The Washington Commanders have the best defensive tackle duo in the NFL. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have combined for 13 sacks and 27 tackles for loss through 12 games this season.
In a few short months, Payne is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, meaning he could be elsewhere in 2023.
However, if it’s up to head coach Ron Rivera, Payne, like Allen, will be signing a long-term contract with the Commanders to stick around for several more seasons.
Multiple times this season, Rivera has made it clear where the Commanders stand with Payne: They want him back. Allen signed a four-year extension in July 2021 but was one year away from free agency when he signed his new deal.
Would Payne want to re-sign with Washington before he has a chance to hit free agency? And would the Commanders apply the franchise tag on Payne? That’s a dreaded phrase for Washington fans, as Kirk Cousins and Brandon Scherff played on the franchise tag for two years before leaving.
Payne isn’t Scherff or Cousins. He legitimately seems happy playing in Washington with his current teammates. He is having a career season and is just 25 years old, making him a prime candidate for a lucrative extension.
When Rivera was in Carolina, he had two excellent defensive tackles in Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Both were outstanding. Lotulelei was a first-round pick in 2013, while Short was a second-round pick in the same draft. Ultimately, Carolina chose to pay Short and allow Lotulelei to leave, something that still bothers Rivera.
“The big problem with it more than anything else is it’s gonna impact your linebackers, and it’s gonna impact all the way across,” Rivera said. “It really is because what happened was Star was that guy that would absorb the double teams and hold the point so your linebackers could run, and so your three-technique was typically singled up, and KK made a lot of plays. But when Star wanted, Star would take it over. I mean, that’s how good he was. We’re fortunate that we have a guy that, for the most part, in [DT] Jonathan [Allen] that is really good at both. And you have a guy in [DT] Daron [Payne] who’s really good at both. So we don’t have to always try and flip one to make one to one and the other one to three, which is what we did with Star. We said, ‘Hey, we’ll make him the one and KK will be the one that flips.’ And it turned out that they’re both just as equally as valuable. It’s the lesson we learned, and if I had all to do over again, I would’ve asked that if we could get ’em both signed.”
As for keeping Payne around, Rivera has made it clear where he stands.
Payne already has career highs in sacks and tackles for loss under new defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina. Washington’s defensive line is playing like the dominant group everyone expected when you spend four consecutive first-round picks on the same position group.
When Carolina re-signed Short in 2017, the Panthers first applied the franchise tag. However, he never played on the tag as he agreed to a five-year deal shortly after.
The Commanders are hoping for a similar outcome for Payne.