THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Aaron Donald, holding out all summer in hopes of a more lucrative contract, was absent from the Los Angeles Rams' facility Monday and thus did not participate in a practice that head coach Sean McVay previously deemed "the first day of true preparation" for their first opponent.
Donald's absence makes it seem unlikely that he will be available for Sunday's season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. McVay, however, said Donald is "not ruled out," and he wouldn't impose a firm deadline on when Donald would have to arrive to play in Week 1.
"It's hard to say," McVay said when asked about a deadline. "Until we come to a solution, then that's when I think you have a chance to really put a specific plan in place, out of respect for Aaron and the team. Our mindset right now is if we have to go play a football game, guys are ready to go. And Aaron hasn't been here as a part of the preparation."
McVay called Monday "a bonus day" because the Rams wouldn't normally practice on Mondays during the regular season. Tuesday is a player's day off, and Wednesday is traditionally the day the team installs its game plan for its upcoming opponent.
The Colts will be without three key players for that game, including quarterback Andrew Luck, center Ryan Kelly and cornerback Vontae Davis.
If Donald doesn't arrive by Sunday, he will miss out on one of his 17 game checks, which make up his 2017 salary (players are paid during their bye week). The 26-year-old is set to earn a base salary of $1,802,250 this year, with a fifth-year option of $6.892 million for 2018.
Donald, however, is a three-time Pro Bowler who has been named first-team All-Pro each of the past two seasons and is deemed in some circles as the game's best defensive player, regardless of position. The substantial gap between his earnings and those of the game's top defensive players is believed to be a major motivation for his holdout.
The highest-paid defensive player is Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who signed a six-year, $114 million extension last summer that guarantees him $70 million. Next is Ndamukong Suh, who plays Donald's position and signed a six-year, $114.375 million contract with the Dolphins in 2015 that guarantees him nearly $60 million.
But Miller and Suh each signed those contracts after five NFL seasons. Donald has played in only three. Although the Rams have said all year that Donald deserves to be compensated in line with the game's best, they don't want to give up all their salary-cap flexibility for a player who currently comes at such an affordable rate.
McVay said he is "optimistic that we're going to continue to work to find a solution."
"That being said, if we're not able to, the game goes on Sunday at 1 o'clock," he added. "There's going to be a kickoff, and it's going to be a great opportunity for us to come together as a team and see if we can come away with a W against a great opponent."
The Rams' front office -- a contingency that includes COO Kevin Demoff, general manager Les Snead and senior assistant Tony Pastoors -- flew to Atlanta on Wednesday to meet with Donald's representatives at CAA but didn't necessarily come any closer to an agreement. Snead previously said it would "probably be a safe assumption" that Donald needed to report by the end of last week -- or at least by Monday -- to have much of a chance of playing in the opener.
Donald is no longer subject to the $40,000-a-day fines, but he probably accumulated at least $1.4 million in fines for not showing up throughout the preseason and in training camp. Those fines tend to be picked up by the team on new contracts.
"Guys are ready to go, and we're getting a plan in place, and the preparation goes on," McVay said. "Fortunately, we've got a bunch of guys that we feel confident in that are ready to step up. Our message continues to remain the same: If he's here, great. We'll accept him back with open arms. But in the meantime, we've got to get ready to play a football game. And we know the Colts are getting ready as well."