Aaron Donald not expected to show when Rams begin voluntary offseason workouts Monday

Several new high-profile players, including cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and receiver Brandin Cooks, can introduce themselves to Rams teammates Monday when the team begins voluntary offseason workouts in Thousand Oaks.

But one of the team’s biggest stars almost certainly will not be part of the greeting party. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald, once again, is not expected to participate in the nine-week program. At least not until he gets a new contract.

Donald earned only $1.8 million in 2017 and is due to make $6.9 million this season in the fifth and final year of his rookie deal. But the reigning NFL defensive player of the year is thought to be seeking an extension that would pay him more than $20 million per season.

A Donald absence would be a familiar scenario for second-year coach Sean McVay. Last year Donald sat out voluntary workouts, did not participate in drills during a mandatory minicamp and stayed away from training camp to make a statement about his contract situation — and to avoid injury.

It did not affect his performance: He recorded 11 sacks and helped the Rams win the NFC West and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. So McVay does not figure to worry about Donald’s preparation for the season.


General manager Les Snead has said the Rams and Donald’s representatives have a “timeline” for discussions about a new deal but declined to offer specifics, insisting only that signing Donald remains a priority.

“The goal is still the same,” he said, “Make Aaron Donald a Ram for a long, long time.”

The first two weeks of the offseason program, as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement, can include only strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation.

The next three weeks can include on-field, individual player instruction and drills but none that pit offensive players against defensive players. The final four weeks can include 10 days of organized-team practice, commonly known as OTAs. No live contact is permitted.

Last year McVay had been on the job for not quite three months when the offseason program began. His first task was to lay the groundwork for a new culture while he and his staff taught players new systems on offense and defense.

Now he must build on last season’s success, which included the ascent of quarterback Jared Goff and the rebirth of running back Todd Gurley, the NFL’s offensive player of the year.

The offseason program is expected to help new players get acclimated and, perhaps, provide a proving ground for several returning from injuries or coming back from subpar performances.

Kicker Greg Zuerlein, the NFL’s scoring leader in 2017, underwent back surgery late in the season and was sidelined for the last three games.

Receiver Tavon Austin was not able to participate fully in the offseason program last year following wrist surgery. He suffered a hamstring injury during training camp, lost his job as the punt returner and never found a role in McVay’s offense. Last month Austin agreed to restructure his contract to remain with the Rams.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein