The deal ensures Washington’s defensive line starters, all first-round picks, can stay together for at least one more season, and the prized inside duo of Payne and Jonathan Allen will stay 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 was the anchor for the team as it ran through the quarterbacks. The line became one of the most prolific in the league, especially indoors. But with his game came the lingering question of whether Washington could keep the group together and allocate resources to other positions.
“We’re going to find out,” general manager Martin Mayhew said during the NFL Combine this month. “That would be great, wouldn’t it?”
The No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft is a “dream.” The same goes for the possibility of exchanging it.
Mayhew and coach Ron Rivera said their priority for the offseason is to keep commanders free agents before looking to outside talent. Payne was at the top of their list. Last season, he led the team with a career-high 11.5 sacks and had one fumble, five at-bats and 49 quarterback pressures, according to data website TruMedia.
Payne has improved every year since the Commanders drafted him with the 13th pick in 2018, which is part of why the team exercised the fifth-year option on his contract. But his leap last season made him invaluable.
“The guy has played outstanding football this year,” Mayhew said in January. “He was always disruptive. He was always in the backfield. He was always around the ball. … It would be difficult to move forward without him, obviously.
In late February, Commanders placed the non-exclusive franchise tag, worth $18.9 million, on Payne, giving them until July 15 to strike a long-term deal. Doing so before free agency begins lays the groundwork for the rest of the Commanders’ offseason — and their long-term future up front.
“We obviously have to take care of our own first…then we’ll move into free agency with probably fair deals, and then hopefully we’ll settle down so that when we get to the draft we can do whatever we want. do versus what we have to do,” Rivera told the combine.
While the structure of Payne’s contract isn’t known, it could end up being a bargain for the COs. This year’s free agent defensive tackle class is deep, and each contract could raise the market floor for the next.
The deal also leaves Payne, 25, in a position to cash in again before he hits 30.
More importantly: the deal’s total value and guarantees indicate that the Commanders’ offseason won’t be, as Rivera said, crippled by ownership uncertainty.
Brewer: Signing Lamar Jackson shouldn’t be so difficult
Washington has made it clear that he is not interested in acquiring a high-priced quarterback, like Derek Carr (who signed with the New Orleans Saints), Lamar Jackson (to whom the Baltimore Ravens gave a non-exclusive franchise tag) or Aaron Rodgers (who may be available via trade). In doing so, commanders have made what is usually the most expensive set of positions one of their least expensive, giving them the freedom to spend elsewhere.
But with so many first-round picks, commanders have faced tough decisions every year.
The most expensive contracts for Commanders:
They signed Allen to a four-year, $72 million deal in 2021, picked up defensive end Montez Sweat’s fifth-year option (worth $11.5 million) in 2022, and now Payne under contract until 2026. Next up is Young, the No. 2 pick in 2020.
The team must decide on its fifth-year option (worth $17.5 million) by May 1, and that could have implications elsewhere. Asked in February about Young’s option, Rivera said it was far from guaranteed the team would exercise it.
“That’s what we did with Daron,” he said, referring to Washington’s decision not to extend Payne’s contract earlier. “It cost us. But it cost us in a good way as the youngster played. He did things the right way. … Now we’re in this position where we have to find a way to say, “Thank you; You deserved it.'”