It's been a long time coming.
That was the prevailing sentiment from defensive tackle Aaron Donald as he sat down to sign his six-year contract extension on Friday afternoon.
After a conversation with his agent and a short phone call with Rams owner/chairman E. Stanley Kroenke, Donald put pen to paper and breathed a sigh of relief.
Finally, he can get back to work.
But before his first practice, Donald answered a few questions for therams.com about the process, what the new deal means to him and his family, and his excitement for the upcoming season.
Myles Simmons: First of all congratulations. You always say, "Hard work pays off." So, hard work paid off here, didn't it?
Aaron Donald: Just put the body of work in, man. Just playing the game I love and working my butt off to keep trying to improve myself each day, each week, each year. So it's just a blessing.
MS: How do you feel knowing your future with the franchise is secure?
AD: Happy. Like I always say, I started here. We went through the bad, and now I want to go through the good with this organization. So I'm just happy to be a part of it. And I'm happy the thing got done so I can go do what I like to do — what I love to do, and that's play football
MS: How much of a relief is it that this is off your chest?
AD: (Exhales) You don't understand. It was a long process, it was definitely stressful. But knowing that it's done now, and the business side is handled, and I can just go play football — it's just a relief.
Check out exclusive photos of Rams DT Aaron Donald signing his six-year extension to remain with the Los Angeles Rams through the 2024 season and returning to practice.
MS: What was it like to come back to the Rams' facility this morning?
AD: It's just a lot of love. Like I said, I was supposed to be here at like 11 o'clock today — I came early. Once he said it was done, I was trying to get here as fast as I can, man. Because you miss the guys, you miss the coaches, you just miss this team atmosphere. So just being back here is just a good feeling.
MS: Having gotten to know you a little bit over the last few years, it seems like being away from your teammates would be the hardest part of this process. Was it?
AD: It definitely was tough. I always tell people that. It definitely was a stressful time — not knowing, just waiting. And, like I said, being away from the guys, that brotherhood you build with the guys. And we're a family at the end of the day. So being away from the guys, was definitely tough. But I just do what I had to do to try to get this thing done. And I'm just happy it's done now.
MS: Who were you thinking about as you signed your new contract?
AD: All the hard work — just my family. My kids. My main thing wasn't to buy me anything special, but just to one day accomplish something like this so I could retire my mom and dad. And I did that, so now I can just play ball.
MS: What are you going to do for your parents now? New houses?
AD: They're getting new houses and they're just done. They're retired. They can kick their feet up. It's on me now.
MS: That seems to have meant a lot to you throughout the entire process, being able to retire your parents. Where did that come from?
AD: They gave me everything I've got. Who I am today is because of my parents. So that's just a small token I can give back, is to retire them. And whatever they want to do in this world, they can do. I told them that. And that was the best feeling, just calling them and telling them that I'm going to retire you — you're done. Just relax, and it's on me now. So, it's emotional thinking about it, but it's a long time coming. So I'm just happy.
MS: When you were coming out of college, could you have envisioned this kind of start to your career?
AD: This is the type of career you want, you dream about — but you never know. You just work your butt off, and you continue to work, and continue to find ways to get yourself better. The sky is the limit. You can just never sell yourself short. You put the time in and you actually put the work in, it's always going to pay off. That's why I always say, 'Hard work pays off,' because it does.
MS: Thinking about last year, everybody was talking about how you would fit in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' defense. Then you won Defensive Player of the Year. Why was all that talk overblown?
AD: I guess just because they think it's a different defense. But you've got a great coach like Wade who knows how to put players in good position to make plays and help his team to win. I'm just happy I get to stay here and get to play with this guy and work for this guy and continue to learn from him. So I'm definitely excited to keep working with him.
MS: How excited are you to get back and be with Ndamukong Suh, be with Michael Brockers and those guys up front?
AD: I'm just happy I can play ball, man. Like you said, be back with my brothers and the new guys on the team — get to build a relationship with them, get to know these guys a little better. So, it's back to football.
MS: What have you been doing just to stay in shape. Just looking at you, we know you work hard. How have you been doing it?
AD: Just working, pretty much. My brother trained with me through the whole offseason. So Monday through Sunday, we were going pretty much every single day. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I was in the weight room and we would condition after. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, I was working with my speed trainer, working football stuff with my brother, pass-rushing stuff. But Saturday was usually the day I took off. But pretty much every day, going every day, trying to condition and just keep myself in shape. And trying to do more of what I did last year, and I feel like I did that. And I tried to do different things I didn't do, as far as pass-rush stuff. So I feel like I'm in good shape, but I still have got to get football-ready.
MS: How long do you think it'll take you to get football ready?
AD: I just need a couple padded practices — a couple practices, and I'll be ready to go.
MS: I always like to ask you this — how much time did you take off between the end of the season and when you got back to training?
AD: At the end of the season, I was supposed to take two weeks off. I took the first week off and then I got back in the weight room after that. (Laughs) I tried. Honestly, I tried to stop and just relax, but it's hard for me to relax — I don't want to fall behind.
MS: When it comes to your contract, you have now reset the market when it comes to defensive tackles and defensive players. What does that mean to you?
AD: It's a good feeling. I've got great agents, that's all I can say. That was never my mindset to try and do that, but when you've got a great team and great agents like I do, they're going to handle the business side. And my job is just to play the game. So, long process, but you've got to trust the process. So, it's a blessing.
MS: How excited are you to play Week 1 on Monday Night Football?
AD: I feel good. I've been waiting a long time to sign this piece of paper and get back doing what I love to do. So I'm just excited to get back working, and get myself ready for Week 1.