Rams call discussions with holdout Aaron Donald a long-distance negotiation
Kevin Demoff was on stage at a charity luncheon in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday when his phone started buzzing.
“It’s Aaron Donald’s agent,” he told the crowd. “I’m not joking. I wish I could make that up.”
Demoff, the Rams’ executive vice president of football operations and chief operating officer, did not take the call. But the Rams appear to be inching closer to agreeing on a new contract with the reigning NFL defensive player of the year.
Coach Sean McVay said Tuesday that there were “a lot of things that need to get done for it to be finalized, but we’re working in a positive direction.” General manager Les Snead told reporters at the luncheon that no agreement had been reached, but McVay was not speaking out of turn.
The Rams were scheduled to arrive in Louisiana on Wednesday night in advance of their final preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
Last year, before the final preseason game at Green Bay, McVay and Rams executives detoured to Atlanta to meet with Donald’s representatives. On Tuesday, McVay did not rule out the possibility of a similar journey.
As he did last year before reporting on the eve of the opener without a new deal, Donald has been working out in hometown Pittsburgh. Asked if a Rams contingent would travel there, Snead said he would keep details in house.
Then he added, “Pittsburgh’s a good place to visit.”
As for Demoff’s phone ringing ...
“Through the process his phone’s rang a lot,” Snead said. “It’s been a long one.”
But Snead said the target date for having Donald on site and ready to play remains the same: The Sept. 10 season opener against the Oakland Raiders on “Monday Night Football.”
“The goal’s always been first game,” he said.
No starters, and probably few if any second-stringers, will play against the Saints as the Rams prepare to cut their roster from 90 players to 53 by Saturday.
A look at a projected 53-man roster:
Quarterbacks (3): Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen — Goff, coming off a Pro Bowl appearance in 2017, will start the season without having taken a preseason snap. Mannion’s status as the backup could be tenuous if the Rams go shopping for another veteran with more game experience after rosters are trimmed.
Running backs (4): Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Justin Davis and John Kelly — Gurley, the reigning NFL offensive player of the year, recently signed a $60-million extension. Brown is a solid backup. Davis sat out three preseason games because of a hamstring injury but impressed coaches during the offseason with improvement from 2017. Kelly, a sixth-round draft pick from Tennessee, showed breakaway ability as their busiest back during the preseason.
Receivers: (6): Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds, Mike Thomas — Cooks, recipient of an $80-million extension, could provide Goff with a consistent deep threat. Woods is adept at all routes. Kupp produced as a rookie in 2017. Reynolds, at 6 feet 3, is the team’s tallest wide receiver and should provide Goff a different look once back from a preseason ankle injury.
Offensive linemen: (9) Andrew Whitworth, Rodger Saffold, John Sullivan, Jamon Brown, Rob Havenstein, Austin Blythe, Joseph Noteboom, Brian Allen, Jamil Demby — Whitworth, Saffold, Sullivan, Brown and Havenstein protected Goff and helped Gurley rush for more than 1,300 yards last season. Brown is suspended for the first two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Blythe will probably start in his spot. Noteboom has played very well at both tackle spots and right guard during the preseason.
Tight ends: (3): Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Temarrick Hemingway — The Rams need more production from this group. Higbee caught 25 passes last season. Everett sat out the preseason because of a shoulder injury. Hemingway has made big strides since returning from a broken leg but dropped several passes during the preseason.
Defensive linemen (6): Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh, Ethan Westbrooks, Tanzel Smart, John Franklin-Myers — The Rams presumably will sign Donald before the opener, giving them one of the best fronts in the NFL. Brockers showed his versatility when Wade Phillips moved him from nose tackle to the edge last season. Suh is a five-time Pro Bowl pick. Westbrooks is a valuable rotational player and Franklin-Myers could contribute immediately.
Linebackers (10): Mark Barron, Cory Littleton, Samson Ebukam, Matt Longacre, Dominique Easley, Ramik Wilson, Bryce Hager, Micah Kiser, Justin Lawler, Ryan Davis — Barron is coming off shoulder and heel surgeries and was held out of the preseason for the second year in a row. He is the veteran presence for a group that features many young players and others adjusting to new roles. Littleton will start inside alongside Barron and call defensive signals. Hager and Wilson are solid backups. Ebukam is the only defensive starter who played in the first three preseason games to gain more experience. Longacre and Easley could rotate at the other outside spot. Rookie Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, recovering from foot surgery, might begin the season on the physically unable to perform list and then will join the roster.
Cornerbacks (5): Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Sam Shields, Troy Hill — Peters and Talib, acquired in headline-grabbing trades, could form one of the NFL’s top cornerback combinations. Robey-Coleman is the slot corner. Shields sat out nearly all of the last two seasons because of concussions. Hill has been a dependable backup.
Safeties (4): Lamarcus Joyner, John Johnson, Marqui Christian, Blake Countess — Joyner is playing under the franchise tag for nearly $11.3 million. Johnson is in his second season, but coaches and teammates say he plays like a 10-year veteran. Christian and Countess also excel on special teams.
Specialists: (3) Kicker Greg Zuerlein, punter Johnny Hekker, snapper Jake McQuaide — All made the Pro Bowl last season, along with kick returner Pharoh Cooper. Zuerlein is coming off back surgery but looks to be at full strength. Hekker appears to be in midseason form.
Staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report. Farmer reported from Los Angeles, Klein from New Orleans.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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