For seven seasons, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay had the privilege of coaching Aaron Donald, a true one-of-one when it comes to interior defensive linemen. When Aaron Donald announced his retirement back in March, he departed with three Defensive Player of the Year Awards, eight 1st-Team All-Pro appearances, and ten Pro Bowl nods (in ten seasons). His 111 sacks are 28th-most in league history, and his 176 tackles for loss have only been topped by Terrell Suggs and JJ Watt.

This is all to say that Aaron Donald will not only be a 1st-ballot Hall of Famer five years from now… he'll go down as one of the greatest and most dominant defensive players in the 100-plus year history of the National Football League.

But sometimes, it's the off-field stories that pack more of a punch than the on-field highlights do. Sure, we could watch Aaron Donald make life hell for quarterbacks, embarrass offensive linemen and swallow up running backs right as they're receiving the handoff, but maybe an anecdote about his commitment to punctuality and being held accountable says just as much about his Hall of Fame caliber career. Take for example, this story that Sean McVay shared with Chris Long on the Green Light Podcast.

“I can remember one of the things that epitomizes exactly who he is,” McVay started. “So it's an 8 o’clock meeting, he came in at about 30 seconds afterwards and I know he was already in the building doing his normal rhythm and routine, and I said ‘where were you.' He says, ‘I was using the bathroom.' You know so he's taking his s–t, finishing up. I said, ‘all right well I'm not gonna fine you.' He says, ‘Oh no you fine me, man. I gotta be accountable to that.' He made me fine him when he was late for a meeting taking a s—t.”

When nature calls, there's not much you can do, but props to Aaron Donald, who at the time was entering his fourth year in the NFL at the time, for understanding the big picture of leadership on a level that not all superstar players do. McVay would go on to tell Chris Long, “He never did anything that he didn’t ask of somebody else, and I think the best way you model authentic leadership is you model the way, and he did that every single day. He brought people with him while being selective with his words.”

Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) and coach Sean McVay react during minicamp at Cal Lutheran University.
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Life without Aaron Donald for the Los Angeles Rams

Losing that sort of presence within a locker room, and losing Donald's production on the field will be a massive hit to the Rams this coming season. Sure, if you look at the raw numbers, Donald's production had begun to slip each of the last two seasons, and in 2022 he was limited to just 11 games. But a post-prime Aaron Donald was still one of the most impactful defensive players in the league. His 2023 All-Pro nod was by no means a legacy award.

So, the question now is, how do the Rams manage to replace Aaron Donald?

Well, the short answer is, you don't. You can't. And Sean McVay knows this. He said as much right after Aaron Donald announced his retirement. But the Rams have to move forward without the greatest player in franchise history, and they'll do so as a collective.

Los Angeles used their first two picks in the 2024 NFL Draft on a pair of Florida State teammates, edge rusher Jared Verse and defensive tackle Braden Fiske, a tandem that has a good chance to be named week one starters along with budding second-year star Kobie Turner and 2021 4th round pick Bobby Brown III, who started 13 games for the Rams last season.