April 2, 2023

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Daron Payne agrees to a four-year, $90 million deal with the Chiefs

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On Sunday, the Washington Chiefs made Darron Payne the second-highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL. Payne has agreed to a four-year, $90 million contract that includes $60 million in collateral, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deal.

Payne cannot sign until the new league year begins on Wednesday. The deal gives him an average annual worth of $22.5 million, which trails only Aaron Donald’s $31.7 million annual wage among linebackers. Payne’s $60 million in guaranteed money is tied with Kansas City’s Chris Jones for second among inside linemen, according to Over the Cap salary database.

The agreement ensures that Washington’s defensive line starters, all first-round draft picks, can stay together for at least one more season, and the standout inside duo of Payne and Jonathan Allen will remain together through at least 2025. Fifth year contract option, they would have three of their four starters under contract for the next two seasons.

Washington’s defensive line has served as the team’s fulcrum as he cycled through the quarterbacks. The line has developed into one of the most prolific leagues around—especially indoors. But with this play came the burning question of whether Washington could keep the group together and devote resources to other locations.

“We’ll find out,” said NFL General Manager Martin Mayhew this month. “It would be great, wouldn’t it?”

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Mayhew and coach Ron Rivera said their priority going into the offseason was to retain the captains’ free agents before turning to outside talent. Payne was at the top of their list. Last season, he led the team with a career-high 11.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, five passes hit and 49 quarterback pressures, according to data site TruMedia.

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

“The guy has played great football this year,” Mayhew said in January. “He was always troublesome. He was always in the background. He was always around the ball. … It would be difficult to get going without him, obviously.”

In late February, the Chiefs placed the non-exclusive franchise tag, worth $18.9 million, on Payne, giving them until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement. Doing so before free agency begins lays the groundwork for the rest of the outside leaders—and their long-term future—in advance.

“Obviously we have to take care of ourselves first…and then we go to free agency with probably fair deals, and then hopefully we can set ourselves up so that when we get to the draft, we can do whatever we want,” Rivera said at the combine.

Although the structure of Payne’s contract is unknown, it could end up being a shrewd deal for the leaders. This year’s free agent class of defensive tackles is deep, and each contract could lift the market floor for the next.

The deal also leaves Payne, 25, in position to tap again before he turns 30.

Most importantly: The overall value of the agreement and its guarantees suggest the off-season leaders, Rivera said, won’t be hampered by ownership uncertainty.

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Washington has made it clear that it is not interested in acquiring a high-priced quarterback, such as Derek Carr (who signed with the New Orleans Saints), Lamar Jackson (who the Baltimore Ravens gave a non-exclusive franchise tag to), or Aaron Rodgers (who could be available via trade). ). In doing so, the leaders made the highest-priced group of centers the least expensive, giving them freedom to spend elsewhere.

But with a slew of transfers in the first round, the leaders faced tough decisions every year.

The most expensive contracts:

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

The team must decide on its fifth-year option (worth $17.5 million) by May 1, and that could have implications elsewhere. When asked in February about Young’s option, Rivera indicated that it was not guaranteed the team would exercise him.

“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 guy played. He did things the right way. … We are now in this position where we have to find a way to say, ‘Thank you; You’ve got it.'”