Rams dealing with reported threat of Aaron Donald regular-season holdout
IRVINE – When will Aaron Donald show up? Or, more to the point, will he show up?
Donald’s contract holdout seemed to take a turn toward contentiousness Thursday morning when ESPN reported, through unnamed sources, that Donald might not join the Rams for the start of the season.
Those sources, almost certainly, did not come from UC Irvine, where the Rams wrapped up their 18-day training camp Thursday. The Rams have declined, publicly and privately, to divulge details of their negotiations with Donald’s agent, Todd France, who previously didn’t respond to interview requests.
It seems clear that, with Donald’s holdout approaching the three-week mark, and the Sept. 10 season opener on the horizon, someone is attempting to turn up the heat on the Rams.
Will it work?
“Whether that report is true or not,” Coach Sean McVay said Thursday, “we’re continuing to try to find a solution, and we’ve got some time until that does come. We’ve got to always have contingency plans in place, but like I said, that doesn’t change our approach. We’re still trying to find that solution and get Aaron here and be a part of what we’re doing. And if not, we need to be ready to adjust.”
The Rams play a preseason game Saturday at Oakland. After that, the practice schedule gets tighter. Most of the defense already has been installed, and not only has Donald missed all of training camp, but he also missed most of the team’s voluntary offseason program.
Even though Donald unquestionably is one of NFL’s most talented players, getting him up to speed on the new system of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips before Sept. 10 could be an issue.
That assumes, of course, that Donald’s holdout doesn’t continue into mid-September. Fellow defensive lineman Michael Brockers said he remains confident Donald will show up before then.
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah,” Brockers said. “I have a good feeling he will come back. It’s just about the (contract) numbers and stuff that I don’t want to get into. But I know he will be back sometime soon.”
It’s a complicated, perhaps unprecedented situation. Donald, 26, is a dominant defender who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. But under the NFL’s rookie-contract structure, Donald is set to make approximately $1.8 million this season. The Rams recently picked up his contract option for 2018, when he would make almost $6.9 million.
Donald seems to be thinking bigger, perhaps north of the six-year, $114-million deal Ndamukong Suh signed with Miami in 2015, one that included $60 million in guaranteed money.
The issue for the Rams is, they have Donald locked up for two more seasons and a reasonable salary. They seem open to signing him to a major, long-term contract, but as always in contract talks, factors such as monetary structure and option years can be stumbling blocks.
Meanwhile, Rams players continue their on-field work. The defensive line took a big hit less than a week into camp when starting end Dominique Easley tore his ACL. The Rams have been going with Ethan Westbrooks and Louis Trinca-Pasat as bookends for Brockers, their defensive tackle.
“It’s a ‘you’ve just got to go on’ type of thing,” Brockers said. “You don’t want to make it a distraction, and it’s really not a distraction. We understand the business, and we let that be that, and we take care of what we can control. That’s what it’s really about. It’s not a distraction.
“We know what we’re going to get when he comes back. He’s a plug-in guy, so as long as we can get him up to speed on the plays, and stuff like that, we’ll be fine.”
It’s also an unenviable situation for McVay, the Rams’ first-year coach who has worked hard to foster a team-first mentality since his hiring in January. Now, his team’s best player is holding out.
McVay said he doesn’t take it personally and, in fact, when Donald spoke briefly in June at a youth football camp, he was effusive in his praise of McVay’s acumen. McVay and other Rams executives have been careful to express their respect for Donald and not escalate the holdout situation.
“I can appreciate about Aaron is, he loves this game,” McVay said. “He’s all about the right stuff. He’s one of those players that coaches love to work with. He’s one of those players who, he’s why you coach, to be around players like that. You also respect and understand that this is how people make their living.
“It certainly isn’t something, now that I have a better understanding, that I take personally. It’s something where our organization and Aaron’s people are trying to come to a solution. We’re hopeful, and we’re still optimistic, that we’ll be able to get that done.”
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