All along, Aaron Donald's retirement talk felt like a negotiating ploy.
That the end result of his chatter was a $95 million contract restructure with $40 million in additional salary over the same time frame and more guaranteed money than Matthew Stafford suggests that it was. If it was a ploy, it turns out that he was playing hardball.
Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Donald's agent filed a retirement letter with the Rams on May 9, four weeks before Donald and the Rams reached agreement on his new contract on June 6. Per the report, the letter was addressed to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and included instructions for the team to file it with the league office.
Negotiations had stalled at that point, per the report, but Donald and the Rams had a meeting scheduled the following day. Per Rapoport, the meeting yielded a "slightly encouraging conversation" between the Rams and Donald's agent that prompted more meetings and ultimately led to the two sides reaching a new deal.
Rapoport also notes a key salary cap caveat. Had the Rams actually filed the retirement letter with the league office prior to June 1, a retiring Donald would have accounted for a $21.5 million salary cap hit for the team. After June 1, that cap hit reduced to $9 million.
There would have been zero upside for the Rams to file the letter prior to June 1. Their top priority was keeping their perennial All-Pro defender in uniform. Absent that, they wouldn't want to burn $12.5 million in cap space when they didn't have to.
Surely, Donald's representatives were aware of this. Which goes back to the suggestion that all of this was a negotiating ploy. For Donald, filing the letter certainly came with risk. At the same time he had to realize that the Rams were in no position to call his bluff.