Here are some details on contracts recently signed around the NFL:
Daron Payne, DT (Commanders): Four-year, $90MM. The deal, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports, creates around $9.43MM in cap space for Washington heading into free agency. Payne was set to enter the 2023 season with a cap hit of $18.94MM. The new extension applies a $28MM signing bonus spread over four years, along with a base salary in Year 1 of the deal of $2.51MM, to lower Payne’s cap hit to $9.51MM. The new move sets the Commanders up with over $20MM of cap space heading into the new league year.
Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE (Saints): Two-year, $5MM. The deal, according to Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football, has a guaranteed amount of $2.5MM consisting of a $1.4MM signing bonus and Kpassagnon’s 2023 base salary of $1.1MM. The deal includes three voidable years for cap purposes leading to cap hits of $1.9MM in 2023, $3.3MM in 2024, and $1.786 of dead money in 2025.
Juwan Johnson, TE (Saints): Two-year, $12MM. The extension, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2, has a fully guaranteed amount of $11.51MM consisting of a $5MM signing bonus and both year’s base salaries of $1.01MM in 2023 and $5.5MM in 2024. The contract includes a 2024 roster bonus of $500,000 due on the 5th day of the 2024 league year. There are $2.5MM of incentives available to Johnson in this contract for receptions, yards, and All-Pro selections. Those incentives have escalators in 2024, as well. The deal includes three voidable years to spread out the cap hit.
Lorenzo Carter, OLB (Falcons): Two-year, $9MM. The deal, according to Field Yates of ESPN, has a guaranteed amount of $4.25MM consisting of a $2MM signing bonus and $2.25MM of the first year’s base salary (worth a total of $3.25MM). The contract also includes an additional amount of $1MM available through incentives.
M.J. Stewart, S (Texans): Two-year, $6MM. The deal, according to Wilson of KPRC 2, has a guaranteed amount of $3MM consisting of a $1.5MM signing bonus and the first year’s base salary of $1.5MM. The deal also includes potential incentives of up to $1.5MM including $750,000 of playtime incentives. The contract also includes a per game active roster bonus of $14,705 for a potential season total of $250,000.
Michael Pierce, DT (Ravens): Restructure. The new deal for Pierce includes a new concept in Baltimore. Following the lead of other teams in the NFL, namely the Eagles, the Ravens incorporated voidable years in Pierce’s contract, a first for the franchise. In doing so, though, the team removed the 2024 season from Pierce’s deal, making him a free agent one year sooner than he would’ve been in his original contract.
Daron Paynebecame the first of six players to receive the franchise tag this offseason. That move has not led to a lengthy wait for a lucrative multi-year pact. Payne is signing a four-year, $90MM contract with the Commanders including $60MM guaranteed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link).
The 25-year-old defensive tackle was already slated for a significant pay raise via the one-year franchise tag worth just under $19MM this season. Instead, he will now vault himself into second at the position in terms of compensation, behind only Aaron Donald. While the deal is striking due to its size, it comes as little surprise in terms of the sentiment coming from Washington in the build-up to their decision to tag Payne.
Head coach Ron Riveraspoke last month about Payne’s situation, and confirmed that reaching agreement on a long-term deal was among the team’s top priorities. That made him a logical tag candidate, and using it allowed the team to lengthen their negotiating window. Now, before the start of free agency, they have the former first-rounder in place for the foreseeable future.
Payne proved himself to be a productive pass rusher right away, notching five sacks as a rookie. He failed to match the figure over the following three seasons, but he put up a career-best 11.5 in 2022. By adding 64 total tackles and 25 pressures, the Alabama product set himself up well for a payday. That has now arrived on a deal with an annual average value of $22.5MM, making Payne the fifth defensive tackle to eclipse the $20MM-per-year mark.
Donald is comfortably in a league of his own, but Chiefs star Chris Jones is one of several veterans angling for a new deal which could close that gap. Multiple DTs now eligible for new contracts – like Quinnen Williams,Jeffery Simmons,Christian Wilkinsand Dexter Lawrence– are also likely to be affected by this deal. Payne translating his age and production into a deal of this size will boost the market league-wide.
One of several former first-rounders on the Commanders’ defensive front, Payne represents the latest major investment in the unit. While their expensive tandem of Payne and Jonathan Allenat the defensive tackle spot will hamstring their efforts to add at other positions this offseason, Washington still figures to be able to make at least one splash in the coming days, especially if they hold true to their intention of not committing substantial funds to the quarterback position.
Payne will look to remain a productive mainstay of the Commanders’ defense, as the team aims to take a step forward in 2023, a season in which Rivera figures to be on the hot seat. Expectations will be raised for both, with the former now on the books for the long-term future at a substantial price tag.
February 28th, 2023 at 11:05am CST by Adam La Rose
Monday saw the Commanders make a pair of cost-cutting moves which gave them considerable financial flexibility. Today, they have taken an expected step using some of those funds.
Washington has placed the franchise tag on defensive tackle Daron Payne, per a team announcement. That comes as little surprise with the tag deadline one week away, and a considerable market awaiting him had he been allowed to test free agency. This move allows the team to continue contract talks through mid-July on what would be a very lucrative long-term deal.
Payne, 25, played himself into a sizeable pay raise this season. He put up career-highs across the board, including 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He racked up 64 total stops, 20 QB hits and five pass deflections, demonstrating his value both against the run and as a disruptive presence in the passing game. The Commanders had been expected to use the tag on Payne.
Doing so will lock him into a $18.94MM salary for 2023 in the absence of a new deal. That would add further financial commitment to a Commanders defensive front which already features former first-rounders Chase Youngand Montez Sweaton the edges and Jonathan Allenalong the interior. Keeping Payne is a logical priority, one which head coach Ron Rivera confirmed earlier this offseason. With more than $17MM in cap space even after this move, the team still has the flexibility to make others in advance of free agency, regardless of Payne’s status.
With the Alabama product officially off the market, the top pending free agent along the defensive interior will not be able to test free agency. Attention will instead turn to the likes of Javon Hargrave, Dalvin Tomlinsonand Larry Ogunjobiin terms of high-end DTs whose contracts are set to expire. Negotiations between Payne and the Commanders, meanwhile, will continue without as much urgency as would have been necessary if they had elected not to use the tag.
The Commanders prioritized a Terry McLaurin deal over Daron Payne‘s last year, but after the latter put together a strong contract slate, it does not look like he will be allowed to hit free agency.
Washington has two weeks to use its franchise tag, but the team is very likely to apply it to Payne. The Commanders are “99.9% likely” to cuff Payne with the tag, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. The defensive tackle tag is one of the most expensive; this transaction would cost Washington $18.94MM. Only the quarterback, linebacker and defensive end tags are costlier.
Given the team’s talks with Payne ahead of the tag window opening, the sixth-year defensive tackle not being permitted to test the market appeared the likely outcome. Applying the tag would give the Commanders until July 15 to extend Payne. Absent an extension by that date (or Payne sitting out the season, an extreme measure that Washington D-lineman Sean Gilbert once pulled), the former first-round pick must play the 2023 season on the tag. Once Payne signs the franchise tender, that $18.94MM is locked in.
Ron Rivera confirmed Payne was a priority. After the season Payne put together, that certainly tracks. Payne, 25, broke through to lead the Commanders in sacks, totaling 11.5 — 3.5 more than anyone else on the team — and compiling 18 quarterback hits and 20 tackles for loss. Payne also recorded a safety last season; his sack total more than doubled any of his previous four seasons’ numbers. This gave the Alabama alum a bouncy springboard into free agency. If the Commanders do not follow through with a tag, Payne would be one of the best players available.
Washington already took care of Jonathan Allen, giving its 2017 first-round pick a four-year, $72MM extension back in 2021. Rostering two defensive tackles in that price range would stand out. Only two other teams — the Bengals and Colts — have two D-tackles earning north of $10MM per year on long-term deals. Then again, one of the Commanders’ rivals will face a similar decision soon. The Giants have Dexter Lawrence going into a contract year, set to command a deal north of Leonard Williams‘. The ex-Jet draftee’s $21MM-per-year pact is tied for second behind Aaron Donald‘s outlier $31.7MM-AAV extension. Lawrence’s camp will surely be monitoring how the Commanders handle Payne.
Cap space will need to be cleared in order for the Commanders to tag Payne; they currently hold just more than $8MM. The team can clear $26.2MM by releasing Carson Wentz. Considering the team’s Sam Howellstarter push, that seems a near-certainty to occur soon. Washington is also not planning to devote many additional funds to its QB spot. The team does, however, have Montez Sweat and Chase Young eligible for extensions. Sweat will likely come first, given Young’s injury history and the fifth-year option allowing Washington to control the former Defensive Rookie of the Year through 2024. Sweat’s fifth-year option will cost $11.5MM this year.
Even with a rookie-QB pact on the payroll, it will be interesting to see how far the Commanders will go to fortify their longstanding D-line quartet. The team also used a second-round pick on D-tackle Phidarian Mathis last year. After Mathis’ Week 1 injury, however, Payne set himself up for a big payday.
February 16th, 2023 at 10:15pm CST by Sam Robinson
Set to begin its fourth decade of existence, the franchise tag remains a valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market. This year’s tag window opens at 3pm CT on Feb. 21 and closes at 3pm CT on March 7. The NFL released its franchise tag figures — regarding the non-exclusive tag, at least, which will apply to all but one possible tag recipient — earlier this month, and teams are busy budgeting for free agency.
The legal tampering period opens March 13, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 15. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).
With high-profile free agents weeks away from hitting the market, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about a tag ahead of the March 7 deadline.
One of the most obvious tag candidates since the tag’s 1993 debut, Jackson has been extension-eligible since January 2021. He and the Ravens went through negotiations in 2021 and 2022, negotiating into the season two years ago and stopping talks before Week 1 — a Jackson mandate — of last season. The self-represented quarterback has declined multiple Ravens offers in this span and failed to finish a season for the second straight year. The endless extension drama and rumblings of team frustration about Jackson’s failure to return from an ankle injury aside, the team will tag the former MVP.
Baltimore GM Eric DeCosta said last month he had not decided on using the exclusive or non-exclusive tag — the former preventing teams from talking to the QB, the latter opening the door to offer sheets — but a recent report suggested the team is more likely to roll the dice by using the non-exclusive tag. This would allow another team to sign to Jackson, 25, to the fully guaranteed deal he covets (in a transaction that could send two first-round picks Baltimore’s way) but also hit the Ravens with just a $32.4MM cap hit.
With the Browns collecting three first-rounders and change for Deshaun Watson, the Ravens would almost definitely want more than the two-first-rounder haul attached as baseline compensation for franchise tag offer sheets. But an exclusive QB tag is expected to check in beyond $45MM; this would severely restrict the Ravens in free agency.
Criticized by some for turning down the Chiefs’ six-year, $139MM extension offer in July 2022, Brown stayed healthy this season and earned another Pro Bowl nod. The mammoth left tackle is 2-for-2 in Pro Bowls as a Chief, and although he is not quite a top-tier blindsider, he would be one of this year’s top free agents if permitted to hit the market. The Super Bowl champions are not expected to let that happen. A second Brown tag would come in at $19.99MM, being 120% of his 2022 salary.
Brown, 26, cited insufficient guarantees in the Chiefs’ July proposal, which contained $38MM guaranteed at signing and $52.25MM guaranteed in total. The total guarantee figure trailed only ex-Ravens teammate Ronnie Stanleyamong tackles, while the full guarantee would have placed Brown fourth at the position. Brown turning down that proposal brought risk, and some in the Chiefs organization expressed frustration with the talented blocker. But the former Ravens right tackle’s bet on himself still appears to be paying off. This will be a crucial offseason for the Chiefs and Brown. A third tag — 144% of Brown’s 2023 salary — in 2024 would be viewed as untenable, sending him to free agency on the Kirk Cousins/Trumaine Johnson path. That makes July 15 a fairly firm deadline for Brown and the Chiefs.
After Las Vegas’ new regime passed on Jacobs’ fifth-year option, he became the first Raider to win the rushing title since Marcus Allen in 1985. Jacobs led the NFL in touches in 2022 (393) but was never a primary ball-carrier at Alabama; the former first-round pick should still have some tread on his tires. Running back extensions have become popular but divisive in recent years. While Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and (for now) Ezekiel Elliott are attached to deals worth at least $15MM per year, the Raiders can tag Jacobs at just $10.1MM.
Jacobs, 24, has expressed a desire to stay in Nevada, and Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler want to continue this partnership as well. With many quality running backs on track for free agency, new deals could be finalized before the Raiders become serious about Jacobs negotiations. Whether that happens this year or not, the former first-round pick is unlikely to reach the market.
After early-offseason extension rumblings, the Commanders did not move too far in this direction last year. They re-upped Terry McLaurinand let Payne play out a contract year. But Payne turned 2022 into a platform campaign that stands to make him one of this year’s top free agents. The Commanders are soon to have $26MM in additional cap space, by moving on from Carson Wentz, and the team will likely give strong consideration to keeping Payne off the market. The defensive tackle tag costs $18.94MM. Washington has begun Payne talks, but those are still in the early stages.
Washington has some mouths to feed on its defensive line, with both Montez Sweat and Chase Young now extension-eligible. The team already paid Payne’s Alabama and Washington D-tackle teammate, Jonathan Allen, and drafted another Crimson Tide interior rusher (Phidarian Mathis) in Round 2 last year. Mathis went down in Week 1, and Payne broke through for an 11.5-sack, 18-TFL season. A tag here is not an open-and-shut tag case, but it would be a tough blow for the Commanders to see their sack leader walk. Regrouping with Payne, 25, would make more sense, especially with the team not preparing to spend big at quarterback this offseason.
Seeming likelier by the week, a Pollard tag would keep an emerging playmaker with a light career workload in the fold. The Cowboys are believed to be strongly considering a tag here, even with Ezekiel Elliott‘s bloated contract on the books. Elliott taking less to stay — it would need to be a lot less — has already been floated, opening the door for his better-performing (in recent years, at least) backup to stick around on the $10.1MM number or via an extension.
It would be strange to tag a backup, but Pollard, 25, is essentially a Dallas starter. He matched Elliott with 12 touchdowns in 2022 and smashed his career-high scrimmage yards number with 1,378. Pollard’s 631 career touches rank just 24th among backs since 2019, pointing to a few prime years remaining on the horizon. With Elliott’s cap number near certain to move down from its present $16.7MM place and Pollard not at risk of seeing his fractured fibula affect his 2023 availability, the former fourth-round find should be back in Dallas.
Passing on Jones’ fifth-year option — an understandable decision, given Jones’ first three seasons — leads the Giants to one of the more interesting free agency quandaries in recent memory. After making Saquon Barkley a higher priority regarding in-season extension talks, Big Blue’s new regime has come around on Jones. The former No. 6 overall pick piloting the Giants to the divisional round for the first time in 11 years transformed his value from where it was entering the season, and GM Joe Schoen all but assured the fifth-year passer will be back with the team in 2023. Will that be on a long-term deal or via the tag?
If the Giants and Jones, 25, cannot find common ground before March 7, the tag will likely come out. The team encountered this situation with Leonard Williams in 2021 and tagged the trade acquisition for a second time. That preceded a monster extension. The Giants probably should be careful here, with two late-season matchups against a porous Vikings defense boosting Jones’ value — to the $35MM-per-year range. But the team also should be eager to see Jones in Brian Daboll‘s offense and surrounded by better pass catchers.
A Giants team that battled injuries and bad investments at wide receiver relied on Barkley for much of 2022. Losing the two-time Pro Bowler for nothing will bring considerable risk. Jones sitting atop the Giants’ to-do list may be a pivot from the midseason point, when Schoen referenced a Barkley tag. A positional value-based course change could send Barkley to free agency.
The Giants are believed to have offered Barkley a deal in the $12.5MM-per-year neighborhood, and while the former No. 2 overall pick cited his injury history (21 missed games from 2019-21) in saying he is not looking to reset the running back market, Schoen noted the sides’ 2022 negotiation did not come close to a deal. Barkley, 25, is believed to be seeking a contract near McCaffrey’s $16MM-per-year market-setting price. A $14MM-AAV compromise could be in play, but Barkley may also be keen on testing the market.
Tagging Jones at $32.4MM would clog the Giants’ cap ahead of free agency, whereas as a Barkley tag ($10.1MM) would not drain the team’s funds on the same level. Barkley can make a case he is worthy of the McCaffrey-Kamara tier, given his production (when healthy) and versatility — and the salary cap jumping nearly $30MM (to $224.8MM) since those stars’ 2020 extensions were finalized. But the Giants are not yet prepared to go much higher than the $12MM-AAV range — the second tier for running backs. Jones talks not producing a deal would put the Giants to a decision; Barkley could become one of the most talented backs to hit free agency.
While Barkley is a better player, Jones has become the Giants’ top priority. Tagging the quarterback would be far more expensive than cuffing Barkley. A Jones extension/Barkley tag scenario remains the best Giants path, but that can only come to fruition if Jones agrees to terms before March 7.
With Joe Burrow now extension-eligible, new contractual territory awaits the Bengals. Tee Higgins is also eligible for a new deal, with Germaine Pratt weeks away from free agency. Vonn Bell, a three-year Bengals starter who is also nearing free agency, would be a cheaper alternative at safety to keeping Bates on a second tag. Cincinnati also drafted potential Bates heir apparent Dax Hill in the first round. This all points to the Bengals letting Bates walk — as they did defenders Carl Lawson and William Jackson in 2021 — but the former second-round pick is still one of the league’s top safeties.
The Bengals and Bates never came close on an extension last year; the team’s conservative guarantee policy led to an offer of $16MM guaranteed at signing. While player personnel director Duke Tobin said last summer renegotiations this year will not be off the table, Bates will likely hit the market. The five-year Cincinnati starter, who will turn 26 next week, can be re-tagged at $15.5MM.
The Bucs tagged Chris Godwin in each of the past two years and prioritized retaining their core players above all else during that span. But, with Tom Brady‘s void-years money hitting the Bucs’ cap in 2023, a Dean tag will be difficult to pull off. The Saints moving from $75MM-plus over the cap in February 2021 to creating room for a Marcus Williams tag, however, shows how teams can go from cap hell to carving out tag space. That said, Brady’s $35.1MM hitting the cap pushes the Bucs past $50MM over the 2023 salary ceiling.
Dean, 26, has been one of the team’s top players. The former third-round pick grades as Pro Football Focus’ No. 11 overall cornerback from 2020-22. This still looks like an unlikely proposition, with the corner tag at $18.14MM, but it should not be considered completely off the table.
Tight ends Mike Gesicki, David Njoku and Dalton Schultz received tags in 2022, and the tight end tag again checking in as the third-cheapest ($11.36MM) this year makes the Jaguars keeping Engram off the market a logical step. The former Giants first-round pick broke through on his one-year Jags pact, filling a longstanding void for the franchise. Engram’s 766 receiving yards set a Jacksonville single-season tight end record. With mutual interest believed to exist, a tag as a bridge to a summer extension — ahead of Engram’s age-29 season — is a scenario to watch here.
The Eagles traded two Day 3 draft picks for Gardner-Johnson and moved him from corner to safety. After the ex-Saints slot defender led the NFL in interceptions, he will be in line for a payday. New Orleans and Gardner-Johnson, 25, could not come to terms last summer, leading to the trade, but Philadelphia wants to retain the imported DB. The Bengals kept Bates off the market last year with the safety tag, which checks in at $14.46MM this year. Given the volume of defenders the NFC champions have set for free agency, this looks like a longer-odds scenario.
Jones’ statistical production would not be in line with a tag. The talented defensive lineman has yet to surpass 6.5 sacks or 11 quarterback hits in a season, but the former third-round pick has offered consistency and earned praise from the front office. Following the Broncos’ decision to trade Bradley Chubb, GM George Paton identified Jones as a player the team wanted to keep. The advanced metrics also view Jones fondly; Pro Football Focus charts the former third-round pick in the top 20 for pressures since 2019. Jones is believed to be a higher priority compared to guard Dalton Risner, a fellow Denver free agent-to-be.
Sean Payton‘s team using a $19MM tag on a non-Pro Bowler would be risky during an offseason in which the draft capital-poor team — thanks to the Payton trade requiring a 2023 first-round pick — faces a key free agency stretch. Jones, 26, sticking around should also depend on whom the Broncos hire as defensive coordinator.
Buffalo defensive stalwarts Poyer and Tremaine Edmunds are ticketed for free agency, but with the NFL still grouping rush- and non-rush linebackers together under its tag formula, Edmunds is not a realistic tag candidate. The linebacker tag ($20.9MM) trails only the QB price. Poyer, 31, is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and has been one of the Bills’ steadiest players in the Sean McDermott era. Signed during McDermott’s first offseason, Poyer has inked two Bills contracts. He angled for a third, eventually agreeing to an incentive package, and became indispensable during a season in which the Bills lost Micah Hyde to a September neck injury and saw Damar Hamlin face one of the scariest health issues in NFL history in January.
Hamlin aims to return, while Hyde is under contract. But a Bills defense that has seen inconsistency at corner for years could still use Poyer. If the parties cannot strike a deal before March 7, the $14.5MM safety tag may not be too steep here. That said, the Bills may try to avoid a tag and save some free agency dough for Edmunds.
A $32.4MM quarterback tag does sound too steep for Smith, his Comeback Player of the Year award notwithstanding. The Seahawks traded Russell Wilson on March 8, 2022; they re-signed Smith to a one-year, $3.5MM deal on April 14. That low-cost, incentive-laden accord effectively illustrated the NFL’s view of the former second-rounder. While Smith’s stunning season upped his value tremendously, it still seems unlikely the franchise tag will come into play. A transition tag — worth $29.5MM and involving no draft compensation — would be a more logical move.
But the top tag has been floated as a Smith-Seattle scenario. The sides have begun negotiations, and Smith’s camp figures to factor the tag salaries into the talks. This process still feels like it will end in a Smith medium-term deal. But after a 30-touchdown pass season that also included an NFL-high 69.8% completion rate, the 32-year-old passer setting a high price as the tag deadline nears would force the team to consider cuffing its starter.
The Commanders continue to reiterate that Sam Howell will be their QB1 heading into training camp. During an appearance on PFT Live, head coach Ron Rivera reinforced Howell’s standing as the top quarterback, but he acknowledged the team may bring in a veteran to push him.
“The biggest thing we decided is he will start out as QB1,” Rivera said (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). “He will most certainly get the first opportunity. We go into OTAs and minicamp, he’ll be QB1. He’ll fight for that position. We’ll give him every opportunity to earn it, and we’ll see what happens when we get into training camp and through it.”
Last year, the Commanders pursued QBs like Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Derek Carr. This time around, they’re not looking to make a big splash at the position, as Rivera dismissed the notion that the organization would pursue a big name.
“No. No,” Rivera said. “I think the biggest thing is we have to find a guy to come in that’s going to compete, but in terms of finding a guy you’re going to have to spend a lot of capital on, no. We’re not looking for a guy we’ve got to spend a lot of capital on. We’re looking for a guy that’s going to come in and compete first and foremost.”
Rivera expressed a similar sentiment to ESPN’s John Keim, noting that the front office will not spend “big capital” at the position (Twitter link). The team will save a significant chunk of cap when they inevitably cut Carson Wentz, but we previously heard that the organization liked the idea of starting a QB on a rookie contract and spending those savings elsewhere. Howell, a 2022 fifth-round pick, only got one start as a rookie, completing 11 of his 19 pass attempts for 169 yards, one touchdown, and one interception en route to a Week 18 win over the Cowboys.
Meanwhile, Rivera told Keim that the Commanders have reached out to defensive tackle Daron Payne‘s reps but have yet to talk money. The impending free agent had his best season in 2022, finishing with a career-high 11.5 sacks. Another important defensive line decision will surround former second-overall pick Chase Young; the Commanders will have to soon make a decision on his fifth-year option. Rivera told Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post that the team has yet to make a decision on Young, noting that they still need to evaluate his health and development (Twitter link). However, Rivera wasn’t too worried about the perception if the Commanders decline the player’s option, noting that the Commanders followed a similar path with Payne.
“No. Because that’s what we did with Daron,” Rivera explained. “It cost us. But it cost us in a good way, because the young man played, he did things the right way. He didn’t sit out, he didn’t withhold, he could have done that sit-in during training camp, but he didn’t. And because he didn’t, now we’re in that position where we have to find a way to say thank you, OK, you’ve earned it.”
It sounds like the Commanders want to re-sign defensive lineman Daron Payne. General manager Martin Mayhew didn’t mince words when discussing the impending free agent.
“Daron is an important part of what we’re doing,” Mayhew said (via ESPN’s John Keim on Twitter). “Great year this year. 11.5 sacks, the guy played outstanding football this year. He’s always been disruptive. He’s always been in the back field, he’s always been around the ball … [H]e played outstanding football for us. It’d be difficult to move forward without him, obviously. We have a plan and we definitively want to get him back.”
After being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, Payne has spent his entire career in Washington. The defensive tackle had 14.5 sacks through his first four seasons in the NFL before breaking out in 2022, finishing with career-highs in tackles (64), sacks (11.5), tackles for loss (18), and QB hits (20). Pro Football Focus wasn’t as fond of his performance, ranking him only 72nd among 126 interior defenders, although they did rank him top-25 at the position for pass rushing.
Following his breakout campaign, Payne will surely command a lucrative contract in free agency. The organization still has two months of exclusive negotiations, and they could always consider slapping the defensive lineman with the franchise tag (which should be valued at more than $18MM).
The prospect of Payne staying in Washington beyond 2022 is not a dead issue just yet. The Commanders are “hopeful” they can keep Payne, a team official informed The Athletic’s Ben Standig (subscription required). Payne, 25, is playing out his fifth-year option season and is on track for free agency in March.
The Commanders’ refusal to part with Payne in a summer trade or a deadline deal helped them make a midseason turnaround; they are now pushing for another playoff berth during a season in which they opened 1-4. Payne played a major part of Washington’s similar path reaching the playoffs in 2020, and the Alabama product is having his most productive season at the ideal time. Payne already has totaled a career-high 6.5 sacks — a number that includes a safety — and his 13 tackles for loss are nearly double his previous best. With 14 quarterback hits, Payne is already just one shy of his career-best mark there. He is positioning himself to become one of 2023’s top free agents.
Complicating matters for the Commanders’ aim to retain Payne: their defensive line contract situation and a D-tackle market potentially set to spike. Of Washington’s four first-round D-linemen, only longtime Payne teammate Jonathan Allen is signed to a veteran contract. In addition to the prospect of Chase Young and Montez Sweat paydays, the Commanders keeping Payne would force them to allocate NFL-high money to their D-tackle spot.
Only three teams (the Eagles, Colts and Bengals) have even two D-tackles tied to $10MM-plus average salaries. Should Payne stick the landing to his contract year, he can reasonably shoot for a deal north of Allen’s $18MM-AAV extension. Allen is already the league’s fifth-highest-paid interior D-lineman, though that will almost certainly change soon. Jeffery Simmons and Quinnen Williams will undoubtedly push to bridge the gap between Aaron Donald ($31.7MM per year) and the field; Leonard Williams and DeForest Buckner are tied to the second-highest AAVs at this position — down at $21MM per annum. One agent informed Standig the expectation is the D-tackle market will balloon well past that $21MM-per-year place soon.
The Giants face a similar issue with their interior defenders. Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall D-tackle, Dexter Lawrence is headed toward his option year in 2023. Williams’ deal only runs through next season, however, giving Big Blue an interesting decision. The Commanders will soon face a choice of paying Allen and Payne upper-echelon money or letting the latter walk and saving up for Sweat and/or Young re-ups.
Washington would be able to create a chunk of cap space by moving Carson Wentz‘s contract off the books; the team would save $26.2MM with a release next year. Before any Wentz accounting, the Commanders are projected to possess just south of $20MM in cap space next year. A Payne franchise tag would eat into the team’s free agency cash, but this year’s Terry McLaurinextension did free up a 2023 tag. The D-tackle franchise tag came in at $17.4MM this year; OverTheCap projects 2023’s number at $18.1MM.
It will be interesting to see how the Commanders navigate their Payne situation ahead of the March tag deadline. D-tackle-needy teams will surely be monitoring that decision.
The Commanders are planning to open Chase Young‘s practice window next week, Ron Rivera said Thursday. Designating Young to return off the reserve/PUP list will give the former Defensive Rookie of the Year three weeks to be activated. Young has not played since suffering a right ACL tear, and his reconstructive surgery required a graft from his left patellar tendon. This pushed Young’s timetable to midseason. Washington has used James Smith-Williams (two sacks) alongside Montez Sweat (three) this season. The team has been cautious with Young, who last played on Nov. 14, 2021, doing so despite Rivera not exactly being on a tepid seat.
Here is the latest from the NFC East:
Washington has discussed demoted cornerback William Jacksonin trades, and teams have also expressed interest in Daron Payne. But the Commanders are still planning to hang onto the fifth-year defensive tackle, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Washington did not progress far with Payne on extension talks but rebuffed trade inquiries this offseason. Its D-tackle equation has changed since then. Second-round rookie Phidarian Mathis is out for the season. Both Payne and longtime D-tackle mate Jonathan Allen lead the Commanders with 3.5 sacks apiece; Payne also tallied a safety this season. One of the NFC’s seven 3-4 teams, the Commanders do not necessarily have to be sellers. But they are in the conference’s toughest division, making a road to the postseason more difficult.
Staying on the trade front, Andre Dillard continues to generate interest. Mentioned in trade rumors before last year’s deadline, the Eagles’ swing tackle might be available this year. The Eagles are believed to be open to moving the former first-rounder, Fowler adds, but they are likely to want at least a third-round pick to move on. Dillard is in a contract year. He would probably be a starter on several teams but operates as a swingman behind Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson. Dillard’s injury history (23 missed games) also stands to affect his value.
The Giants will be without one of their tackles for a while. Evan Neal suffered what is believed to be a grade 2 MCL sprain and is expected to miss at least three games, per Fowler and NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (Twitterlinks). Neal stabilized his rookie season a bit after a disastrous night against the Cowboys’ menacing pass rush, but an IR move might be in the cards here. The Giants used Tyre Phillips as Neal’s replacement against the Jaguars. Formerly the Ravens’ starting left guard, Phillips arrived in New York via waiver claim. He rejoined ex-Baltimore teammate Ben Bredeson in New York, but the Giants’ starting left guard is also set to miss time after a Week 7 injury.
Daniel Bellinger also left the Giants-Jaguars game due to injury. The team’s starting tight end will soon undergo surgery to repair a fractured eye socket and septum, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post tweets. Brian Daboll said it is too soon to count on Bellinger returning this season, though Schwartz adds this is not believed to be a season-ending malady. Stepping in as a starter despite being a rookie fourth-round pick, Bellinger has 16 receptions (third in an evolving Giants aerial attack) for 152 yards and two touchdowns. The San Diego State alum also has a rushing score this season. Tanner Hudson is the only other Giant tight end with a catch (three) this year.
Terry McLaurin‘s extension checked the top box on the Commanders front office’s offseason to-do list. While the team’s No. 1 wide receiver is now signed through 2025, the team’s second-highest-profile contract-year player remains tied to a fifth-year option ($8.53MM).
Less clarity has surfaced regarding the team’s plans for Daron Payne. After Ron Rivera said the team wants to have Payne on the team for a long time, the team used a second-round pick on Alabama defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis. Payne, 25, then sat out team drills at OTAs and minicamp, at which Rivera was less declarative on the former first-round D-lineman’s future than he was McLaurin’s.
This could be Payne’s final year in Washington, but the team still has plans for the talented interior player in 2022. Trade inquires have come in on Payne, per Ben Standig of The Athletic, who adds the Commanders have thus far rebuffed those (subscription required). Even teams potentially willing to pay “significant” trade prices have been shut down, Standig adds, providing a reasonable indication Washington wants to go into the season with Payne remaining alongside Jonathan Allen up front.
It would be interesting to know just how significant potential Payne trade compensation is, but it has not been enough to sway the Commanders, who have held onto prime assets in recent years (Kirk Cousins, Brandon Scherff, Trent Williams) before either seeing them leave in free agency or belatedly trading them for midlevel returns (in Williams’ case). Washington has already extended Allen. He and Mathis, also a Payne college teammate, are signed through 2025. At Washington’s minicamp, Payne declined to detail where his contract negotiations stood. A lack of progress in contract talks has frustrated Payne’s camp, per Standig. This all puts the durable defender in limbo for 2022 while also placing him a prime position to play for a lucrative 2023 free agency accord.
With McLaurin now signed, Washington would have the franchise tag available for Payne next year. The D-tackle tag came in at $17.4MM this year; Allen’s cap number spikes from $9.5MM in 2022 to $21.5MM in 2023. Montez Sweat, absent a 2022 extension, would be in a contract year in 2023. Chase Young also becomes extension-eligible next year. The team let D-tackles Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle go this year, cutting the former and standing down as the latter trekked to Buffalo. Payne might be the next key Washington D-lineman out the door, but that scenario may not unfold until 2023.