Rams DT Aaron Donald downplays absence of long-term deal

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Aaron Donald held out as long as he possibly could without missing a game check. He showed up Saturday, joined his Los Angeles Rams teammates for film sessions Monday and went through a full practice for the first time Wednesday.

But the defensive tackle still hasn't agreed on a long-term contract.

"Just business," Donald said, dismissing the notion of possible animosity with the Rams' front office. "That's all."

Donald, speaking to the media Wednesday for the first time since beginning and ending his holdout, said he worked out "a lot" at his alma mater of Pittsburgh over the summer. He claimed to be in "great shape," but admitted that "it's different from being on the football field."

Rams quarterback Jared Goff said Donald was already "making practice hard for us again." First-year head coach Sean McVay described Donald as looking "exactly like you would expect."

"Looked fast, looked fresh, looked like the player that you've seen; didn't look like he missed a beat," McVay said, a day before the Rams practice in pads. "It was good to have him back out there. Great demeanor, guys were excited to have him back. He was all smiles because he loves football."

Donald's holdout lasted 43 whole days. He was fined somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.4 million. But the Rams waived that, then received an exemption to place Donald on the active roster for their Week 1 opener to ensure that he received his first game check, totaling about $106,000.

Donald didn't go into detail about his holdout.

"Just trying to handle the business side of things," Donald said, while wearing a CAA T-shirt that depicted the agency that represents him. "It was a decision I made, with my family and the guys that were helping me around me. My main focus is I'm back now, and just doing what I gotta do."

Even without Donald, the Rams walloped the Indianapolis Colts at home 46-9 on Sunday. Their offense looked good, but it was their defense that shined brightest, returning two touchdowns for interceptions, recovering a fumble, causing a safety and registering four sacks.

"They dominated," Donald said. "They did great."

McVay expects Donald to start in Sunday's home game against the Redskins, but the rest of this week will dictate how many snaps he ends up playing. Donald also missed the three weeks of organized team activities during the spring, but he was there for the voluntary minicamp in late April and the mandatory minicamp in the middle of June. He picked up Wade Phillips' system then and said he is "not behind or anything as far as knowing the plays."

But Donald was noncommittal about Sunday.

"Depends how this week goes," he said. "Today I felt good, and we're going to see tomorrow when I put the pads on."

Donald maintained that reporting Saturday was not necessarily the plan all along. When asked why he didn't show up a little sooner so that he had a chance to play in Week 1, Donald said: "It was just a decision that, when I was talking to my agents, talking to my family, it just happened. It wasn't something I was shooting for; it just happened."

Donald still has two years left on his rookie contract, set to make a combined base salary of less than $9 million from 2017 to 2018, which represents a significant gap between his compensation and the top of the market for his position.

The five highest guarantees for non-quarterbacks, respectively, belong to Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller ($70 million), Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox ($63.3 million), Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus ($60 million), Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ($59.96 million) and Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson ($53.5 million).

Donald said his teammates showed him "a lot of love" and that they "understand the business side of things."

"Any time you're around the guys again, you know they're going to pick me up," Donald said when asked about letting contract negotiations impact his play. "You'd like for things to get done, but I'm going to let my guys handle that side of things, and I'm going to handle my side of things."

Donald has handled his side. He has made the Pro Bowl after each of his three NFL seasons and has been named first-team All-Pro after the past two. He compiled 28 sacks from 2014 to 2016, four more than any other defensive tackle. Last year, he led the NFL in quarterback hits (31) and tied for the lead in tackles for loss (17). This year, Pro Football Focus considers him the game's best player, regardless of position.

He said he's ready to prove that again.

"I love football, but being away from it is tough," Donald said. "It's a decision I made. The way I chose to handle it is the way I chose to handle it. I'm here now."