For more than a year, the Los Angeles Rams and DL Aaron Donald have danced around their negotiations surrounding Donald’s expiring contract. It’s an artful dance. One that has to play out behind closed doors while trying to take advantage of public sensibilities and the wavering nature of Rams’ fans, and an even larger NFL audience given Donald’s historically unique skill set, all the while trying not to upset the other party.
So yes. Artful.
But throughout the last year and a half, we have heard often from Rams Head Coach Sean McVay and General Manager Les Snead. During last year’s holdout and now this year’s version, the two frequent members of press availability have been peppered with questions about negotiations. About the likelihood of Donald’s return and long-term future with the Rams.
And none of it has been truthful.
I don’t mean that in the sense that any party has been dishonest. I mean that in the way that their responses just aren’t relevant. The same irrelevance you’d immediately recognize if you asked Rams Cornerbacks Coach Aubrey Pleasant about the Rams’ running backs. It’s not that he wouldn’t be able to come up with an answer given his proximity to the backs and a cogent one at that. It’s that it would be irrelevant and lacking of the sincerity of truth that you’d (possibly) get from, say, Running Backs Coach Skip Peete. Or Run Game Coordinator Aaron Kromer. Or McVay. All of them could speak to the running backs with more clarity and sincerity given their involvement with the parties involved. Asking Pleasant about them isn’t unfair. It’s just not useful. And it can be misleading.
And that’s exactly what has gone on for more than a year with Donald and the Rams.
Mcvay was asked about Donald yesterday. And the practice before. And before that. And he and Snead together to open camp. And throughout OTAs and after the draft and during the combine and after the end of the year and last preseason and training camp and every single point of interest. The Rams kept asking the wrong people because McVay and Snead aren’t running negotiations.
Rams Chief Operating Officer and Vice President Kevin Demoff and his Special Assistant Tony Pastoors are. And whether it’s because most fans don’t know as much or because they don’t care or because the media can’t get them on the record or because it doesn’t generate enough attention, they just haven’t done it frequently. Instead, we’re treating to McVay’s non-updates as a non-actor on the outside looking in that could tell you as much as all of us could. He joked the other day that his Donald update would come if his phone was blowing up because of Twitter.
Because Sean McVay is involved in negotiations as you and I are. But the media keeps asking him about them instead of Demoff and Pastoors.
Yesterday, that changed.
Yesterday, as part of the Rams’ effort to court the San Diego media market, they invited former NFL players K Scott Kaplan and LB Billy Ray Smith who played with the San Diego Chargers for 10 seasons, to come to training camp to record their radio show for the Mighty 1090, a San Diego radio station that recently formed a partnership with the Rams to grow their base in SoCal.
The Rams fed them tons of talent to fill their airwaves. Rams Director of Communications Artis Twyman gave them an interview. Radio Play-by-Play man J.B. Long spent time on air. Twyman even sent WR Robert Woods to the radio hosts to give them a rundown on happenings in camp. But without question, the most important interview they landed was with Demoff himself.
And during that interview, he explained that for all the talk of the last year of how close a Donald deal was, of how impending that signing was, it was all for naught.
Because the Rams just don’t see him as crucial to their success.
I recommend listening to the whole interview, but I’ll pull out the relevant sections.
The biggest one, and the one that should erase every response from anyone in the organization to this point outside of Demoff, was this one around the 16:25 mark with the Donald remarks starting around the 14:00 mark:
I don’t think [Donald and his reps] are unrealistic. I think they see their client at a certain point that they value [him] at. We see it at a different point. To me, that doesn’t mean one side is right or wrong. I think that’s the worst thing you can say in negotiations.
We don’t agree. But that doesn’t make us right and them wrong. It doesn’t make them right and us wrong. We just don’t agree.
Does that sound like two camps close to a deal? Does this from Jason La Canfora sound like anything anywhere near what’s actually going on or more like something from a tangential source, someone who knows someone who knows someone rather than a someone like Demoff who is personally involved in negotiations?
Aaron Donald has told some close to him that he anticipates a new deal being done before camp opens. Would behoove the Rams to do as much and that is certainly their hope— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) July 17, 2018
Ask yourself where you’ve seen anything from anyone involved more intimately than Demoff that comes close to that quote.
Why should we accept anything less than Demoff going on the record for negotiations whenever he’s available? Why should we waste our time with McVay or Snead or the players or anyone else? And by we, I don’t just mean Rams fans. I mean Rams fans, other fans, traditional media, whomever.
This is a AM radio station in San Diego that has a smaller audience than TST and whatever section of that smaller audience that happens to be interested enough to listen to a live show at Rams training camp landing the most important interview related to Aaron Donald’s contract extension in the last year plus.
Think about that.
And credit to Kaplan for pressing the questions to Demoff to get clarity like this:
What’s important right now is to continue to make sure we try to find a way to get Aaron in the fold but also preserve...because that’s what we need. We’re gonna have Marcus Peters on a contract expiring. You have Jared [Goff] coming up. You know, next year we’re going to have four picks in the top 100 [of the 2019 NFL Draft]. You want to make sure that what we’re building is not just short-term. That it’s sustainable. There’s a balance there.
That’s Demoff suggesting that (a) the most important thing re: Donald isn’t getting a deal done. It’s getting him back with the team just like during last year’s holdout when they all (Demoff, Pastoors, Snead and then separately McVay) met with Donald not to necessarily advance negotiations but to get him back on the field because he’s that important but also (b) that Donald (and let’s go full emphasis mine here) PERSONALLY, INTRINSICALLY AND ENTIRELY AFFECTS THE WINDOW OF SUCCESS THE RAMS COULD HAVE IN YEARS TO COME.
That’s Demoff setting up scales that balances Donald’s potential contract on one side and the Rams’ potential future success on the other suggesting that you could have one or the other. “There’s a balance there.” You can have Donald. Or you can have Peters and Goff and “to make sure that what we’re building is not just short-term.”
You can have Donald. Or you can win.
Aaron Donald’s contract negotiations are the most interesting non-QB negotiations in the NFL heading toward the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union after the 2020 season. And what’s clear is that the media and the Rams have wasted time, effort and a hell of a lot of words in print, online and on Twitter (gross) in regard to the negotiations between the two parties.
Yesterday, an AM radio station from San Diego got Demoff to explain the circumstances involved. And it’s obvious. And finally, thankfully, honest.
They just don’t agree.