Daron Payne - Commanders DT
After a Pro Bowl campaign and the finest season of his professional career by a considerable margin, the Washington Commanders made tying down Daron Payne their top offseason priority. They placed the franchise tag on him immediately. This was swiftly followed by a bumper new extension that made him one of the league's highest-paid defensive tackles along the way.
All signs pointed to Payne and the vaunted Commanders' defense taking another significant leap forward in 2023. Sadly for the franchise, these lofty expectations weren't close to being met.
While the secondary needs to take its share of the blame, Washington's failure all started up front. Something that spiraled further when the Commanders opted to trade both Montez Sweat and Chase Young before the deadline.
The formidable interior tandem struggled to make the impact needed. Payne's numbers regressed considerably with extra attention from opposing protection schemes. He struggled to generate consistent pressure and was inconsistent at best against the run.
Perhaps it was a motivation issue with the Commanders going nowhere fast. Perhaps Payne's production last season was centered around the urgency of a contract year. We won't know for sure until he takes the field in 2024 with a salary-cap hit of $21.61 million attached.
Either way, big improvements are a necessity if Payne wants to live up to his mammoth contract.