How much can the Commanders afford to pay Daron Payne?

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports) Daron Payne
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports) Daron Payne /

How much could the Washington Commanders afford to give Daron Payne to prevent the defensive tackle from testing free agency?

One of the most important decisions facing the Washington Commanders this offseason surrounds Daron Payne. The formidable defensive tackle enjoyed a career year statistically at the best possible time, which puts his representatives in a strong bargaining position ahead of contract negotiations in the coming weeks.

Payne notched 11.5 sacks and emerged as a supreme pass-rushing force alongside Jonathan Allen on the defensive line interior. While his work against the run still needs refinement, there’s plenty to suggest he can build on the finest season of his professional career in 2023 and beyond.

Whether that will be on the Commanders or elsewhere is the big question. Washington can free up some significant salary-cap space through contract restructures and releasing quarterback Carson Wentz, but it’s going to take a whopping amount to keep Payne around.

Commanders need to shell out the big bucks for Daron Payne

The former first-round selection will be a hot commodity if he’s allowed to test the market. But considering the potential for Phidarian Mathis to emerge after his rookie campaign was cut short by injury, the Commanders could hold firm with their own valuation rather than overpaying.

Ron Rivera stated recently that he was optimistic about holding onto Payne when the time came. Washington also has the option of utilizing the franchise tag to ensure he sticks around in some capacity.

This is something that players are increasingly wary of without some long-term financial security. One injury could change everything, so this is a last resort rather than the Commanders’ preferred method where Payne is concerned.

According to Spotrac, Payne could command an annual salary of $19.4 million on a five-year, $97.46 million deal. This would rank No. 4 among all NFL defensive tackles and comes on the back of Allen’s recent bumper extension.

Payne was ranked at No. 5 in Pro Football Network’s top-100 free agents. Even though writer Dalton Miller highlighted the Alabama product’s inconsistency against the run as a reason why he’s being somewhat overlooked.

"“Payne doesn’t get the same reception the top interior defenders get, and for good reason. He’s a very good interior rusher and he splashes against the run, but he isn’t a consistent run defender due to his — and the Commanders — aggressive nature on the defensive line.”"

Hopefully, some common ground can be reached before the franchise or transition tag gets slapped on Payne. This is a good environment for the player and having capable performers such as Allen, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young across the defensive front provides him with additional space to do damage that he might not get elsewhere.

Not extending Payne sooner was a risk that’s probably going to cost the Commanders more in the long run. This situation is similar to what the team could be facing with Young, who’s eligible for his fifth-year extension but has some serious injury questions to overcome in 2023.

Payne caused enough havoc last season to warrant an extended stay. Interior pass-rushers that put up the kind of numbers he accomplished last season don’t grow on trees, either.

Somewhere in the $15-19 million range with annual increases on a backloaded deal works for both parties in this scenario. Whether this can be worked out remains to be seen.

Related Story. 3 easiest salary cap decisions the Commanders can make in 2023. light