Aaron Donald announces his retirement after a standout 10-year career with the Rams

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Aaron Donald spent 10 years flattening quarterbacks, crushing ball-carriers, fighting through perpetual double-teams and generally wrecking NFL offenses. He was relentless, reliable and infinitely resourceful while he led the Los Angeles Rams all the way to a Super Bowl championship.

And on Friday, Donald decided a decade of dominance was enough.

The most accomplished defensive lineman of his generation has retired after a stellar 10-year career.

The three-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year made his somewhat surprising announcement on social media. He doesn’t plan to have a retirement news conference or any public farewell, but his impact on the Rams and the NFL is already indelible.

The 32-year-old Donald spent his entire career with the Rams, who drafted him in the first round in 2014 out of Pitt. The Pittsburgh native was selected for 10 Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro first teams, and he won the award as the league’s top defensive player in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

“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,” Donald said in a statement. “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.”

Although smaller than many top defensive tackles, Donald used his extraordinary athleticism and game savvy to wreak havoc on offenses throughout his career. He was the cornerstone of every Rams defense during his tenure, drawing habitual double-teams away from his teammates and still racking up a franchise-record 111 sacks, third in the NFL among active players.

After winning the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year award in 2014, Donald reached the peak of his stardom after the Rams franchise moved from St. Louis back to Los Angeles in 2016. He had a career-high 20 1/2 sacks in 2018 on the way to his first Super Bowl appearance under coach Sean McVay.

He then played a major role in the Rams’ run to a Super Bowl victory three years later, most famously applying the pressure that forced Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow to throw incomplete at midfield on the Bengals’ final play of Los Angeles’ 23-20 victory in Super Bowl 56.

After that stop, Donald provided another defining moment of the Rams’ championship season by taking off his helmet, pointing to his ring finger and shouting: “Ring me!” His joyous, shirtless ride atop a double-decker bus during the Rams’ victory parade in Los Angeles is also an iconic moment in team lore.

“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.”

Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt are the only other players to win the defensive player of the year award three times. Only John Randle (137 1/2) has recorded more sacks than Donald among defensive tackles since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

Although he spent most of his time away from football living quietly with his wife and four children, Donald’s evident greatness and McVay’s coaching acumen are the two biggest factors in the Rams’ ascent in the Los Angeles sports hierarchy since the team returned home. During McVay’s seven years with Donald, the Rams racked up six winning seasons, five playoff berths, three NFC West titles, two Super Bowl appearances and a ring while winning over many skeptical fans in the nation’s second-largest market.

Donald was slated to make over $34 million this season under the terms of a contract that was renegotiated nearly two years ago. Although Donald had reportedly flirted with retirement for the past two seasons in private, the Rams and Donald hadn’t publicly acknowledged his departure was a real possibility.

But over the past two months, Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator Raheem Morris left for the Atlanta Falcons’ head coaching job, and defensive line coach Eric Henderson left for a similar job at Southern California. Henderson and Donald are close friends.

“We are so grateful for Aaron’s dedication to greatness and for leading our franchise on and off the field for the past decade,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said. “He has left his mark on generations of football fans and his accomplishments, coupled with his work ethic and passion, continue to inspire his teammates, coaches and athletes across the globe. It is a privilege to have witnessed one of the greatest players of all time, and we are proud that Aaron Donald will forever be part of NFL history as a member of the Rams.”

Donald’s offseason training regimen was famously demanding, but he has spoken of his love for that preparation because of the work ethic instilled in him by his father, who transformed Donald from a self-described “lazy little kid” into a dynamo. Donald returned home to Pittsburgh during the Rams’ offseasons, working out at Pitt’s Aaron Donald Football Performance Center — made possible by his seven-figure donation to his school.

Donald had 543 career tackles, including 176 tackles for loss, and 24 forced fumbles. He had 34 tackles and six sacks in his 11 career postseason games.

Donald also was incredibly durable, missing only six games due to injury in his 10-year career — all of them late in the 2022 season when the Rams were already out of playoff contention.

“He meant so much,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner, Donald’s teammate in 2022. “The real thing was to watch him work, watch him work out. Not a lot of D-linemen really put in that work in the film room as well as on the field. He was able to do so much in his career, and he’s had an amazing career, and I’m excited for whatever he has next. Great human being. Amazing player. One of the greatest.”

Only one player is now left on the Rams’ roster who also played in St. Louis: Rob Havenstein, who is still the Rams’ starting right tackle.

First appeared on www.kwch.com

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