The final days of the Aaron Donald watch — and the Rams’ preparation for the Sept. 10 opener against the Oakland Raiders — can commence.
The Rams concluded the preseason Thursday night with a 28-0 defeat by the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The result, of course, did not matter.
Coach Sean McVay’s decision to sit offensive starters for the preseason and allow defensive starters only seven plays in the third game produced the desired result: The Rams are physically sound heading into a “Monday Night Football” matchup against the Raiders in Oakland.
“We’re looking forward to getting started with these games that count,” he said.
The Rams have 10 days before the opener. The question now is when Donald will end his holdout and agree to terms on a contract extension.
McVay and team executives hinted this week that they were close to reaching a deal with the reigning NFL defensive player of the year. Their sometimes light-hearted delivery made it sound as if it were imminent.
McVay played it straight after the game.
“We’ll hopefully have some finality to it sooner than later,” he said. “I know that there’s a couple things that we’re trying to work through.”
Donald sat out the preseason in 2017, reported on the eve of the opener and played in the second game. He finished the season with 11 sacks.
McVay has said that Donald would probably have to be on hand by early next week to be ready to play against the Raiders.
But on Thursday night he declined to name a day or time frame.
“You’d like to be able to give him that proper acclimation period,” he said, “but we certainly don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves or our team or the individual into, ‘If you’re not here by this date then [you] don’t play.’”
Donald is scheduled to make about $6.9 million is the final year of his rookie contract.
He is seeking an extension that would make him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player and among the league’s highest-paid players.
The Rams and two of their players made financial moves that provided the team with cushion to address several issues, including the possible extension for Donald.
Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth and receiver Robert Woods agreed to restructure their contracts, creating about $7 million in cap space, Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ executive vice president of football operations and chief operating officer, said Thursday.
Demoff declined to comment on the Donald negotiations. But he said the contracts were not restructured “solely” because of that situation.
To this point in the NFL’s league year, only the top 51 salaries count against the salary cap.
Next week, when rosters have been set, all 53 salaries, practice squad and injured reserve count against the cap.
“We needed to create extra room to handle all those charges, plus leave us some room going into the season,” Demoff said.
He also cited the recent $80-million extension signed by receiver Brandin Cooks, the $60-million extension for running back Todd Gurley and the $32-million extension for offensive lineman Rob Havenstein.
“We had not moved around any cap space through the Cooks, Gurley and Havenstein extensions, so this was always a move that was contemplated as we got close to the season,” Demoff said.
Whitworth, the starting left tackle, signed a three-year, $33.75-million contract before the 2017 season. He has a base salary of $8 million and a salary-cap number of $12.6 million this season, according to overthecap.com.
Woods signed a five-year, $34-million contract before the 2017 season. He has a base salary of $5.5 million and a salary cap number of $9 million.
Donald’s is expected to be well north of double that when a deal is complete.
The Rams will trim the roster from 90 to 53 players by Saturday.