Rams' Sean McVay 'definitely optimistic' Aaron Donald will be there Week 1

Sean McVay was asked once again about Aaron Donald after Thursday's preseason finale, and the Los Angeles Rams' head coach sounded a little bit more spirited, a little bit more forthright, a little bit more ... what's the word?

Oh, "optimistic."

McVay used that term four times over the course of three answers to Donald-related questions, the first of which dealt with whether the standout interior lineman will be available for the regular-season opener on Sept. 10 against the Indianapolis Colts.

"I think we’re optimistic," McVay told reporters from Green Bay, Wisconsin, after a 24-10 loss in a game of backups. "I think the level of urgency has certainly raised; feel good about that. Certainly those conversations right now are ongoing, but I think right now, I would say I feel optimistic about it."

McVay later went so far as to say he is "definitely optimistic." It might not sound like much, but the 31-year-old rookie head coach hasn't really gone that far since the start of training camp. His answers have centered mostly on the continued efforts of the front office and a desire to keep the focus internal. Maybe it's a sign Donald will finally return to the team -- with a mega-deal on the table, perhaps -- by the end of this week.

It's an important week.

Rams general manager Les Snead said Tuesday it's "probably a safe assumption" that Donald wouldn't be available for the Week 1 game against the Colts if he doesn't report by the end of this week. On Wednesday, Snead joined COO Kevin Demoff and senior assistant Tony Pastoors -- potentially others -- on an Atlanta-bound flight to meet with Donald's reps at CAA, a development that was first reported by NFL.com.

Snead was in the CBS broadcast booth by Thursday's third quarter and would not handicap the chances of Donald playing in Week 1, merely saying, "We're working very, very hard. It's a priority for us."

"I don’t want to put a certain time clock on it, out of respect for Aaron and really our team as a whole," McVay later added. "What I continue to reiterate is that every day is so vital and important. Obviously the closer you get, the higher the level of urgency there is. That urgency has always been high for us. But the feeling right now is definitely optimistic."

Donald's absence, not to mention Dominique Easley's season-ending knee injury, has at least allowed McVay to get a longer look at other defensive linemen. Ethan Westbrooks, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Morgan Fox and rookie Tanzel Smart all played Thursday, and all seemingly have a chance to be one of three starting down linemen, even if you assume Donald will be available when the season kicks off. The Rams' only solidified starter right now is their nose tackle, Michael Brockers.

Donald, third in ESPN's NFLRank, is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time first-team All-Pro who has compiled 28 sacks in his three-year career, four more than any other defensive tackle from 2014-16. Last season, he led the NFL in quarterback hits (31) and tied for the lead in tackles for loss (17). Heading into this season, many would argue that he is the game's best defensive player, regardless of position.

But he is underpaid, by virtue of the two years that remain on his rookie contract.

Donald is owed less than $9 million in base salary from 2017 to 2018, representing a significant gap between him and the game's highest-paid defensive players. Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller signed a six-year, $114 million contract that guarantees him $70 million, and Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh signed a six-year, $114.375 million deal that guarantees him nearly $60 million. But Miller and Suh got their deals after five NFL seasons, not three.

McVay opted against disclosing details about the ongoing negotiations, "but I do feel good about where we’re at," he said. "We know that there’s progress to be made, but optimistic about the direction that we’re going, and the level of urgency that both sides have to try to get Aaron a part of this so that we can have him playing against the Colts."