INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Aaron Donald capped off a dominant performance from the Los Angeles Rams defensive front when he pressured Joe Burrow to throw an errant fourth down, shutting the door on Cincinnati Bengals hopes of a last minute return to Super Bowl LVI.
And after the Rams’ 23-20 win, Donald didn’t shut the door on the possibility that he could retire at 30 now that he’s finally world champion.
There had been no public indication that Donald was considering this until Rodney Harrison said on NBC’s pregame show that the All-Pro defensive lineman told him “there’s a strong possibility” that he could retire if the Rams win the Super Bowl.
Donald was surrounded by his family, including his 8-year-old daughter Jaeda, as he answered questions after the match on the podium. 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 when she was 5, to play in the confetti… so I’m just in the moment right now. I’m going to enjoy this with my my teammates , my family and I are just going to be in the moment and enjoy it today, for a few days, what do you think? It’s a blessing.
Donald has three years and $55 million — none of which is guaranteed — 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 first-team All-Pro for the seventh straight year, and had another typically dominant season that saw him nominated 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 achievement he was missing 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 deliver on his daughter Jaeda.
“I don’t know, man,” said outside linebacker Von Miller, who also won Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos, when asked about Donald’s future. “He did everything you could do. But that feeling here, there’s nothing like it. It’s addictive, once you feel it. Coming to the Super Bowl is one thing, but winning it is different .
“We’ll just have to see. He’s done so many things, but I’m telling you, that feeling is great. It just makes you want more and more. But he’s definitely capped off a great career if he chooses to do that. But it’s an addictive feeling, man, and I just can’t see him getting away from it.”
Safety Eric Weddle left no doubt about his own future, confirming after the match that he was returning to retirement. The Rams brought back the 37-year-old Weddle after a two-year absence when they lost both of their starting safeties to injury in the regular-season finale. He’s gone from a part-time role as extra defensive back to starting in the last two games. He recorded 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’m going back to my everyday life in pretty bad shape right now,” Weddle said. “But hey, it’s definitely worth it, it’s well worth the time.”
While thanking every team he played for during his 13-year career, the six-time Pro Bowler Weddle mentioned Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, reflecting on the disrespect he felt when the team did not 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 it ended there, and showed me the light, and gave me that motivation and that fire,” Weddle said. “The way it ended there, I appreciated that and always said Eric Weddle would have the final say, and I’m world champion right now.”
Left tackle Andrew Andrew Whitworth was not among the Rams players who spoke to reporters during the podium postgame, but he repeated Friday that retirement was a possibility. Earlier this season, Whitworth became just the fifth offensive lineman since the 1970 merger to play in an NFL game at age 40.
If Donald plans to walk away himself, he will do so while he is 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 completion rate as an inside defenseman, and was second among all PRWR defensemen regardless. alignment. This was despite facing the most doubleheader teams in the NFL by a wide margin.
Donald continued that playoff dominance with another 3.5 sacks in four games. He and Miller each finished the 2021 playoffs with 18 pressures, with no other Ram recording more than five, according to ESPN Stats & Information rsearch. The opposing quarterbacks combined to post a 2.7 total QBR this postseason when either generated the pressure. Donald’s pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo forced the interception that sealed the Rams’ victory in the NFC Championship Game.
Miller finished the 2021 playoffs with a PRWR of 41.5%. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, this was by far the highest by a player in a single postseason (with a minimum of 30 assists with a win or loss) since ESPN began tracking this. in 2017. Donald’s performance this post-season put him in third place on this list at 27.8%.
“I promised my daughter when she was 5, to play in the confetti… so I’m just in the moment right now. I’m going to enjoy it with my teammates, my family and I’m just gonna be in the moment and enjoy it today, for a few days, how about that? It’s a blessing.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald
Rams coach Sean McVay said after the game that he had not spoken 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 the reason you coach. He lifted everyone up. I think the epitome of greatness makes everyone around you in every situation you’re a part of. That’s exactly what Aaron says. And it still doesn’t work. I don’t do justice to the impact he’s had in terms of uplifting our entire organization. I promise you guys – I was on mic so you could hear – when it was the fourth and you could see they went in the shotgun and they probably weren’t going to run the football, I said, ‘Aaron is probably going to close out the game here.’ And that’s the F’in man.”
The game-sealing play was one of Donald’s three hits in Super Bowl LVI to go along with his two sacks and three tackles for the loss. Miller tied 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 second-half forfeits (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 recruited me eight years ago to have the opportunity to help bring this here, to start in St. Louis and have our struggles, and then come to Los Angeles and be able to build something. special, to call on Coach McVay – something I told him when he came here, before I had the opportunity to play for him and get to know him, I told him so many that he is here, I want to continue to be part of this organization and help build on the legacy.
“We are building a legacy. Legacies are not built on individual stats, but on team success. The ultimate goal is to be a world champion. I’ve been saying that for a few years. To finally have the opportunity to feel that, to live in it right now, this time, this moment – it’s hard to put it into words right now.”
Miller, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and others recently spoke openly about their determination to help Donald win a championship. After the NFC Championship Game, Miller said that was all Donald needed and that he could “go off into the sunset” if he got it.
After his post-game media session ended, Donald and his family drove into the bowels of SoFi Stadium in the back of a golf cart.
“World champions !” He shouted.
ESPN’s Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.