4 emerging alphas on the Washington Commanders in 2023

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Daron Payne - Commanders DT

When the Washington Commanders opted not to pick up Daron Payne's fifth-year option last spring, it laid down the gauntlet to the defensive tackle in no uncertain terms. Anything less than a steep upturn in production would have cast his future with the franchise into significant doubt.

The reward for Payne was obvious. As it turned out, it was a challenge he was more than ready for.

Payne was absolutely outstanding in 2022 en route to some career numbers and a first Pro Bowl selection. There is still some work ahead for the player in terms of stopping the run, but this was far better than anyone anticipated in the grand scheme of things.

This put the Commanders in a financial predicament as they looked to prevent Payne from hitting the free-agent market. Ron Rivera made keeping the former first-round pick around his top priority, using the franchise tag before reaching an agreement on a four-year, $90 million deal with $60 million guaranteed.

Perform above expectations and you'll be rewarded. This has been the ethos of Rivera throughout his coaching career and stayed true to his word where Payne was concerned.

Expect Payne to take another leap forward next season and also gradually emerge as a leader within the locker room. Hopefully, the lineman's situation can also serve as inspiration for Chase Young, who enters the 2023 campaign in a similar spot.