LOS ANGELES — Holdout All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has been officially ruled out of the Los Angeles Rams’ season opener.
Rams coach Sean McVay finally confirmed the obvious Friday while Donald’s teammates finished up their preparations for the Indianapolis Colts’ visit to the Coliseum on Sunday.
“With him missing the week of preparation, we’re still trying to find a way to come to a solution, but it’s safe to say that he won’t be a part of this game,” McVay said.
Donald has stayed away from the Rams since offseason team activities in May, demanding a new contract after three standout NFL seasons. The team has described talks with Donald as civil and constructive for several months, but the sides clearly aren’t close to a compromise — and now the holdout begins to take a measurable toll on the Rams.
Donald, who was still at home in Pittsburgh recently, will start missing game checks Sunday.
“It’s disappointing that he’s not here for whatever the reasons are, but I’ve been through it before, too,” said Wade Phillips, the Rams’ first-year defensive coordinator. “You’ve got to play with the guys you have. We believe that we can play well, and that’s what we’re going to try to do. So, wishing and hoping and all that stuff.”
With two years left on his rookie contract, Donald is believed to be seeking a deal to make him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. The disruptive defensive tackle is a three-time Pro Bowl selection with 28 sacks and a reputation as one of the league’s most effective players at any position.
But Donald is due to make just $1.8 million this season and roughly $6.9 million in 2018 under the terms of his rookie deal. The Rams agree he is worth far more, but they haven’t been able to agree on a number with Donald’s representatives, even after team officials traveled to Atlanta last week for a face-to-face meeting.
Tanzel Smart, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Tulane, is expected to start in Donald’s place Sunday against the Colts. McVay praises Smart’s versatility and intelligence, but nobody can replicate Donald’s space-moving presence in the line for the Rams, who have had an above-average defense ever since drafting Donald in the first round out of Pitt in 2014.
“Just looking at the interior of our defensive line, I think we’ve had a chance to develop some good depth (in Donald’s absence),” McVay said.
Phillips has been looking forward to maximizing Donald’s strengths in the Rams’ new 3-4 defense, but hasn’t had the chance. He has coached the likes of Reggie White, Bruce Smith, J.J. Watt and many other superstar defensive linemen during his lengthy career.
Phillips doesn’t think Donald will require much preparation time to be ready to play when his holdout finally ends.
“If you’ve got a guy like Aaron Donald, you tell him, ‘Take off and beat the guy real quick,'” Phillips said. “So we just adjust with our personnel and let them do what they do well.”