Why Aaron Donald might not make it through the Rams reload

A couple of days ago Kenneth Arthur asked the question: what the hell is the Rams plan and how is Aaron Donald part of it?

Which is a legitimate question. After all, the Rams have cut, traded or lost almost all of the key defensive players that've surrounded Donald with over the past couple of years. It's left them with a defence that, bar a miracle, will be bad this year. Maybe really bad.

It's hard to tell exactly what the plan is with AD, plus the other big earners still on the books. Maybe they'll trade him mid-season. But the assumption seems to be that the Rams are clearing cap space and accumulating draft picks to take one last swing with their 'pillars' and a host of new talent in 2024.

It's not a terrible idea. There was always very little chance of challenging this year regardless, so why try the sticking plaster approach that might generate, what, nine wins at most? Better to wait for off-season surgery and hope it takes you back to the Super Bowl.

But something has been nagging me about this idea. What happens if the team are so bad this year that Donald doesn't want to come back?

Forgive this very obvious statement, but losing sucks. I was once on soccer team that didn't win all season and, let me tell you, it was the opposite of fun. The atmosphere in the dressing room slipped from cautious optimism, to frustration, to anger, to apathy, in short succession. Turning up became an obligation. At the end of that season, the manager left and so did most of the players.

At a professional sports club, constantly losing goes past the day of the game itself - it impacts mood, culture and decision-making. If you want an NFL example, look at the Browns or the Jets; two teams who have defined losing on multiple levels for so long.

Now, the Rams do not become a long-term sad case like those teams because of back-to-back losing seasons, but it surely makes the team less appealing for the likes of AD and Kupp the following year.

If you're Donald, do you accept a miserable 2022 and 2023 for the hope of dramatic improvement in 2024, or does putting your mind and body on the line every week for a hopeless team ultimately grind you down? Does he have enough faith that McVay will turn things around so quickly?

If 2023 is horrible, I think there's a good chance Donald either retires at the end of this coming season or moves to a team near their apex for one last shot.

So, if the Rams plan is indeed to re-load for next year - which surely involves keeping Donald - it feels like they still need to be competitive enough this season to keep him around. It might be threading a needle though, because without anyone to help him on defence it's difficult to see how they manage it.