Donald has not received a new contract, but the two sides will keep working toward one, the Rams said. He will not play in Sunday’s season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
Rams coach Sean McVay previously acknowledged that they wouldn’t have the defensive tackle in Week 1, saying Friday that “it’s safe to say that he won’t be a part of this game.”
Donald will be on the active roster Sunday, and the Rams are seeking a roster exemption. The exemption would allow Donald to be paid while not forcing the Rams to cut someone else to get down to 53 players.
Tanzel Smart, a rookie sixth-round pick, is expected to take Donald’s spot as the starting 3-technique lineman, lining up between the left guard and left tackle in base 3-4 sets.
Donald risked missing one of his 17 game checks for the 2017 season if he did not show up before Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. ET kickoff. He was fined somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.4 million for not showing up during training camp or in the preseason, but teams normally pick up those fines as part of new contracts.
Donald, 26, is set to earn a combined base salary of less than $9 million in 2017 and 2018, the final two years of his rookie contract. But he is seeking to be compensated as the game’s highest-paid defensive player, which the Rams have sounded willing to make happen.
The highest-paid defensive player is Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who signed a six-year, $114 million extension last summer that guarantees him $70 million. Next is Ndamukong Suh, who plays Donald’s position and signed a six-year, $114.375 million contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2015 that guarantees him nearly $60 million.
But those players signed their extensions after five NFL seasons. The best comparison for Donald is J.J. Watt, the only one among the five highest-paid defensive players to sign his deal after three seasons. Watt received a six-year, $100 million deal from the Houston Texans that guaranteed him about $52 million, though that came in 2014.