Aaron Donald retires: Rams superstar left his indelible mark on the NFL, quarterbacks

Rams superstar Aaron Donald has decided to retire.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Times)

As his career progressed, and he amassed sacks and NFL defensive player of the year awards, Rams lineman Aaron Donald put himself on track for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On Friday, after Donald announced his retirement, the Hall of Fame indicated it was waiting for a player expected to be a unanimous selection in his first year of eligibility.

“The year 2029 is worth noting,” the Hall of Fame posted to social media.

Donald, a Pittsburgh native and former University of Pittsburgh star, recorded 111 sacks in 10 seasons for the Rams after they selected him 13th in the 2014 draft. He was the defensive player of the year in 2017, 2018 and 2020, and a Super Bowl champion.


Fitting of his personality, Donald chose to forgo a news conference to announce his retirement.

Retiring Aaron Donald was the face of the Rams and the reason they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl LVI. Never has there been a bigger void to fill.

March 15, 2024

“Cheers to what’s next,” Donald wrote in a social media post. “Extending a big thank you to the Rams and all of the fans for your support over these last 10 years. Much love.”

In an accompanying letter, he thanked fans in St. Louis and Los Angeles, Rams owner Stan Kroenke and players, coaches and others in the Rams organization.

“Throughout my career I have given my everything to football both mentally and physically — 365 days a year was dedicated to becoming the best possible player I could be,” he wrote. “I respected this game like no other and I’m blessed to be able to conclude my NFL career with the same franchise that drafted me. Not many people get drafted to a team, win a World Championship with that team and retire with that team. I do not, and will not, take that for granted.”

Donald, who will turn 33 in May, retires as perhaps the most dominant interior defensive lineman in NFL history. According to, he ranks 28th all time in sacks, which did not become an official statistic until 1982. But the overwhelming majority of the players ahead of Donald are ends and outside linebackers.

Donald, 6 feet, 1 inch and 280 pounds, used his intelligence, power, quickness and relentlessness to redefine the standard for defensive tackles.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald sacks Cardinals quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Quarterbacks such as Joshua Dobbs (above) will be happy to see the Rams’ Aaron Donald go into retirement.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He made the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 seasons, the first two spent in St. Louis. The eight-time All-Pro helped the Rams advance to two Super Bowls under coach Sean McVay in Los Angeles. His pressure on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow clinched a Super Bowl LVI victory at SoFi Stadium.

Donald, who recorded a career-best 20 1/2 sacks in 2018, was an ironman in the weightroom and on the field. He sat out only six games because of injury in his career, all because of an ankle injury suffered during the Rams disastrous 2022 Super Bowl-hangover season. Donald finished his career with 176 tackles for losses, which ranks third all time, according to

“The great players in our league elevate the people around them and Aaron has modeled the way for our team as long as I’ve been with the Rams,” McVay said in a statement. “He’s an elite competitor, someone who leads by example in a way that’s authentic to him, and an exceptional teammate who inspires everyone around him to be the best version of themselves. As great of a player he is, he’s an even better person. He is truly one of one and epitomizes everything that’s right about sports.”

Said general manager Les Snead: “There will never be another Aaron Donald.”

That same feeling was expressed by current and former NFL coaches and players.

Raheem Morris spent three seasons as the Rams defensive coordinator before he was hired as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in January. Last season, Donald had eight sacks for a young defense that helped the Rams finish 10-7 and make the playoffs.

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) rallies teammates.
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) was a leader.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“The coolest part was to watch the evolution of who Aaron was as a player,” Morris said in a phone interview. “To come in this league, take it by storm — with people kind of questioning his size at that time — he really took over what the prototype of the position looks like and how it plays.

“And then to watch him turn into this beloved older figure by a bunch of guys that he was able to play with at the end, I thought was just the story of Aaron Donald. To see that genuine enthusiasm that last year together with him out there in L.A. playing with those young guys and getting the best out of everybody around him just epitomizes who he was as a player and a man.”

JJ Watt, who along with Donald and Lawrence Taylor won three NFL defensive player of the year awards, put it succinctly.

“One of the greatest to ever play the game. Period,” Watt wrote on social media.

Jackie Slater, a former Rams offensive lineman and Hall of Famer, said Donald was in a class with Hall of Fame pass rushers Deacon Jones, Reggie White and Taylor.

Jonah Jackson started his NFL career by protecting Matthew Stafford with the Lions and looks forward to the reunion. Colby Parkinson is at home at tight end.

March 14, 2024

“I can honestly say that when it comes to a single individual being able to dominate a game, Aaron is among a unique group of individuals who could simply take a game over,” Slater said, adding, “He is and always will be remembered for the ‘Greatness of Relentlessness.’”

After the 2023 season ended with an NFC wild-card playoff loss to the Detroit Lions, Donald said he would return in 2024 for what was essentially the final year of a contract that included two void years.


In the weeks that followed, defensive line coach Eric Henderson left to become USC’s co-defensive coordinator and Morris was hired by the Falcons.

On Friday, Henderson reflected on his five seasons working with Donald.

“As coaches we always talk about what it’s like to coach players,” Henderson said by phone. “For me, I just enjoy the fact that I was able to learn so many things from him.

The Rams continued to tinker with their secondary, agreeing to terms on a deal with former Washington Commanders safety Kamren Curl.

March 14, 2024

“He had kids before I had kids. So seeing him be the father that he is has truly motivated me and taught me a lot about what it’s like to be a great family man that I want to be.”

This week, the Rams restructured Donald’s contract, reducing his salary-cap number from $34 million to $25 million. So the Rams, for now, have added about $9 million in cap space. They are expected to absorb a $32-million cap hit spread over the next two years, however.

Nose tackle Kobie Turner and edge rusher Byron Young are among the young defensive linemen and edge rushers who will return to a team that was expected to be among Super Bowl contenders.

The Rams could sign a free agent or trade for a veteran defensive lineman. They also have the No. 19 pick in the draft, one of 11 total picks.


But there will be no replacing Aaron Donald.

Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.