Daron Payne is one of ESPN’s top five free agents in 2023
The Washington Commanders have some big decisions to make over the next month. Should Washington apply the franchise tag to defensive tackle Daron Payne? Should the Commanders approach Payne and safety Kamren Curl about potential contract extensions?
These are good problems to have for Washington. Yes, the Commanders need a quarterback, they always need a quarterback, but they are apparently content going into 2023, giving Sam Howell a chance to win the job. That leaves Washington looking at a veteran backup/spot starter, such as Taylor Heinicke, Jacoby Brissett, or Andy Dalton.
Washington’s biggest decision remains what to do with Payne.
If he hit the open market, he would receive a huge contract. Count Matt Bowen of ESPN as a believer in Payne.
Bowen, a former Washington safety, has been an outstanding analyst at ESPN for years. He recently ranked his top 50 free agents for 2023 and ranked Payne No. 4 behind Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown Jr. and Javon Hargrave.
Payne posted career numbers in his contract season with 11.5 sacks and 32 solo tackles from the defensive tackle position. A big, powerful mover at 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, Payne is a disruptive defender with foot quickness and lower-body agility who can play in multiple fronts. His pass rush win rate when lined up inside (12.7%) ranked 12th in the NFL. He could be in line for a big deal based on his 2022 film.
Perhaps Washington is content with allowing Payne to play on a one-year tag for another season to see if he can repeat his 2022 performance. That’s understandable, but it’s also dangerous. The Commanders allowed Kirk Cousins and Brandon Scherff to play on franchise tags for two seasons and lost both for a third-round compensatory pick.
Washington’s strategy should be either to franchise Payne and try to hammer out a deal or apply the tag and shop him.
Payne has a lot going in his favor. In addition to NFL teams coveting interior pass rushers, Payne will be 26 when the 2023 season begins, coming off his best NFL season.
The Commanders already paid Jonathan Allen in 2021. Allen has been the more consistent player and the team leader. Does Washington want to pay two defensive tackles top-of-the-market contracts?
How Washington handles the Payne situation will be one of the more fascinating storylines to watch over the next six weeks.