“Pay the man”: Rams back DT Aaron Donald in latest absence
The All-Pro defensive tackle’s teammates would like to see this standoff resolved before it has any chance to impact their promising season.
”Hey man, pay the man,” cornerback Marcus Peters said. ”You win the MVP? Come on now.”
The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year was back home in Pittsburgh while the Rams began voluntary organized team activities at their training complex Monday. He also skipped the start of their offseason program in April.
He is missing the first steps in the assembly of a potentially impressive defense. Peters joined the Rams in the offseason along with fellow star cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh – but they haven’t yet teamed up with Donald, who turns 27 on Wednesday.
”Aaron is a vet, man,” Talib said. ”He’s going to take care of his own business. What’s his business is his business.”
Donald is due to make $6.89 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract, and the Rams theoretically could keep him for three additional years under a franchise tag. But he has been one of the NFL’s top defensive linemen since his career began in 2014, and the Rams’ front office has claimed it is eager to sign Donald to a long-term contract.
”It’s kind of where it’s been,” coach Sean McVay said of the Rams’ negotiation with Donald. ”We’re in constant dialogue and communication with his representation. It is something that we want to get resolved. As far as a timetable, don’t really have any dates on that. I don’t expect Aaron to be here until we get a resolution to that.”
These negotiations still appear to be civil and respectful, despite their abnormal length. Donald has expressed little public frustration with the Rams’ reticence to write the check he is seeking, while McVay and general manager Les Snead have scrupulously avoided any public criticism of the tactics that have kept Donald away from his teammates.
”He and I have had good dialogue,” McVay said. ”I spoke with him last week. This feels a lot different than last year. Certainly anytime that you have something where the team comes together, to have a player that’s as important as he is here, you would prefer that. But it is voluntary. We understand that, and we have a lot of respect and understanding for what’s going on.”
Donald also skipped most of last year’s offseason activities in his lengthy quest for a contract befitting his talent and accomplishments. That holdout lasted through training camp and the entire preseason while he attempted to land a new contract likely to make him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.
He missed the Rams’ season opener after reporting to the team one day before the game. Donald still was named the NFL’s top defensive player despite appearing in only 14 games while Los Angeles roared to the NFC West title and the franchise’s first postseason appearance in 13 years.
Donald matched his career high with 11 sacks last year while causing continual havoc to opponents’ offensive lines and running games.
Although Donald clearly doesn’t need the offseason program to thrive, particularly heading into his second season in coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme, he’s missing out on the chance to bond with his teammates while working out his dynamic with Suh. The duo could be one of the NFL’s most intimidating combinations this fall after Suh chose the Rams from among several suitors for his free-agent services.
The Rams’ new defensive players finished their first day with new respect for McVay’s offense, which took Los Angeles from worst to first in the NFL in scoring last year.
”We got an introduction to that McVay offense, and it’s crazy,” Talib said. ”There’s a bunch of movement, a bunch of speed on it. You’ve got to have your eyes in the right place.”
The Rams’ mandatory minicamp doesn’t begin until June 12, following three weeks of voluntary workouts.
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