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IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams have started training camp with everybody except their best player.
Defensive lineman Aaron Donald did not report to camp Friday while seeking a new contract from the Rams, who have spent months in negotiations with their two-time All-Pro.
General manager Les Snead intends to continue negotiations on a contract extension with Donald, who didn't join his veteran teammates when they checked in at UC Irvine for the first weekend of practice.
The fourth-year pro also skipped several weeks of offseason workouts while his agent worked on a new deal that will make him one of the NFL's highest-paid players. Snead repeatedly has said he thought the Rams were close to a deal with Donald, but the talks still haven't concluded.
"Today is no different than yesterday or this spring," Snead said after the first day of team meetings. "Aaron's play speaks for itself. That's the reason we want to make him a Ram a long time. Today doesn't change that urgency at all."
Snead wouldn't say whether the Rams will fine Donald up to $40,000 per day when practice begins Saturday.
Donald still has two years left on his contract, making his negotiations more complicated. He is scheduled to earn just $3.2 million this season and $6.9 million in his fifth-year option in 2018.
The Rams also could theoretically keep Donald with the franchise tag for an additional three seasons, but the Rams have repeatedly acknowledged Donald deserves more as arguably the NFL's best interior lineman.
"We respect Aaron a lot ... and we're trying to deal with this situation, and we want to deal with it," Snead said. "We feel like Aaron has earned the right to become a Ram (for) a long time, and to be paid a little more."
Snead wasn't shocked when Donald didn't show up, but the GM was hopeful Donald would decide to join his teammates and rookie coach Sean McVay, who already addressed the absence of the Rams' best player in team meetings. Snead and Donald spoke earlier in the day, the GM said.
"We knew this was a potential possibility for us, and we're constantly going through trying to get a solution to this," McVay said. "We all know he's a great player. I think his resume speaks for itself, but in the NFL, adversity is inevitable, and we've got to be ready to handle that as a team."
Donald is one of the best defensive players in football, making the last two All-Pro teams and three consecutive Pro Bowls as a disruptive pass-rusher and run-stopper. He also hasn't missed a game in his three seasons in St. Louis and Los Angeles, racking up 28 sacks in his career and tying for the NFL lead last season in tackles for loss.
His absence could be a disruption for the Rams, who likely need all the practice time they can get after making few significant personnel additions to a team rebuilding from a 4-12 record in 2016, its 13th consecutive non-winning campaign.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and a new coaching staff are installing a 3-4 defensive scheme, although it might not require major changes to Donald's playing style. Donald's versatile skills make him a nightmare for offenses, usually requiring multiple blockers to handle the 6-foot powerhouse.
Donald's teammates weren't sure when he'll join them as they reported to the dorms on the Irvine campus that will be their home for the next three weeks. Robert Quinn, who is likely to move from defensive end to outside linebacker in the 3-4, doesn't think Donald's absence is a distraction.
"Even during OTAs, guys didn't let it become a problem," Quinn said. "We know it's hard. We know he wants to be here. My college coach told me, he said, 'Make plays, get paid,' so it kind of balances itself out. Aaron has a great heart. He loves playing football. 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."
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