Rams bracing for preseason games without Aaron Donald

IRVINE, Calif. -- For the last three years, Michael Brockers dug his left hand into the dirt and positioned himself to rush the quarterback with Aaron Donald stationed right next to him.

These days he looks to his right and sees somebody else entirely.

"You feel like you’re missing something," Brockers said after Friday's practice. "You feel like you’re missing a piece of the puzzle. It feels a little weird. But for the most part, we’re not really focusing on it. We’re not really making it a distraction."

The Rams will host the Dallas Cowboys from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, and Donald is not expected to be there. It'll be another benchmark in his ongoing holdout for a more lucrative contract. First he missed organized team activities, which were voluntary. Then it was training camp, which came with a daily $40,000 fine. Now it's the preseason schedule. Donald's holdout has dragged on for more than two weeks, with still no end in sight.

Rams general manager Les Snead was asked if there has been any movement.

"Not any movement," he said. "There is hope. There's hope that he'll be a Ram a long time."

Donald is owed less than $9 million in base salary while under team control over the next two years, but has performed to the level of the game's highest-paid defensive players. It sets up a tricky negotiation process, positioning the Rams somewhere between what is right and what is prudent. Privately, though, they remain hopeful that something will be figured out eventually.

By not reporting before the Aug. 8 deadline, Donald will not qualify for an accrued year of service in 2017. But that doesn't necessarily matter much to him. Players need four years of accrued service to qualify for unrestricted free agency and Donald already has three, with a 2018 option that will allow him to pick up a fourth next season. The Rams can easily prevent Donald from hitting the free-agent market with a franchise tag in 2019, but prefer to get him locked up beyond that.

They also want to get him ready for this season.

Donald, a tireless worker, is presumed to be staying in shape. But he isn't getting the full effects of a padded practice, and he isn't integrating himself into Wade Phillips' defensive system. As the days pile on, the concern about his readiness for games will only grow.

"The biggest thing for him is just really getting into the playbook and learning the plays," Brockers said. "But this guy is so special. And the way Wade uses us, I know he will succeed. That’s the big thing. We're not really worried about if he's staying in shape or if he's going to come here and be able to be productive. He’s going to be productive in this scheme."