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Aaron Donald not at start of Rams OTAs; sides talking contract

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Rams general manager Les Snead said contract talks between the team and All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald are in a "serious" stage, and he reaffirmed the Rams "like Aaron and want him to be around."

The optimism shared by Snead signals that new deal for Donald is expected before the start of training camp -- if not sooner, much sooner.

Donald wasn't in attendance for Day 1 of organized team activities Monday, prompting speculation that he was either injured or staying away for contract reasons. Snead confirmed the latter, adding that the team was aware Donald would not be at OTAs. Though Snead did not say it, he didn't deny that Donald was staying away to avoid injury until a deal is finalized.

Donald, who turns 26 Tuesday, is believed to be training at home in Pittsburgh, according to a source.

Donald, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons, is scheduled to earn $1.8 million this season -- well below market value for one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL. The two-time All-Pro and 2014 defensive rookie of the year has recorded 28 career sacks, four forced fumbles and 164 tackles in his career -- huge production for an interior player.

While Snead declined to get into specifics, he said "you always look at comparisons" to other players' deals when formulating a new contract. In other words, Donald is about to become one of the highest paid defensive tackles -- if not one of the highest paid defensive players -- in the NFL.

Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's average annual salary is $19.1 million. Jets DT Muhammad Wilkerson and Eagles DT Fletcher Cox each average just more than $17 million. Those contracts could shape the framework of a potential new deal for Donald.

The numbers likely will be higher since new deals tend to reset the market and because of Donald's age, impact and projected future production.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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