Players paraded through the Rams’ Thousand Oaks practice facility Monday, taping television and in-game stadium promos and posing for media-guide portraits.
Aaron Donald was not among them.
As the Rams prepare for the start of a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, all indications are that Donald, embroiled in a contract dispute that dates to 2017, will not attend.
Last year, after sitting out organized-team activities, the star defensive tackle attended the mandatory minicamp but did not participate in drills. By attending, he avoided slightly more than $80,000 in fines.
But this year, the financial penalty probably won’t factor into the decision for the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, a four-year veteran capable of resetting the market for players other than quarterbacks.
Donald, 27, is scheduled to earn about $6.9 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract.
Neither the Rams nor Donald’s representatives have commented publicly about his desired salary figure or range. Donald, however, is thought to be seeking a deal that will pay him in excess of $20 million per season. That would not only make him the highest-paid defensive player in history, but would also put him in the company of highly compensated quarterbacks.
The Rams have leverage: If they don’t eventually come to terms with Donald this season, they could put the franchise tag on him in each of the next two.
And if Donald does not report to training camp at least 30 days before the Sept. 10 season opener against the Oakland Raiders, he would lose the opportunity to accrue a year toward unrestricted free agency.
Coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead have said they were in communication with Donald’s agents, but neither side has expressed publicly that they are close to working out a deal.
McVay said last week he would speak with Donald regarding the minicamp.
“I know we’ll have an idea based on whether it’s ‘OK, I’m not going to come until there’s a resolution,’ or ‘I will be there,’ ” McVay said.
Donald is not the only marquee player staying away from an NFL minicamp because of a contract situation.
The Atlanta Falcons announced Monday that receiver Julio Jones will not participate. Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year, reportedly also will be absent.
Donald’s participation in minicamp would help strengthen a remade Rams defense that features new defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
But his absence is not regarded as a major distraction for a team that features a majority of players who are familiar with McVay’s offense and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
McVay said the minicamp would seek to “somewhat mimic and emulate” a training camp schedule, with walk-throughs in the morning and workouts in the afternoon.
“The goal is to get to training camp healthy and ready to go,” McVay said.
During OTA workouts, McVay and players on offense said quarterback Jared Goff demonstrated confidence and growth as he prepared for his second season in McVay’s system.
Receiver Cooper Kupp said mastering the system during minicamp was the goal for the entire offense.