The Rams began their organized team activity practices on Monday with one notable player not on the field: defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
After the day's session, general manager Les Snead confirmed it's a contract-related absence for Donald, who is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal. With Donald a first-round pick in the 2014 draft, Los Angeles picked up the fifth-year option on his contract earlier this spring.
From Snead's comments, it's clear Donald and his representation are looking for an extension. And productive discussions have taken place, with Snead saying he's "very hopeful" a deal will get done.
"I can tell you this, we're definitely at the serious stages of renegotiating," Snead said, adding he'd keep the details of the discussions in-house. "But [we] respect Aaron as a player, a person, respect his representation, and respect the process."
Though Donald is only through three years of his rookie deal, Snead said the club was not caught off guard by beginning negotiations at this stage.
"I think when you start having a player of his caliber, you've seen some trends — like a J.J. Watt where [a contract extension] occurs after Year 3," Snead said. "So it was not a surprise."
Since entering the league in 2014, Donald leads all defensive tackles in sacks with 28.0. He was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014 after setting a franchise rookie record with 9.0 sacks, also earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. Donald has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of his three seasons, and was named a first-team All-Pro for 2015 and 2016.
"We like Aaron, there's no doubt," Snead said, mentioning his comments at the Combine in March that he felt Donald deserved a raise. "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."
According to Snead and head coach Sean McVay, the Rams were aware Donald would not be at Monday's voluntary practice.
"What we have seen from Aaron this offseason in terms of the effort, the way that he's competed — been very pleased with him," McVay said. "And it is voluntary right now, so whenever we get him back, we'll feel good about that.
"I think we're confident that he's going to be a very important part of what we're doing moving forward," McVay added. "And when he's back, it'll be great for everybody."