards per pass attempt in 2021 ranked 30th in the league, trailing only the also-ran Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants.

"He's been one of the quarterbacks to release it, for sure," rookie wide receiver George Pickens said. "Yeah, he's been launching it."

Cooper Kupp is undoubtedly among the best wide receivers in the NFL – and now he’ll be paid like one. 

The Los Angeles Rams and Kupp have agreed on a three-year, $80million contract extension Wednesday that ties him to the franchise for the next five years at $110m, according to multiple reports.  

Kupp put together one of the best seasons in league history in 2021, leading the NFL with 145 receptions for 1,945 yards and 16 touchdowns, earning Offensive Player of the Year honours in the process. 

He capped the memorable season with eight catches for 92 yards and two scores, including the late game-winner, and was named MVP in the Rams’ Super Bowl victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in February.  

Even with the new extension, Kupp will still trail the Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill, Las Vegas Raiders’ Davante Adams, Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins, Philadelphia Eagles’ A.J. Brown and Buffalo Bills’ Stefon Diggs in yearly value on receiver contracts.  

Kupp was asked in April if he felt he needed to be the league’s highest-paid receiver after his stellar season.  

''I don't think that's really kind of the approach that I take,'' he said. ''I think there's definitely a place where you want to be.

"There's a place that I think you feel is fair, and a place both for me and this organization. I want to be there. I'm not trying to beat anybody. I'm not trying to compare myself to anyone else. It's more of just being in a place that's just right for both sides.'' 

Kupp becomes the second star player the champion Rams have extended this week. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald had his contract re-worked on Monday, making him the highest paid non-quarterback in the NFL.  

Lamar Jackson may not be attending the Baltimore Ravens’ organised team activities, but that isn’t a concern for head coach John Harbaugh.

It’s not uncommon for established players to skip their team’s OTAs, and although Jackson won the league’s MVP Award in 2019, he is coming off an injury-marred 2021 season and is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The fact that he hasn’t engaged in discussions with the Ravens over a contract extension is also somewhat concerning.

But Harbaugh is certain his star quarterback is training hard on his own, and will be present when the Ravens open mandatory minicamp on June 14.

"I expect him to be here at mandatory minicamp," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "I know he's working hard. Lamar Jackson's a hard worker, so I'm not worried about how hard he's working.

"I fully expect him to come back in great shape, that's what he talks about. I'm sure he's throwing, I'm sure he's doing a good job, and when he gets back here, we’ll roll with Lamar."

Jackson was criticized by Chris Simms on Pro Football Talk Live on May 27, with the former NFL QB saying: "(Tom) Brady wouldn't be missing OTAs in year four of his career... Brady didn't miss an OTA until he had played in four Super Bowls."

Responding to those comments quoting a tweet featuring a clip of Simms' remarks, Jackson wrote: "Lamar wants to be Lamar Chris.

"This part of OTAs is voluntary my guy I will be there, just not on your watch. It's probably other QBs not attending voluntary OTAs either but since it's Lamar it's a huge deal. Find something else to talk about."

Jackson, who is set to make just over $23 million guaranteed on his fifth-year option in 2022, averaged 240.2 passing yards and 63.9 yards rushing in 12 games last season. He finished with 16 passing touchdowns, a career-high 13 interceptions and an 87.0 QB rating – eighth lowest among the 30 quarterbacks with at least 350 passing attempts last season.

The Ravens lost four of the five games Jackson missed last season and finished 8-9 to miss the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has announced the team have excused quarterback Baker Mayfield from attending their mandatory minicamp set to begin next week.

The move prevents the unhappy former number one overall pick from being subjected to financial penalties by missing the three-day session. 

Mayfield could have been fined upwards of $90,000 by not attending the entire portion of minicamp.

Stefanski told reporters on Wednesday that the decision was mutual and in the best interests of both parties.

"Obviously that was a decision made between our organisation, Baker and Baker’s team. We felt that was the best decision between both sides," he said.

Mayfield’s four-year run as the Browns' starting quarterback essentially came to an end when the team acquired Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans in March and promptly signed the three-time Pro Bowler to a four-year, $160million extension. 

The fiery quarterback reacted strongly and negatively to the move, saying he felt "disrespected" and blindsided during an interview in April.

"I was told one thing and they completely did another," he told the Ya Neva Know podcast. "I’m ready for the next chapter, the next opportunity."

Mayfield previously skipped Cleveland’s recent voluntary organised training activities program and has requested a trade, though he remains on the roster for now. 

The former Heisman Trophy winner is due a guaranteed $18.9m this season in the final year of his rookie contract.

Finding a trade partner has so far proven to be difficult due to Mayfield's fifth-year option price-tag, pending free agency and year-to-year inconsistency. 

The 27-year-old’s 21 interceptions in his first full season as a starter in 2019 ranked second in the NFL, but he bounced back to throw for 26 touchdowns and only eight picks the following season while leading Cleveland to an 11-5 record and the franchise's first playoff appearance in 18 years.

Mayfield struggled to repeat that success last season while plagued by a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder that eventually required surgery.

His passer rating dipped from 95.9 in 2020 to 83.1 last season and he finished with a 17-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Watson's status for the start of the season is also undetermined as he faces a potential league suspension due to civil lawsuits filed by 24 female massage therapists alleging him of sexual assault and impropriety.

Stefanski was non-committal when asked if Mayfield would remain an option if he is still on the roster and Watson begins the season under suspension. 

The Browns do have another experienced backup after signing six-year veteran Jacoby Brissett in March.

"We're just going to deal with it day by day," Stefanski said of the Mayfield situation.

Cam Newton remains unsigned as NFL teams begin ramping up preparations for the upcoming season, though the 2015 league MVP still feels confident he can be an impact player despite two straight difficult campaigns.

Speaking as a guest on ESPN’s ‘The Pivot Podcast,’ the quarterback attributed his struggles in 2020 and 2021 to putting himself in tough situations during his short stint with the New England Patriots as well as last year’s return to his original team, the Carolina Panthers.

"Before I sit up here and allow the narrative to be made that Cam ain't got it no more, Cam is taking full responsibility and saying Cam put himself in a [messed] up situation, which then had a ricochet effect to how people think of me," Newton said.

"There’s not 32 [quarterbacks] better than me. If you think I couldn't be on somebody's team right now, you're a damn fool."

Newton's career has experienced a downturn since shoulder and foot injuries led to the Panthers releasing their then-franchise face following a 2019 season in which he was limited to just two games.

He signed with the Patriots shortly before training camp opened in 2020 and started 15 games in New England’s first year of the post-Tom Brady era, with mostly mixed results.

The three-time Pro Bowler finished 2020 with eight touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, the first time in Newton’s career he had more picks than TD throws when starting three or more games, and the Patriots went 7-8 in his starts to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Newton said he was never fully able to grasp a new offense on account of joining New England just two months before that season’s start.

"The New England experience was a [messed up] situation," he remarked. "I was still learning the offense seven to eight weeks into the season.

"It was just brain overload. It was times I was going to the line and I'm still thinking, 'Did I know it?’ Yes. To the degree that I needed to know it to show the world that I'm still Cam Newton? No. But I put myself in that situation."

The Patriots released Newton just prior to the start of last season after turning the offense over to rookie quarterback Mac Jones, and he spent nine weeks as a free agent before rejoining the Panthers in November.

Following a dazzling return in which he rushed for two touchdowns off the bench in Carolina’s Week 10 victory over Arizona, Newton was named the starter the following week but was never able to recapture his early-career form. The 33-year-old lost all five of his starts while completing just 54.1 per cent of his passes and recording a 61.4 passer rating.

"I signed on Thursday. I played on Sunday," Newton said of his Carolina comeback. "At what point did you think you was going to be successful? The next week, I started. That's still under 10 days of you being on the team. And you’re still trying to learn the offense."

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said last month that the team has kept in contact with Newton and has not ruled out bringing him back. It’s unclear if the veteran quarterback would agree to another reunion, as he stated h'’s looking for a scenario where he would have sufficient time to learn an offense while surrounded by a strong support system.

“If you’re asking to run this show without your supporting cast upholding their end of the bargain, then you’re always going to be left alone." Newton said.

Aaron Rodgers has confirmed he intends to finish his storied career as a Green Bay Packer, though he was less definitive on exactly how long he plans to keep playing.

Speaking to reporters following Tuesday's first practice of mandatory minicamp, the two-time reigning NFL MVP revealed he was taking it year by year as he enters his 18th season.

That is despite Rodgers signing a three-year contract extension in March that runs through 2026.

"The conversations I've had with [general manager] Brian [Gutekunst] have been very honest and direct, and that's not going to change," Rodgers said. 

"We'll sit down after the season, hopefully after a championship, and figure out what the next step is."

Rodgers left no doubt, however, when asked if he wants his final game to come with the only team he has played for since entering the NFL in 2005.

"Yes, definitely," he said. "Unless they trade me. When I made the decision [to return], that's 100 per cent in. 

"But it doesn’t mean you don’t think about the other side. This is my 18th season. Of course you think about the next chapter and what is next in your life all the time. 

"It doesn't mean you’re not fully invested."

Rodgers' stance is in stark contrast to that of a year ago, when a public rift between him and Gutekunst prompted the star quarterback to skip minicamp and reportedly request a trade. 

The two ultimately patched things up, and Rodgers went on to produce one of his best statistical seasons in 2021 to earn the fourth MVP award of his brilliant career.

The 38-year-old’s future was again somewhat in limbo this offseason, with Rodgers saying in March he was not sure if he wanted to play the upcoming season with the Packers or another team. 

He later agreed to a three-year, $150million extension that made him the league's highest-paid player in terms of annual salary.

While Rodgers will be back for at least one more season, the Packers did undergo one major change since their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs back in January after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders at the All-Pro receiver's request.

The offense will also have a new play-caller for 2022 after offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was named the Denver Broncos’ head coach, and quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy also departed to become the Chicago Bears' OC.

"The offense has to change," Rodgers remarked. "Last year, when you have a guy who is that talented, it's probably not an exaggeration to say that 80 per cent of the plays in the passing game were designed specifically for [Adams]. 

"So we're obviously going to do some things a little different."

Rodgers is using this week's practices as a chance to get acclimated with a new group of receivers that includes veteran Sammy Watkins and a pair of 2022 draft picks, Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, who could play key roles as rookies.

"I like production over potential," Rodgers admitted. 

"We have some production. We have a lot of potential, so we need to temper expectations and heighten the accountability."

An agreement has been reached for the sale of the Denver Broncos in a deal reportedly worth $4.65billion, a new record for an American sports franchise.

Ownership of the Broncos will transfer to the Walton-Penner family ownership group, headed by Walmart heir Rob Walton.

It sets a new benchmark for the price of professional sports franchises in the United States, clearing the purchase of the New York Mets ($2.4billion) by nearly $2billion, and going for more than double the price of the Carolina Panthers ($2.27billion).

The Panthers were the last NFL franchise to change hands in 2018.

The figure is similar to that recently paid by a consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly for the purchase of Premier League side Chelsea ($5.2billion).

In a statement after the agreement was announced, Walton said: "We are thrilled to be selected to move forward with the purchase of the Denver Broncos.

"[We] are inspired by the opportunity to steward this great organisation in a vibrant community full of opportunity and passionate fans.

"Having lived and worked in Colorado, we've always admired the Broncos. Our enthusiasm has only grown as we've learned more about the team, staff and Broncos Country over the last few months."

The sale is expected to take between 60 and 90 days to finalise, but that is just a formality, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr made it clear to reporters on Tuesday that he would have no issue with the team signing Colin Kaepernick.  

Kaepernick’s May 25 workout with the Raiders was his first private tryout in over five years, with the 34-year-old quarterback having last played in 2016. 

He has remained unsigned since he became a polarising figure by kneeling during the pre-game national anthem to protest police brutality. His lawsuit against the NFL for collusion was settled in 2019.  

Carr also said that he voiced his approval to head coach Josh McDaniels before the Raiders brought Kaepernick – who was Carr's conference rival at the college level – in for a workout last month.  

"I’ve enjoyed my time around [Kaepernick]," Carr said. "I love him. Him and I would get along great.

"I remember our days back then, just watching him and what he did in college and getting to know him and talking to him on the phone and things like that.  

"I’ve loved my time with him. I think he’s a great guy." 

The Raiders currently have Nick Mullens, Jarrett Stidham and Chase Garbers competing for backup duties, but Carr said Kaepernick – who guided the San Francisco 49ers into the 2013 Super Bowl – would be a good fit with the team.  

"For us, I think it’d be great," he said. "I think for the most part, I think he’d get along just fine with our guys." 

It appears Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf has taken notice of the mega-deals handed out to some of the NFL’s top pass-catchers this offseason – and he believes it is his turn.

Metcalf did not attend the Seahawks’ first day of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. The absence was unexcused, meaning Metcalf is subject to a fine of $14,775 for skipping the first day, as well as additional fines of $29,550 and $44,325 if he misses the second and third days this week, potentially totalling over $93,000.

Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Metcalf has been actively seeking an extension this offseason, although contract talks have clearly not been progressing in a fashion that satisfies Metcalf and his management. The big-play receiver is recovering from surgery on a foot injury he played through for most of last season.  

Metcalf’s decision comes after Seattle general manager John Schneider expressed dismay at how the wide receiver market had skyrocketed because of massive contracts signed by Tyreek Hill with the Miami Dolphins (four years, $120m) and Davante Adams with the Las Vegas Raiders (five years, $141m).  

This led to speculation that Metcalf could be traded, but while the team did reportedly receive calls on the star wideout, the Seahawks told teams they weren’t interested in parting ways with the 24-year-old.  

Metcalf has 216 receptions for 3170 yards and 29 touchdowns in three seasons with the Seahawks since he was selected 32nd overall in the 2019 draft out of Mississippi. His 29 TDs are tied for fifth in the NFL since the start of the 2019 season.  

Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich said Darius Leonard was scheduled to have back surgery on Tuesday, but the All-Pro linebacker is expected to be ready for the season opener. 

Leonard also underwent an ankle operation in June after making 122 tackles in 2021 and being named to the All-Pro Team for the third time while earning his third Pro Bowl selection. 

The 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is expected to miss the beginning of training camp next month. 

"Not sure on the timetable now, but in my mind as long as he’s ready for the regular season, I'm not concerned," Reich said. 

Since being drafted by Indianapolis with the fourth pick of the second round (36th overall) in 2018, Leonard is second in the NFL with 538 tackles and tied for second in the league with 17 forced fumbles. 

Leonard’s 11 interceptions since the beginning of the 2018 season are the most by any linebacker in the NFL.

Despite some growing pains in his second NFL season, Jalen Hurts helped the Philadelphia Eagles reach the playoffs in his first year as a full-time starter in 2021.

The team is hoping he will take a big step forward entering his third pro season, and so far, coach Nick Sirianni has been impressed with his progress.

"I'm noticing a big difference," he told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. "What I see is a crisper ball. The accuracy I've been very pleased with. You can just see him taking strides every single day with his accuracy because of the fundamentals he has with his feet and his upper body."

Hurts' focus since Philadelphia’s 2021 season ended with a 31-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round has been on his footwork and his throwing mechanics with an emphasis on his timing.

A major advantage for the 23-year-old quarterback this offseason is that he is working with the same offensive system from 2021 – the first time since high school he has used the same playbook in successive seasons.

"That's been very pivotal going into the offseason ... just being decisive out there on the field, knowing pretty much where I'm going to go with the ball based off the look that they give me," Hurts said. "There's a natural maturation there, as I've always talked about."

Hurts led all quarterbacks in rushing yards with 784 and rushing touchdowns with 10 in 2021, but was not one of the more dangerous passing QBs.

He ranked 15th in yards per attempt (7.28), 22nd in passer rating (87.2), 26th in completion percentage (61.3) and was tied with three other QBs for 23rd in TD passes (16). In the golden age of passing, he had just two 300-yard passing games while Philadelphia averaged 200.2 passing yards per game – eighth lowest in the NFL and fewest by a playoff team.

"We want that to come up," Sirianni said in reference to the passing ranking.

The offseason addition of A.J. Brown should help with the Eagles’ passing attack. Brown led the Tennessee Titans last season with 63 catches for 869 yards and five receiving touchdowns and will team with DeVonta Smith, who led Philadelphia with 64 receptions for 916 yards and five TD receptions as a rookie in 2021.

"It's my job to just go out there and play point guard," Hurts said. "Distribute the ball, get the playmakers the ball, and my plays will come."

Deebo Samuel is expected to attend the San Francisco 49ers' mandatory minicamp amid a contract saga that has overshadowed their offseason.

Samuel requested a trade from the 49ers back in April and was reportedly refusing to engage with San Francisco in discussions over a long-term extension.

The All-Pro wide receiver was said to be dissatisfied with his role in the 49er offense, which relied on him heavily as both a receiver and a running back in 2021 as San Francisco reached the NFC Championship Game.

However, the Niners stood firm in refusing to trade Samuel, reportedly rejecting offers for the 2019 second-round pick during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Kyle Shanahan said during a media conference that none of the offers were "even remotely close" to what the Niners would consider the right price for Samuel.

Samuel did not attend the Niners' organised team activities, which are voluntary, but multiple reports said Samuel will avoid any fines for skipping minicamp, which begins on Tuesday, by returning to San Francisco's facility.

He and Shanahan were each in attendance, although sat in different areas of the arena, at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sunday for the Golden State Warriors' NBA Finals clash with the Boston Celtics.

And Samuel's decision to attend minicamp could be seen as a positive step in contract negotiations, with the Niners understandably keen to hold on to him beyond the 2022 season, which marks the final year of his rookie deal.

In addition to making 77 catches for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns – averaging a league-leading 18.2 yards per reception – in 2021, Samuel also carried the ball 59 times for 365 yards and eight touchdowns, breaking Eric Metcalf's record (six) for most rushing touchdowns by a wide receiver in a single season, set in 1989.

Samuel labelled himself a 'wide back' when asked to define his position, and he registered 27 rushing attempts in the playoffs, scoring a rushing touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys and converting a key third down on the ground in the fourth quarter of the win over the Green Bay Packers, before the Niners' Super Bowl hopes were ended by the Los Angeles Rams.

The Niners made moves to potentially placate Samuel's apparent frustration with his role in the draft, selecting running back Tyrion Davis-Price and a wide receiver with the speed to do damage out of the backfield, Danny Gray, in the third round.

General manager John Lynch last week said Samuel would be a part of the Niners this season, and the odds of him being proven right now look to have improved.

All-time greats often aren't truly appreciated until after they have called time on their career. 

Following speculation he could hang up the cleats in the wake of the Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl LVI triumph, Aaron Donald has ensured the NFL world will have more time to marvel at his remarkable talents.

It was revealed on Monday that the Rams had restructured Donald's contract to guarantee him $95m over the next three seasons. 

No years were added to Donald's deal, but the added guaranteed money will make the seven-time All-Pro defensive tackle the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history.

Eye-watering money, but the Rams won't have felt the need to look even twice at a contract that arguably represents the NFL's most expensive bargain.
 

Donald's outsized impact

Simply put, no non-quarterback has done more to impact the game than Donald since he entered the league.

Drafted 13th overall in 2014, Donald has amassed 98 sacks in his pro career, the most of any player in that time, with Chandler Jones his nearest challenger on 90.

Looking at tackles for loss, none of his contemporaries come close to matching Donald's production. He has racked up 150 tackles behind the line of scrimmage since 2014, 36 more than the second-placed player on that list, Cameron Jordan.

It is a similarly absurd gap between Donald and Jordan in terms of overall quarterback pressures.

Donald has racked up an astonishing 735 pressures since entering the NFL. Jordan (544) is the only other defender even above 500.

The title of most disruptive defender in the league is one Donald has monopolised, and he has done so despite the substantial energy opposing offenses have put into slowing him down.
 

Dominating double teams

Last season, no pass rusher was the subject of more double teams than Donald, who earned the attention of two pass protectors 182 times. 

Next on the list was DeForest Buckner (164) and the margin would likely have been greater if not for Donald's versatility, which allowed him to play 11 per cent of his snaps on the edge where double teams are less prevalent. Buckner played only 3.21 per cent of his snaps on the edge.

Despite the rate at which he was doubled, Donald still recorded a stunt-adjusted pass rush win rate of 63.83 per cent. Only one other pass rusher with at least 100 one on one pass-rush snaps, Myles Garrett (53.56), posted a win rate above 50 per cent.

Doubled 95 times as a run defender, no player (min. 100 one on one run defense snaps) had a better double-team adjusted run disruption rate than Donald's 58.29 per cent. Lowering the threshold to 50 one on ones, Donald was still fourth in 2021.

The numbers don't always tell the entire story, but in Donald's unique case they are enough to encapsulate his value. He is a true unicorn who can impact the game at any point regardless of situation.

"It's not great news; it's phenomenal, outstanding, any nice adjective that you can place around it," Rams head coach Sean McVay told SiriusXM of Donald's restructure.

"It's a big deal, and he's earned it. And he truly is one of one, in my opinion. This means so much to me, to our organisation."

And Donald saved his best for the moments that meant most to the Rams last season.
 

Shining on the brightest stage

From the Wild Card Round rout of the Arizona Cardinals through to the nerve-jangling win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals, there was a clear theme that defined the Rams' surge to the Lombardi Trophy, one of their defensive front overwhelming opponents to tilt matters in Los Angeles' favour.

It was Donald who unsurprisingly led the charge, ably supported by Von Miller, whom the Rams will face when they raise their Super Bowl banner against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 of the 2022 season, and Leonard Floyd.

Donald ended the postseason with 29 pressures while Miller recorded 27 and Floyd 22.

The depth of pass-rushing talent at the Rams' disposal prevented Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Bengals star signal-caller Joe Burrow from knocking off the Rams in contests that went down to the wire.

It was fitting that the final say went to Donald, who ended the Bengals' hopes of sending the Super Bowl to overtime with a game-tying field goal by knifing past left guard Quinton Spain with his devastating hand speed and using his flexibility to flatten his angle to Burrow, flinging him to the turf as the quarterback's hurried desperation fourth-down heave fell incomplete.

A jubilant Donald pointed to his ring finger in celebration. He now has that Super Bowl ring secured, along with a contract that properly reflects his importance to the reigning champions.

Donald isn't the straw that stirs the drink for the Rams, he is the chief ingredient in a cocktail of premium talent that has propelled the Rams to the NFL mountain top.

Sure, the trade for Matthew Stafford provided the critical final seasoning for Los Angeles, but the mix doesn't work without Donald's ability to blow up the best-laid plans of their opponents.

Those foes had hoped talk of Donald's retirement would remove the headache of game-planning to try to stop him.

However, the Rams have put such hopes to bed and made sure offensive coordinators across the league will have sleepless nights for a few more years when preparing to face an all-time great who will continue to provide value for money for Los Angeles even at his new exorbitant price tag. 

"One of one" Aaron Donald has earned his record-breaking contract with the Los Angeles Rams, says coach Sean McVay.

A restructuring of Donald's deal in LA will see him guaranteed $95million over the next three years, making him the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history.

However, for the defending Super Bowl champion Rams, it is a price worth paying.

Donald is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and played a vital role in the Super Bowl LVI win over the Cincinnati Bengals last year.

Given the uncertainty that followed that victory, with Donald hinting at a possible retirement, McVay is simply delighted to be getting his best defender back.

"It's not great news; it's phenomenal, outstanding, any nice adjective that you can place around it," McVay told SiriusXM.

"It's a big deal, and he's earned it. And he truly is one of one, in my opinion.

"This means so much to me, to our organisation.

"I think the respect that he's garnered around this league from guys that have done it at such a high level, what he's accomplished through his eight years is unparalleled.

"And so [we] wanted to be able to find a solution to get him taken care of and have him continue to lead the way for our team, for our defense.

"We had a feeling it was trending in the right direction when he was at our wedding on Saturday night. A lot of good things have happened the last couple days for me."

As well as earning an unprecedented salary, Donald now has the freedom to retire in 2024 without any financial consequences.

First, though, the 31-year-old is "locked back in to go get us another ring", as he said in a video released by the team.

And that pursuit would be aided by the Rams also bringing back Odell Beckham – another attendee at the McVays' wedding, even if Sean claimed he "crashed" the event.

"He was a baller," McVay said of a receiver who signed for the Rams last November but was out of contract after tearing his ACL against the Bengals.

"We want to try to be able to get him back. I would love to work with him every single day."

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