By all measures, defensive tackle Aaron Donald had an outstanding 2017 season.
He tied a career high with 11.0 sacks and led the league with 91 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He was voted to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl, and named a first-team All-Pro for the third straight year.
And Donald accomplished all this playing in just 14 regular-season games.
With the offseason now upon us, Donald's contract situation will once again certainly become a point of discussion. The defensive tackle remained absent from the team for most of Los Angeles' 2017 offseason program and all of training camp, reporting to the team just before the Week 1 contest against the Colts.
The Rams and Donald have not yet come to an agreement on a contract extension. And while L.A. certainly remains interested in doing so, that it has not happened quite yet is in some ways by design.
"[S]omewhere during the season — again, we were constantly working with his representation [on a] daily, weekly basis — and somewhere along the way, in the season, it was, 'hey, let's wait,'" general manager Les Snead said Wednesday. "And it was a mutual agreement among both sides."
The season is complete, which means those discussions are likely to pick back up again. When might something get done?
"To be honest with you, I would be probably lying if I put a timeline on this one," Snead said. "But, like I've always said with Aaron … we want him to be a Ram a long time. So when we ink that deal or not — I can't put a timeline on it. But it is a major priority, as it always will be until we get it done."
Snead went on to say that Donald's extension will have an effect on the team's salary cap. But that doesn't necessarily mean the defensive tackle's contract will get done before anyone else's this offseason.
"I don't know necessarily in terms of last or first, what I do know is, he's an important domino," Snead said. "But the way we attack that list of names, can't say that Aaron would be first. We'll have them all going on simultaneously and try to knock them out. We've got a little bit of a general plan as it is now. We'll come back and fine tune it."
One element that is likely playing in the Rams' favor is the way the team's culture has changed under head coach Sean McVay. Donald has always been the epitome of a "First one in, last to leave" kind of player. And he pointed out in a recent interview with therams.com how he noticed more players staying on the practice field to do extra work once he reported to the team in September.
"That's something I didn't see in prior years," Donald said. "Little things like that go a long way — working on a little technique after just to get yourself better. When you've got a bunch of people doing that on the football field, a lot of good things can come out of that and that's what's been happening."
Clearly that work paid off, as the Rams won their fist NFC West title in over a decade in 2017. And according to Snead, the team's strong performance should only help from Donald's standpoint in terms of why he'd want to make a long-term commitment to the club.
"If you get to know Aaron, he's a no-nonsense [guy], somebody you just respect. As good as he was as an individual … he probably hates to lose more than he likes he win. He's probably one of those guys," Snead said. "[T]hat bothered him. That's important to him.
"I know he has told people here how much he respects Sean, the other coaches on the staff, the culture they're building. What we're building, he's a main part of. So I do think that definitely helps," Snead continued. "But I do think like most players, they also want to be compensated well, as well — both sides of the street. But being part of a winner is something I know that's very important to Aaron Donald."