Rams still missing ‘the final piece of the puzzle’ as preseason nears end

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - SEP. 17, 2017. Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald warms up before the
Aaron Donald hasn’t suited up since last season, as he holds out in hopes of a new contract.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Exiting the locker room after a preseason victory over Houston, Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said it was great to get on the field for a few plays with new teammate Ndamukong Suh and other defensive starters.

Then he smiled.

“We want that final piece,” he said. “We want that final piece of the puzzle to see what this thing really looks like.”

Brockers was referring to Aaron Donald. The star defensive tackle remains a holdout as the Rams and Donald’s agents work on an extension that would not only make him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player, but also put him among the league’s highest-paid players at any position.


The Rams play their final preseason game Thursday night in New Orleans. They open the season Sept. 10 against Oakland on “Monday Night Football.”

Coach Sean McVay said Sunday there were no updates on the Donald negotiations and no “stringent date” Donald must report by to play in the opener.

Ideally, he said, Donald would arrive at least a week and a half before the game so he could fully acclimate mentally and physically.

“You’d like to have him by the end of this week,” McVay said during a teleconference.


Is he confident that will happen?

“It’s hard to say,” McVay said.

Against the Texans, Ethan Westbrooks started in Donald’s place. Westbrooks, entering his fifth season, made nine of his 11 career starts last season and had four sacks.

Donald is scheduled to earn about $6.9 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract. If his holdout continues into the season, he would lose more than $400,000 for each game missed.

Last season, when he made about $1.8 million, Donald reported on the eve of the opener but did not play. He started in Week 2 against Washington and had two tackles, one for a loss.

By the end of the season, which included being held out with other starters for the finale, Donald had amassed 11 sacks in 14 games. He was voted NFL defensive player of the year.

While the Rams wait on Donald, they took a step closer to solving a potential problem at outside linebacker.

Matt Longacre, coming off back surgery and a biceps injury that sidelined him most of training camp, started opposite Samson Ebukam against the Texans. The starting defense played only seven snaps, but Longacre got more time and recorded a second-quarter sack.


It was an encouraging performance from a player who had 5½ sacks last season as a rotational defensive lineman.

Dominique Easley also played linebacker for the first time and disrupted several plays. It was Easley’s first game since 2016, when he played effectively as a rotational defensive lineman. Easley suffered the third major knee injury of his college and pro career during 2017 training camp and sat out all season.

McVay praised both players’ performances.

“It was a good step for them too, probably just from a mental standpoint,” McVay said.

The starting defense’s short stint against the Texans qualifies as all the game action it will have before the opener. Only reserves will play in the final preseason game as the Rams prepare to cut their roster from 90 players to 53.

“It will be a great way to try and evaluate these guys and try to figure our final 53, but you will not see any starters,” McVay said.

McVay said he planned to have a scrimmage situation for starters during practice Tuesday.


Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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