There was a ton of speculation this past offseason that Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald could finish his Hall of Fame career in his hometown of Pittsburgh with the Steelers via a trade.
The Rams were coming off a 5-12 Super Bowl hangover season, and there was a perception that they were in a rebuild. The notion was that by offloading Donald they would recoup some of the draft picks they gave away in order to build a Super Bowl team in 2021. The Steelers were considered an ideal landing spot solely because of Donald’s Pittsburgh roots, and the fact that he trains at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex during the offseason with Dee Brown of Evolve 2Tenths Speed & Agility.
However, in August, longtime NFL writer Peter King of NBC Sports discredited the speculation by stating that “Donald does not have a burning desire to play for his hometown team.” And sure enough, during an interview with the L.A. media on Thursday prior to Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, Donald pretty much echoed that statement.
“Not really, no,” Donald said when asked if he ever thought about finishing his career in Pittsburgh as a Steeler. “I never thought of it. I never thought about it.”
Donald, 32, has spent his entire career with the Rams. And his current contract, which contains an average annual salary of $31.6 million, runs through 2025. So the Steelers would have to take on a massive contract for two years. They’ve already committed $121.3 million to the defensive side of the ball. In addition, Donald contemplated retirement after winning a Super Bowl ring in 2021, so it would be a risky operation for any team, let alone the Steelers, to give up multiple picks for a player who might only play one or two years.
Donald grew up in the Lincoln–Lemington–Belmar neighborhood of Pittsburgh, starred at Penn Hills High School and Pitt, and still lives in the area during the offseason. So, he’s a Pittsburgher through and through. Donald said he still roots for the Steelers, just not when they play the Rams, obviously.
“My first year (in 2015), I was excited about it,” Donald said of his first chance to play against the Steelers. “Obviously, going back to Pittsburgh (in 2019), it was exciting. Now, it’s cool to play against the team that I grew up watching and all that, but it’s just another week. Want to find a way to be successful. … I still consider myself a Steelers fan until we’ve got to play them, and I still look to see if they’re doing good.”
Steelers running back Najee Harris noted that he often sees Donald’s training at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex during the offseason and is well aware of what he’s capable of doing.
“I don’t want to say what we’re going to do, but yes (we are going to plan for him),” Harris said. “Is he still the guy? Of course. Aaron Donald is a generational talent.”
Sunday could be the last time that the generational talent in Aaron Donald faces his hometown team. So far, he’s 0-2 against the Steelers. Donald said plenty of his extended family will be at SoFi Stadium to watch their two favorite teams square off.