The Washington Post

Payne’s new deal: Four years and $90M

Commanders star lands second-richest contract among defensive tackles


On Sunday, the Washington Commanders made Daron Payne the second-highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL. Payne agreed to a four-year, $90 million contract that includes $60 million in guarantees, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deal.

Payne cannot sign until the new league year begins Wednesday. The deal gives him an average annual value of $22.5 million, which trails only Aaron Donald’s $31.7 million annual pay among interior defensive linemen. Payne’s $60 million in guaranteed money ties him with Kansas City’s Chris Jones for the second most among interior linemen, according to salary database Over the Cap.

The agreement ensures the starters on Washington’s defensive line, all first-round picks, can stay together for at least one more season, and the prized interior duo of Payne and Jonathan Allen will remain together through at least 2025. If the Commanders exercise Chase Young’s fifth-year contract option, they will have three of their four starters under contract for the next two seasons.

Washington’s defensive line has been the team’s anchor as it has cycled through quarterbac­ks. The line has developed into one of the league’s most prolific — especially inside. But with its play came the persistent question of whether Washington could keep the group together and still allocate resources to other positions.

“We’ll find that out,” General Manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL combine this month. “It would be great, wouldn’t it?”

Mayhew and Coach Ron Rivera said their priority going into the offseason was to retain the Commanders’ free agents before turning to outside talent. Payne was atop their list. Last season, he led the team with a career-high 11.5 sacks and had one fumble recovery, five batted passes and 49 quarterbac­k pressures, according to data website Trumedia.

Payne has improved each year since the Commanders drafted

him with the 13th pick in 2018, which is part of the reason the team exercised the fifth-year option on his contract. But his jump last season made him invaluable.

“The guy played outstandin­g football this year,” Mayhew said in January. “He’s always been disruptive. He’s always been in the backfield. He’s always been around the ball. . . . It’d be difficult to move forward without him, obviously.”

In late February, the Commanders placed the nonexclusi­ve franchise tag, worth $18.9 million, on Payne, giving them until July 15 to reach a long-term deal. Getting it done before the start of free agency lays the foundation for the rest of the Commanders’ offseason — and their long-term future up front.

“We obviously got to take care of our own first . . . and then we’ll move into free agency with probably fair deals, and then hopefully we’ll set ourselves up so when we get to the draft, we can do what we want to do as opposed to what we have to do,” Rivera said at the combine.

It may end up being a shrewd deal for the Commanders. This year’s free agent class of defensive tackles is deep, and each contract could raise the market floor for the next.

The deal also leaves Payne, 25, in position to cash in again before he hits 30.

More significan­t: The agreement’s total value and guarantees signal the Commanders’ offseason will, as Rivera has said, not be hamstrung by ownership uncertaint­y.

Washington has made it clear it isn’t interested in acquiring a high-priced quarterbac­k, such as Derek Carr (who signed with the New Orleans Saints), Lamar Jackson (whom the Baltimore Ravens gave a nonexclusi­ve franchise tag) or Aaron Rodgers (who could be available via trade). In doing so, the Commanders have made what is typically the highestpri­ced position group one of their least expensive, giving them the freedom to spend elsewhere.

But with so many first-round picks up front, the Commanders have faced difficult decisions each year.

They signed Allen to a fouryear, $72 million contract in 2021, picked up defensive end Montez Sweat’s fifth-year option (worth $11.5 million) in 2022 and now have Payne under contract through 2026. Next up is Young, the No. 2 pick in 2020.

The team must decide on his fifth-year option (worth $17.5 million) by May 1, and that could have implicatio­ns elsewhere. When asked in February about Young’s option, Rivera indicated it was far from guaranteed the team would exercise it.

“That’s what we did with Daron,” he said, referring to Washington’s decision to not extend Payne’s contract early. “It cost us. But it cost us in a good way because the young man played. He did things the right way. . . . Now we’re in that position where we have to find a way to say, ‘ Thank you; you’ve earned it.’ ”

 ?? Katherine Frey/the Washington Post ?? Defensive tackle Daron Payne racked up a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2022, his fifth season in the NFL.
Katherine Frey/the Washington Post Defensive tackle Daron Payne racked up a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2022, his fifth season in the NFL.

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