Updated: 7/28 at 6:20 p.m.
At separate press conferences on Thursday, general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay acknowledged they were uncertain as to whether or not defensive lineman Aaron Donald would be in attendance for the start of training camp. Now both know for sure: Donald is absent as he and the team continue to negotiate a contract extension.
"Today's no different than yesterday," Snead said Friday evening. "Aaron's a priority. The goal is still the same: Make Aaron a Ram for a long, long time. So, that didn't change at all. Definitely respect Aaron as a human, respect the process."
"He's a great player. We knew this was a potential possibility for us. And we're constantly going through, trying to get a solution to this," McVay said. "But in the meantime, training camp starts tomorrow. We've got 90 guys — or 89 guys — who will be ready to go. And we won't allow this to set us back in our preparation moving towards the Dallas preseason game and leading into the regular season. And just like anything else — love him, he's a great player. I think his resumé speaks for itself. But in the NFL, whatever it is, adversity is inevitable and we've got to be ready to handle that as a team. And we'll move forward accordingly."
Snead said he had been in contact with Donald's representation on Friday — "Any time you're dealing with this, you don't go a few days without discussing the matter," he said — but declined to go into any specifics as to how the talks are progressing.
"Respect Aaron, respect his agents working through this, and we've said all along — let's try not to get into specifics, details," Snead said Friday. "But [we will] stick to the mantra, hey, it is a goal to make Aaron a Ram a long time."
The 2014 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, Donald is widely regarded as one of the best players in football — including by those in the organization. Snead first said at the Combine in March that Donald "deserves a raise, there's no doubt."
Since Donald entered the league in 2014, no defensive tackle has recorded more sacks than his 28.0. In 2016, he led the league with 31.0 quarterback knockdowns and was No. 2 with 68.5 total QB hurries and knockdowns.
"As Sean said, Aaron's play speaks for itself — that's the reason why we want to make him a Ram a long time," Snead said Friday. "So today doesn't change that urgency at all."
Even before it was confirmed Donald would not attend the start of training camp, outside linebacker Robert Quinn said Friday morning he didn't believe the situation would become a distraction for the players.
"No, not at all. You look, even during OTAs, guys didn't let it become a problem," Quinn said.
"Aaron has a great heart. He loves playing football, first and foremost. He's just going through a tough little situation right now. Like I said, the guys have his back and once he finally decides to come out here we'd love to see his face and take it from there."
"I know his teammates have a whole lot of respect for Aaron with the way that he competes, what he's about," McVay said. "He's what represents what's right about this game in terms of those top-tier players like he is. I know that they would want him to be around, but there are business elements to these things that take place that have some nuances to them. And I think his teammates respect and understand the organization and the player — it's about us coming to a solution. But I don't think it's going to affect their ability to perform and do things tomorrow. While they want them to be out there, they've got a job to do and I think that's their mindset."
McVay said he's already addressed Donald's situation with the team to get out in front of it. As the head coach put it, Donald has served as a captain and is clearly a significant part of the club's defensive plans.
But without him around, McVay named two players who will likely receive extra practice reps in Dominique Easley — who McVay said "had a great spring" — and Ethan Westbrooks.
Once Donald returns, he'll have some catching up to do. But McVay did not seem too concerned about that being an issue.
"There's ways that he can stay up with it based on some of the technology that we have. So he understands kind of his roles and responsibilities within the framework of the defense," McVay said. "But there's no substitution for getting those physical reps. That's why there's no substitution for getting those physical reps. And that's why this time of year is important to us.
"But he is the type of guy where you know he's going to stay up from a mental standpoint," McVay continued. "And he's one of the few guys that you feel like will be able to make a smooth transition to whatever system just because of the caliber player he is."
And so as the first practice of training camp begins tomorrow, the Rams will continue to work on reaching a resolution with Donald that pays off for the player and the organization.
"He's been a priority and, obviously, in these situations both sides are working," Snead said. "And you're working hard to try to get something done."
Check out photos of veteran players arriving at Rams Training Camp in Irvine, Calif. Photos by Jeff Lewis.