As the Rams began a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, a teenage onlooker stood on the perimeter of the practice fields wearing a yellow Rams cap and a blue and yellow Aaron Donald No. 99 throwback jersey.
The jersey, with “DONALD” emblazoned on the back, qualified as the perennial Pro Bowl tackle’s only presence.
Donald continued his stand for a new contract by staying home in Pittsburgh. His absence was not unexpected, coach Sean McVay said.
“When I spoke with him last week, I said, ‘You know, if there’s not a solution to this by next week, will you be here?’ ” McVay said. “He said, ‘I‘m going to stay back at home, continue training.’ ”
Last year, after sitting out organized-team activities, Donald attended the minicamp — avoiding slightly more than $80,000 in fines — but did not participate in drills.
This year, the fines apparently don’t matter.
Donald, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, is scheduled to earn about $6.9 million in the final year of his rookie contract. He is thought to be seeking a deal that will pay him in excess of $20 million per season.
Donald, 27, has been training in Pittsburgh, and McVay said the star lineman was in “a good place” mentally.
“Would we want him to be here? Yeah, we’d love to have Aaron here,” McVay said. “But it’s kind of the same where it’s been.
“We’re just focusing on, all right, the guys that are here. But we also are in constant dialogue with Aaron and his group and would like to come to a solution.
“When that’s going to happen, it’s hard to say.”
Donald’s absence has prevented defensive coordinator Wade Phillips from seeing how Donald and free-agent acquisition Ndamukong Suh will work together in what could be one of the NFL’s most dominant fronts.
But Rams players are not worried about a player who has amassed 39 sacks in four seasons.
Last year, Donald sat out training camp and reported on the eve of the season opener. He started in Week 2 and finished the season with 11 sacks in 14 games, winning his first defensive-player-of-the-year award.
“He’s the MVP, man,” new cornerback Aqib Talib said. “We know what he’s going to do when he gets here.”
If Donald does not report for training camp at least 30 days before the Sept. 10 season opener against the Oakland Raiders, he would forfeit an accrued season toward unrestricted free agency.
Last month, when asked about Donald’s situation, new cornerback Marcus Peters said “pay the man,” echoing the sentiment of many Rams fans who want the team to live up to its billing as a Super Bowl contender.
McVay said Tuesday that he had no problem with players supporting a teammate’s drive to get paid.
“When you work with people, you build and develop relationships — you want to see them get rewarded accordingly,” McVay said.
The Rams practice again Wednesday, and then will conclude minicamp Thursday with a tour of the new Inglewood stadium site.
McVay might not see Donald until late July or August, if Donald comes to training camp. The coach said he drew comfort from the fact that the Rams navigated their way through Donald’s situation last season.
“We do certainly value what this offseason program entails and the amount of work and the camaraderie that we feel like is established among the teammates that are here,” McVay said. “But Aaron has shown he was able to have a lot of success not taking part in a lot of this last year. ... We know he’s working back at home as well.
“All that being said, we’d love to have our guy, 99, here.”