Commanders, Daron Payne reach four-year, $90 million deal

As he cleaned out his locker at the end of the season, Daron Payne told reporters that he wanted to be paid what he earned. And after a career year in 2022, that turned out to be a whole lot. 

The Commanders reached an agreement Sunday with the defensive tackle on a four-year, $90 million deal, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed. The contract contains $60 million guaranteed and makes Payne the second-highest-paid player at his position behind Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald. 

The two sides struck a deal weeks after the team franchise tagged Payne — which would have kept him on a one-year contract worth nearly $19 million. The franchise tag can complicate negotiations, but it didn’t prove to be an obstacle in this case as the Commanders and Payne found common ground on a long-term deal. Payne’s contract even surpasses the one given to teammate Jonathan Allen, the defensive tackle who signed a four-year, $72 million deal in 2021. 

Payne had a breakout season in 2022. The 25-year-old tied a franchise record for sacks by an interior defensive lineman with 11½ and finished with 64 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits. The stats helped Payne earn his first Pro Bowl appearance.

By locking up Payne, the Commanders will continue to have two dominant players on the interior. Opposing coaches have noted that Washington’s pass rush often starts with Allen and Payne — two former Alabama teammates reunited in the NFL after being picked by Washington in the first round of the 2017 and 2018 drafts, respectively.

Payne’s contract could have ripple effects for the rest of Washington’s defensive line. The Commanders have to decide by May 1 whether to pick up former defensive rookie of the year Chase Young’s fifth-year option, while edge rusher Montez Sweat is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Young’s option is worth more than $17 million, and Rivera has said the team could decline it to serve as motivation in the way that Payne’s lack of an extension led to a career year. 

“It cost us. But it cost us in a good way, because the young man played, he did things the right way,” Rivera told reporters last month, referring to Payne. “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.’”

The Commanders did indeed find a way to say “thank you.” While the team had until July to reach a long-term deal because of the franchise tag, Payne’s deal got done on the eve of free agency. The NFL’s legal tampering window begins Monday, which means teams can start negotiating with other teams’ free agents. 

Payne’s deal also got done amid uncertainty over the Commanders’ future as owner Dan Snyder explores a sale of the franchise. There have been questions about whether Snyder would commit to spending big on a team that could be sold over the next few months, but Rivera and Co. have consistently maintained they plan to operate business as usual. 

“I’ve gotten a lot of support on the things that I’ve wanted to do from ownership,” Rivera told reporters at the NFL scouting combine. “What we do, for the most part, is put our plan together. I’ve met with them, let them know exactly what we’re doing and they’ve been very supportive.”

That plan included extending Payne. 

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