Raiders LB Khalil Mack

Khalil Mack vs Aaron Donald: There can be only one richest defender ever!

NFL players are some of the most physically gifted humans on earth, along with that they carry a strong sense of competitiveness. Aside from winning on the gridiron, these same players seek victory in their bank accounts. Two players who are headlining the matchup for “highest paid defender” is Aaron Donald of the L.A. Rams and Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders.

Both Mack and Donald are first-round picks from the 2014 draft class (5,13) who have dominated their opponents on a routine basis. They are also among the second wave of players to be eligible for a fifth-year option under the new CBA rookie wage scale.

Khalil Mack vs Aaron Donald: There can be only one richest defender ever!

For everyone saying ‘trade these selfish players’, keep in mind the average NFL career lasts 3.3 years long. These ‘selfish’ players put their bodies on the line for our entertainment at great personal risk. Under the current CBA, the rookie wage scale limits the compensation of all rookies by position on the field and in the draft. It also offered unparalleled team control options on all first-round draft picks potentially denying them unrestricted free agency until seven seasons into their career.

Mack and Donald have been on a collision course for this moment since they first laced em’ up in the preseason of 2014. They have been the premier defenders in this league from their rookie seasons. Interlocked in what has thus far and appears to be a career-long game of one-upmanship, these two have traded historical accomplishments year after year.

An argument can be made for either player being superior to the other, but one argument these two young men seem ready to passive-aggressively lock horns over who should be paid more.


The Aaron Donald Argument: The Good

  • 62 games
  • 58 starts
  • 39.0 sacks
  • 9 Pass Defended
  • 148 tackles
  • 9 Forced Fumbles
  • 2 Fumble Recoveries

Mack may have been drafted higher but Donald was the first to set the bar high. In 2014 Donald beat out Mack for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Donald has made the Pro Bowl every year of his career and has been an All-Pro for three of his four years in the league. After a prolific 2017 season, Donald was voted as the Defensive Player of the Year

The Bad

Vincent Bonsignore detailed what exactly Donald’s position is and leverage against the Rams heading into his labor dispute. Unfortunately for Donald, this holdout doesn’t appear it will end well for him unless he is the beneficiary of Stan Kroenke’s generosity.

  • Defensive tackle isn’t a premium position under the salary scale, as such his $6.9 million base salary is a far cry from what he deserves.
  • Holding out last training camp cost Donald accrued service time.
  • Significance: on August 8, 2018, if Donald holds out he will forgo being able to declare for an unrestricted free agency at the start of the 2019 season and will be a restricted free agent which is bad for him financially.
  • Ultimately he deserves to be paid and he will be paid handsomely but will have to make some interesting life and financial gambles to be paid more than Mack.


The Case for Khalil Mack: The Good

  • 64 games
  • 64 starts
  • 231 tackles
  • 40.5 sacks
  • 1 interception
  • 1 def touchdown
  • 9 forced fumbles
  • 4 fumbles recovered

To clear the air now (to the dismay of Raider Nation) I don’t believe Mack will be signing a long-term deal prior to Donald. If Mack does he will be doing himself a disservice (financially speaking) if he signs first.

Donald may have a few more accolades, but Mack has the better stat line. Mack also plays a ‘premium position’ and he waited for the proper time to holdout in order to maximize his leverage.

However, Mack is no stranger to accolades as he’s a 3x Pro Bowl selection and a 2x All-Pro. Also to Mack’s credit, he is the only NFL player ever selected as an All-Pro at two positions in one season. Prior to Donald’s 2017 award-winning season, it was Mack who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors after racking up 73 tackles, 11 sacks and, 5 forced fumbles.

Mack is dealing from a supreme position of strength and has all the leverage in the world which is in stark contrast to Donald and here’s why:

  • $13.9 million rookie scale (No. 5 pick at a premium position)
  • Mack is headed for unrestricted free agency at the beginning of 2019.
  • He is the first player ever named as an All-Pro at two different positions in the same year.
  • Playing under the franchise tag for two years is a huge advantage to bridge the gap till the Las Vegas move.
  • Once in Vegas, Mack will no longer be paying the dreaded 13.3% California income tax and instead will be in income tax-free Nevada nor will he be subjected to the ‘Jock Tax’ per Las Vegas Sun reporter Adam Candee.

What’s at Stake

It is widely believed one of these two men if not both are going to be the first defenders to approach quarterback-like money per season. Currently, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos has the highest per annual salary of any defender at $19,016,667. Most likely both players are setting their bases at Miller’s 6yr/$114.1 million and $70 million guaranteed and $42 million guaranteed at signing. Mack and Donald look to be the first defenders to top the $20 million per season mark for defenders.

In Mack’s case, a holdout is the smartest business and financial move he can make, not doing anything to jeopardize his money.

With Donald’s situation, as mentioned above, an ill-timed contract holdout could potentially cost him. In today’s NFL, leaving money on the table around ownerships is a good way to lose it. Should he decide to get a deal done before August 8, he will be taking a team deal at the team price. Should he decide to risk it by holding out, he could very well end up costing himself a very large amount of money in restricted free agency in 2019.

The Winner


Two guys are using each other jack up their respective competitive salaries to well over $100 million, ain’t nobody is losing here. For the completion of the exercise, I would lean towards Mack being the last to sign because quite frankly he can afford to wait. So Raider Nation, buckle up and prepare for a lengthy holdout from Mack.

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