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If Ernest Jones heads Rams’ defense, why no contract extension?


The Rams convened Monday for the first day of voluntary offseason workouts and, as has been the case for most of the last few years, Aaron Donald was not present.

As coach Sean McVay and his team begin preparing for the 2024 season, however, they know the recently retired Donald will not return from training in hometown Pittsburgh to be the leader of the defense.

That mantle now belongs to linebacker Ernest Jones IV.

And Jones, a three-year veteran, said he was prepared.

“From the moment I got here, this was a goal of mine, to be the leader of this defense,” Jones said Monday during a news conference in Thousand Oaks. “With [Donald] being gone, now there’s more eyes on me, which I can sure handle. … Without A.D., we get to go out there, and now it’s time for those guys to make a name for themselves.”

The Rams selected Jones in the third round of the 2021 draft. He became a starter midway through his rookie season and helped the Rams win Super Bowl LVI.

Last season Jones made a team-best 145 tackles, including 4½ sacks, as the Rams exceeded expectations, finished 10-7 and made the playoffs.

As a cornerstone young player entering his fourth season, Jones appeared poised for a contract extension.

Although not ruling out the possibility that an extension could get done, Rams general manager Les Snead indicated the team wants Jones to play out the final year of his contract — despite knowing the price could be higher next spring.

“There’s always risk if a player plays well and goes to the market,” Snead said last month at the NFL owners’ annual meeting. “We felt like that it was better for us to use current resources on making additions to the current team.”

Jones did not sound concerned.

Coach Sean McVay hugs  Rams linebacker Ernest Jones IV (53) after a Rams victory.

Coach Sean McVay hugs Rams linebacker Ernest Jones IV (53) after a Rams victory.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“I’m a big believer in Jesus Christ, so I know at the end of the day I’m taken care of,” he said. “As long as I continue to walk around here and play football at a high level, at the end of the season I’ll have the opportunity to take care of my family in the ways that I want to.

“But from hearing [the Rams] aspect, that they want to see me another year, that’s exciting for me. I’ve been doing nothing but proving myself my entire life. … I’m looking forward to this opportunity to lead this team but also looking forward to it from a personal standpoint that’s — play some good ball, you set yourself up real nice.”

Jones will be leading a defense now under the direction of Chris Shula, who succeeded Raheem Morris as coordinator. Shula was Jones’ position coach for two seasons.

Shula is steady, smart and a perfect fit for the coordinator job, Jones said.

“Excited about him growing into that role, but also excited to get a different set of ears and voice in that position,” Jones said.

Jones learned about leadership from watching Donald for three years, and from playing alongside Bobby Wagner in 2022.

He acknowledged he has room for improvement.

“I don’t believe I’ve played my best football — there’s a lot more in the tank,” he said. “There’s a peak I don’t think I’ve hit yet. So I’m just excited. I’ve learned from some great guys three years of my life. Now, it’s my time to be the teacher.”

The Rams added several players to a defense that includes nose tackle Kobie Turner and edge rusher Byron Young, both of whom excelled as rookies last season.

Snead signed cornerbacks Darious Williams and Tre’Davious White and safety Kam Curl to bolster the secondary.

White, who played seven seasons for the Buffalo Bills, is recovering from Achilles surgery.

White said he signed with the Rams after considering offers from several teams. Bills teammates Von Miller and Taylor Rapp spoke highly of their time with the Rams, he said. And Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed White’s Achilles surgery last fall, is the Rams’ team physician.

“That wasn’t a deciding factor,” White said of his decision to sign with the Rams, “but I would say that was a plus.”


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