THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Aaron Donald, the game's best interior pass-rusher, was absent from the first day of the Los Angeles Rams' organized team activities on Monday, while he and his representatives at CAA continued to negotiate a potential extension.
Rams general manager Les Snead confirmed that Donald's absence "has something to do with the contract" and said he is "very hopeful that this thing will get done."
Donald recently had his fifth-year option picked up, but that was always considered something of a placeholder while he and the Rams went back and forth on an extension. The No. 13 overall pick in 2014 will be paid a base salary of about $1.8 million in 2017 and $6.9 million in 2018, then will be eligible for free agency.
Donald's representatives at CAA were not immediately available for comment. But Snead said at the NFL combine in early March that Donald "deserves a raise," then said Monday that the Rams are "definitely at the serious stages of renegotiating" his contract.
"We like Aaron," Snead said. "There's no doubt he's a really good player. We want him to be a Ram. That's our goal. I think his goal is to be a Ram, and that's what we're working toward."
Donald has been invited to the Pro Bowl each of his three NFL seasons and was first-team All-Pro the past two years. In 2015 and '16, he was considered the game's best defensive player, regardless of position, by Pro Football Focus. Last season alone, he led the NFL with 31 quarterback hits, was tied for the lead with 17 tackles for loss, and added eight sacks.
Rams rookie head coach Sean McVay said Donald was present for the voluntary veteran minicamp from April 25-27 and had been a part of most of the team's offseason program. Participating in OTAs is voluntary, but players are required to show up for the minicamp that runs from June 13-15.
"Everything's good with Aaron," McVay said. "We expected him not to be here today, but what we have seen from Aaron this offseason, in terms of the effort, the way that he's competed -- we've been very pleased with him."
The Rams don't have much of any cap space remaining, but could pay Donald more money in 2017 by virtue of a signing bonus, which is traditionally paid in a lump sum but is spread out over the course of a contract with regards to the salary cap.
Roster bonuses and restructuring other contracts can also allow Donald to be paid more money up front. A source with knowledge of the negotiations said the Rams' cap space in 2017 "isn't an impediment" with Donald's contract. The team is set up to have $43 million on cap space in 2018, currently fifth most in the NFL.
Another option could be signing cornerback Trumaine Johnson to an extension, which would likely mean he makes less in 2017 than the $16.7 million he's on track to receive under his second consecutive franchise tag. But Snead said the Rams won't pursue extension talks with Johnson until after OTAs wrap up.
Any extension for Donald might require making him the game's highest-paid defensive player, though he could be willing to sacrifice some of that in order to make more in his two seasons before free agency.
The game's highest-paid defensive player is Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who signed a six-year, $114.5 million contract, with $70 million guaranteed, last July. After Miller are a couple of defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh of the Dolphins (six years, $114.375 million with nearly $60 million guaranteed) and Fletcher Cox of the Eagles (six-year, $102.6 million contract with nearly $63.3 million guaranteed).
J.J. Watt -- the only one among the five highest-paid defensive players to get an extension before his fourth season -- got a six-year deal worth about $100 million with nearly $52 million guaranteed with the Texans.
But that was in 2014.
"You always look at comparisons," Snead said, smirking a bit. "We always do that, right?"