Commanders put franchise tag on defensive tackle Daron Payne

The Washington Commanders have put the franchise tag on Daron Payne, solving one of their biggest offseason problems by keeping the standout defensive tackle under contract following the best season of his NFL career.

Payne will earn just over $18.9 million if he plays on the franchise tag next season, a likelihood given Washington already had extended fellow Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and still need to determine a course of action on pass rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young.

But even after drafting yet another Crimson Tide defensive tackle, Phidarian Mathis, in the second round last year as Payne’s projected replacement, the Commanders had to figure out a way to keep the accomplished veteran in the fold. After Mathis was lost to a season-ending knee injury, Payne led the team with a career-high 11 1/2 sacks and went to the Pro Bowl.

“Daron is an important part of what we’re doing,” general manager Martin Mayhew said at a season-ending news conference. “He’s always been disruptive. He’s always been in the back field, he’s always been around the ball. This was the first year he really was finishing the way that he finished this year, so he played outstanding football for us.”

Payne was set to become a free agent next month after Washington previously did not pick up his fifth-year option, a decision that forced management’s hand on the franchise tag, which the Commanders foreshadowed using.

“It’d be difficult, to move forward without him, obviously,” Mayhew said. “We have a plan, and we definitely want to get him back.”

Coach Ron Rivera, a retired linebacker, said Payne “fits the formula of what we want to do and how we want to play and (has) the skill set that you would like to have.”

“We think his presence on the football field was outstanding this season, and he did a lot of good things for us,” Rivera said.

Washington’s previous regime selected Payne 13th in the 2018 draft, and he has since made 296 tackles and recorded 26 sacks in 81 NFL games.

Paying Payne — for less money than the team saved by releasing quarterback Carson Wentz after a failed, one-year experiment — shores up a defense that ranked third in the league. But it does complicate the decision to pick up Young’s fifth-year option with the 2020 No. 2 pick coming off a torn ACL in his right knee, after the Commanders already decided to do so for Sweat.

NOTES: The Commanders made several coaching changes on the staffs overseen by Rivera, new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Tavita Pritchard was named quarterbacks coach after previously serving in that role at Stanford; former QBs coach Ken Zampese was named senior offensive adviser for game management; Brent Vieselmeyer was promoted to defensive backs coach to replace Chris Harris, who went to Tennessee; Richard Rodgers was named senior defensive assistant/safeties and Christian Garcia was promoted to assistant defensive backs/nickels coach.

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