INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Aaron Donald capped off a dominant performance by the Los Angeles Rams‘ defensive front when he pressured Joe Burrow into an errant thrown on fourth down, shutting the door on the Cincinnati Bengals‘ hopes of a last-minute comeback in Super Bowl LVI.
And after the Rams’ 23-20 win, Donald didn’t shut the door on the possibility that he could retire at age 30 now that he’s finally a world champion.
There had been no public indications that Donald was considering that until Rodney Harrison said on NBC’s pregame broadcast that the All-Pro defensive lineman told him “there’s a strong possibility” he could retire if the Rams win the Super Bowl.
Donald was surrounded by his family, including 8-year-old daughter Jaeda, as he answered questions at the podium postgame. He offered neither confirmation nor denial when asked about the possibility of retiring.
“I’m just in the moment right now,” he said. “I’m enjoying this with my family. I promised my daughter this when she was 5 years old, to play in the confetti … so I’m just in the moment right now. I’m going to enjoy this with my teammates, my family and I’m just going to be in the moment and enjoy this today, for a couple days, how about that? It’s a blessing.”
Donald has three years and $55 million — none of which is guaranteed — remaining on the six-year, $135 million extension he signed in 2018, according to Over The Cap. He’s made the Pro Bowl in every season since the Rams drafted him in the first round in 2014, was named a First Team All-Pro for the seventh straight year and had another typically dominant season that put him in the running for what would have been a record fourth Defensive Player of the Year award.
After the Rams won the NFC title game to reach their second Super Bowl in Donald’s eight-year career, he said the only accomplishment he was lacking was a world championship. The Rams lost Super Bowl LIII 13-3 to the New England Patriots, which meant Donald still had his promise to keep to daughter Jaeda.
“I don’t know, man,” outside linebacker Von Miller, who also won Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos, said when asked about Donald’s future. “He’s done everything you could possibly do. But this feeling right here, there’s nothing like it. It’s addictive, once you feel this. Coming to the Super Bowl is one thing, but winning it is different.
“We’ll just have to see. He’s done so much, but I tell you, this feeling is great. It just makes you want it more and more and more. But he’s definitely capped off a great career if he chooses to do that. But this is an addictive feeling, man, and I just can’t see him walking away from this.”
Safety Eric Weddle left no doubt about his own future, confirming postgame that he’s heading back into retirement. The Rams coaxed the 37-year-old Weddle back from a two-year absence when they lost both of their starting safeties to injuries in the regular-season finale. He went from a part-time role as an extra defensive back to a starter in the final two games. He record five tackles in the Super Bowl and played through a torn pec he suffered in the first half.
“It was pretty much set in stone, so yeah, I’ll go back to my daily life pretty banged up right now,” Weddle said. “But hey, it’s well worth it, well worth the moment.”
While thanking all the teams he played for during his 13-year career, the six-time Pro Bowler Weddle mentioned Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, revisiting the disrespect he felt when the team didn’t re-sign him after the 2015 season.
“I want to thank the Chargers for drafting me and I also want to thank old Tom Telesco for the way things ended there, and showing me the light, and giving me that motivation and that fire,” Weddle said. “The way things ended there, I appreciated that and I always said that Eric Weddle will get the last laugh, and I’m a world champion right now.”
Left tackle Andrew Andrew Whitworth was not among the Rams players who spoke to reporters at the podium postgame, but he reiterated on Friday that retirement is a possibility. Earlier this season, Whitworth became only the fifth offensive lineman since the 1970 merger to play in an NFL game at 40 years old.
If Donald is considering walking away himself, he’d be doing so while still at the top of his game. He had 12.5 sacks in the regular season, ranked first by a wide margin in ESPN’s pass rush win rate as an interior defender and was second among all defenders in PRWR regardless of alignment. That was despite facing the most double teams in the NFL by a wide margin.
Donald continued that dominance in the playoffs with another 3.5 sacks in four games. He and Miller each finished the 2021 postseason with 18 pressures, with no other Ram recording more than five, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Opposing quarterbacks combined to post a 2.7 Total QBR this postseason when either generated the pressure. Donald’s pressure of Jimmy Garoppolo forced the interception that sealed the Rams’ win in the NFC Championship Game.
Miller finished the 2021 playoffs with a 41.5% PRWR. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that was by far the highest by a player in a single postseason (with a minimum of 30 pass-rush plays with a win or loss) since ESPN started tracking that in 2017. Donald’s performance this postseason put him in third place on that list at 27.8%.
“I promised my daughter this when she was 5 years old, to play in the confetti … so I’m just in the moment right now. I’m going to enjoy this with my teammates, my family and I’m just going to be in the moment and enjoy this today, for a couple days, how about that? It’s a blessing.”
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald
Rams coach Sean McVay said postgame that he hasn’t talked with Donald about his future with the team.
“I certainly hope that means he still wants to be a Ram,” McVay said. “But guys like him are why you coach. He has elevated everybody. I think the epitome of greatness is making everybody that you’re around in every situation you’re apart of better. That’s exactly what Aaron does. And that still doesn’t do justice to what an impact he’s made in terms of elevating our whole organization. I promise you guys — I was mic’d up so you guys can hear — when it was the fourth down and you could see they got in the shotgun and they were probably not going to run the football, I said, ‘Aaron is probably going to close the game out right here.’ And he is the F’in man.”
The game-sealing play was one of Donald’s three QB hits in Super Bowl LVI to go along with his two sacks and three tackles for loss. Miller matched him in all three.
The 2021 Rams tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks and posted the highest PRWR (86%) by any team all season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Burrow was pressured on 12 of his 22 dropbacks in the second half (55%), which was the fourth-highest second-half pressure rate in Super Bowl history.
“It means everything,” Donald said of being a Super Bowl champion. “This organization drafted me eight years ago to have an opportunity to help bring this here, to start in St. Louis and have our struggles and then come to L.A. and be able to build something special, bring in Coach McVay — one thing I told him when he got here, before I had the opportunity to play for him and get to know him, I told him as long as he’s here, I want to continue to be a part of this organization and help build on the legacy.
“We’re building a legacy. Legacies are built not from individual stats, but from team success. The ultimate goal is to be a world champion. I’ve been saying that for the past few years. To finally get the opportunity to feel this, be living in it right now, this time, this moment – it’s hard to put it in words right now.”
Miller, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and others talked openly of late about how determined they were to help Donald win a championship. After the NFC Championship Game, Miller said that was all Donald needed and that he could “walk off into the sunset” if he got it.
After his postgame media session ended, Donald and his family rode off into the bowels of SoFi Stadium on the back of a golf cart.
“World Champs!” he shouted.
ESPN’s Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.
Source: ESPN NFL