Darren Payne agrees to four-year, $90 million contract with Commanders


On Sunday, the Washington Commanders made Darren Payne the second-highest paid defensive player in the NFL. Payne agreed to a four-year, $90 million deal that includes $60 million in guarantees, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deal.

Payne will not be able to sign until the start of the new league year on Wednesday. The deal gives him an average annual value of $22.5 million, which trails only Aaron Donald’s $31.7 million annual salary among interior defensive linemen. Payne’s $60 million in guaranteed money is tied with Kansas City’s Chris Jones for second-most among interior linemen, according to salary database Over the Gap.

The deal could keep Washington’s defensive line starters, all first-round picks, together for at least one more season, and keep the valuable interior duo of Payne and Jonathan Allen together through at least 2025. If the Chiefs coach Chase Young’s fifth-year contract option, three of their four starters will be under contract for the next two seasons.

Washington’s defensive line has been the team’s anchor as they cycle through quarterbacks. The line has developed into one of the league’s most prolific — especially inside. But with its drama came the lingering question of whether Washington could hold the group together and still devote resources to other positions.

“We’ll figure it out,” general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL Combine this month. “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft is a ‘dream.’ So there is an opportunity to trade it.

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Mayhew and coach Ron Rivera said their priority heading into the offseason was to retain the Chiefs’ free agents before turning to outside talent. Payne was at the top of their list. Last season, he led the team with 11.5 sacks, along with one fumble recovery, five batted passes and 49 quarterback pressures, according to data website TruMedia.

Payne has improved every year since the Commanders drafted him with the 13th pick in 2018, in part because the team exercised the fifth-year option on his contract. But his jump last season made him invaluable.

“The guy played great football this year,” Mayhew said in January. “He’s always a disruptor. He’s always in the backfield. He’s always around the ball. … It’s going to be tough going forward without him, obviously.”

In late February, the Chiefs placed an $18.9 million non-exclusive rights tag on Payne, giving them until July 15 to reach a long-term deal. Getting it done before free agency starts lays the groundwork for the Chiefs’ retirement and their long-term future.

“We’ve got to take care of ourselves first … then we’ll go into free agency with reasonable contracts and then we’ll set ourselves up so when we get to the draft, we can do what we want to do as opposed to what we need to do,” Rivera said.

While the structure of Payne’s deal is unknown, it could be a smart deal for the Commanders. This year’s free agent class at defensive tackle is deep, and each signing could raise the market floor for the next.

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The deal puts the 25-year-old Payne in position to cash in again before he turns 30.

Most important: The contract’s total value and guarantees, which will mark the Commanders’ season, will not be affected by ownership uncertainty, as Rivera said.

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Washington has made it clear that it is not interested in acquiring a high-priced quarterback like Derek Carr (who signed with the New Orleans Saints), Lamar Jackson (who was given the non-exclusive franchise tag by the Baltimore Ravens) or Aaron Rodgers (who). available through trade). By doing so, commanders have combined their typically high-priced position group into one of their lowest-priced ones, giving them the freedom to spend elsewhere.

But with so many first-round picks, the Generals have faced tough decisions each year.

Most Expensive Contracts of Commanders:

They signed Allen to a four-year, $72 million contract in 2021, picked up defensive end Montez Sweat’s fifth-year option in 2022 (worth $11.5 million) and now have Payne under contract through 2026. Next up is Young, the No. 2 pick in 2020.

The team must decide his fifth-year option (worth $17.5 million) by May 1, which could have ramifications elsewhere. When asked about Young’s option in February, Rivera indicated that it wasn’t a guarantee the team would act on it.

“That’s what we did with Darron,” he said, referring to Washington’s decision not to extend Payne’s contract early. “It cost us. But it cost us in a good way because the young man played. He did things the right way. … Now we’re like, ‘Thank you; you’ve earned it.’

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