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Sean McVay on Aaron Donald's retirement: 'A lot of people are probably happy that he retired, other than people on the Rams'

For the first time in a decade, the Rams defense will prepare for a season without Aaron Donald.

Head coach Sean McVay realizes Los Angeles can't hope to replace the retired Donald, but he hopes April's draft will hopefully be a step in starting to fill the void. Speaking with NFL Network's Steve Wyche at the Annual League Meeting on Sunday, McVay acknowledged that the best way the Rams can reload their defense will be in continuing with free agency and through the 2024 NFL Draft.

"We are trying to add guys as we speak. The draft will be big," McVay told Wyche. "You have a vision of how you want it to unfold but there are 31 other teams that always have a say. I think once we get our players in place [defensive coordinator Chris] Shula and his defensive staff have done a great job of setting the foundation, but you are not naïve to the fact that you are replacing this guy."

There's no doubt that moving beyond Donald is going to be a tough challenge for McVay and the Rams. But what Los Angeles has been able to do recently in the late rounds of drafts on both sides of the ball has been impressive. In 2023, the Rams selected defensive lineman Kobie Turner, who had nine sacks as a rookie, and wide receiver Puka Nacua in the third- and fifth-round, respectively. Nacua had a sensational year as he set a new rookie record for receiving yards and receptions.

Still, the process to build the line back up to dominance will take time, as will building up new relationships as Donald walks into the sunset in retirement. McVay opened up to Wyche regarding his dynamic with the star defensive tackle.

"You know what I'll tell you this, Steve. Aaron and I have such a special relationship," McVay said. "You know being around somebody as long as I've been around. When they are savoring moments, they are taking it in and without having to say, there was kind of unspoken understanding that I had that this was probably going to be his last year. What a great job he did leading, influencing and affecting throughout the course of his career, but it was really on display this year. With how young we were, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

"We've known for a while and you never replace an Aaron Donald. Fortunately, we had a little bit of time to get our ducks in a row but man, there's truly one of one when you talk about him. And I think that term gets thrown around loosely, Steve, but not only as a player but as a person."

Throughout Donald's career in a Rams uniform, he leaves the game with 10 Pro Bowl selections, eight first-team All-Pro honors, three AP Defensive Player of the Year awards and a Super Bowl ring.

There aren't many times an NFL player can call it a career on their terms, and McVay admires that Donald was able to hang up his cleats when he wanted, still on top.

"I think it's special to go out on your own terms the way that he did and also have his legacy moment where it's fourth-down and 1," he said. "He beats the guard up the field and he able to close on (Joe) Burrow and force an erred throw. And then he's got that moment where he's saying 'ring me,' but that was so special to be able to see him do the things that he wanted to do. The humility and the way that he was every single day and the consistency. There's no way that I can put into words the amount of appreciation, gratitude and love that I have for this guy.

"It's one of the most special relationships that I've been fortunate to have in this coaching profession. You are reminded why you get into it and it's to be around people like him. He also happened to be an incredibly special player. I think a lot of people are probably happy that he retired, other than people on the Rams."

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