Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: I think Daron Payne is a really solid player, a great piece of the Washington Football Team, and - most likely - a very good guy. I have nothing negative to say about the quality of his play since he was drafted in the first round of the 2018 draft. I’ve written articles describing how he’s been a good value for the team.
This piece is about the cold, hard business calculus of the NFL though, and while the WFT is in a good place salary cap-wise in 2021, we’re poised to be faced with some tough questions in the coming years as a result of a bounty of our own, young, drafted talent coming off their rookie contracts.
An Indecisive Past
Washington never ended up handling Brandon Scherff’s second contract properly. Though drafted in 2015, he was franchise tagged at a price of $15M last year, making him the highest paid guard in the league. This year, the team could franchise tag him again - for $18M, which would be a huge mistake. They could also try to lock him in on a longer term deal at a lower average or let him walk in free agency for the faint hopes of a 2022 third round compensatory pick. The team has been left with several undesirable options as a result of a lack of being decisive years ago.
A New Leaf
Much of that dysfunction around Scherff’s long term future can be laid at the feet of the previous, incompetent front office regime. However, the newly convened front office faces several, similar important decisions of its own this winter.
Jonathan Allen, drafted in 2017, had his 5th year option (for 2021) picked up last offseason, so he’s under team control for the coming year, at a price of around $10M. If the team wants to keep Allen around long term, they should absolutely sign him to a long term deal this offseason. Consistent speculation estimates that such a deal would likely run in the $15-17M average annual value range.
Some people may think that’s too much for Allen, but the reality is that he’s respected by Ron Rivera as a team leader, and he’s recognized - by people who know what they’re looking at - as a difference maker on the defensive line, even if he tends to work without much fanfare.
Feels like many Washington fans overlook Jonathan Allen, but I think he's currently the best defensive lineman on the team. I broke down his performance and why he merits a new contract this offseason: https://t.co/c09sXwJjdk— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) February 8, 2021
Best pass rush win rate on 3rd down:— PFF (@PFF) December 5, 2020
1. Aaron Donald - 31.5%
2. Joey Bosa - 30.0
3. Jonathan Allen - 28.7
4. Chris Jones - 27.7 pic.twitter.com/wmBztJ31oW
In any case, even if there were a desire from the top to trade Allen, I think it’s fair to say that the likely compensation would be underwhelming. My guess is he would probably return a 3rd or 4th rounder for what amounts to a reasonably priced one year rental. Given that allowing him to walk in 2022 would most likely put the team in a position to garner only a 2023 3rd round compensatory pick, it’s hard to justify moving him at this point.
The Washington Football Team does, however, have a young, talented defensive lineman who they could easily place under contract control for two years, and who - though drafted one year behind him - is actually more than two years younger than Jon Allen - Daron Payne.
Payne was one of the younger guys taken in the 2018 draft, and even now, three years into the league, is only 23 (he will be 24 by the time the season starts). He was a key piece of Washington’s defensive front in 2020 and very likely has not hit his peak yet. He, more than any of our other interior defensive line assets: Allen, Ioannidis, or Settle, is likely to be the object of outside affections.
In the same way that we’re facing a long term decision on Allen this offseason, we will be doing the same for Payne (and Settle) next offseason. If we can pencil Allen in for $16M AAV in 2022 and beyond, we can certainly - conceptually - do the same for Payne (with Settle perhaps in the $6-7M range). Then comes Sweat and Ioannidis, and - eventually - Chase Young. Both Sweat and Young are likely to command salaries upwards of $20M/year when their time comes. Long story short, there’s no way the team can deliberately plan for a future where 40%+ of its salary cap is sunk into its defensive line. Avoiding that calls for difficult decisions now.
By picking up Payne’s 5th year option, he would be under team control through 2022. I think that, at that point, he could probably draw interest in the ballpark of a 2021 2nd round pick from another team in the league. Would we be able to draft another player with Payne-level talent in second round this year? I wouldn’t bet on it, but that pick should be able to net us an (eventual) starting caliber player with several years on a rookie deal, returning us real value while Payne still has it.
In the coming years, the team will be faced with several such, tough, decisions. That’s a good thing. It means the team has been drafting well, and that the guys we’ve taken are desirable throughout the league, a situation which has been fairly rare for the past 20 years.
One of the most important things this new front office will have to do going forward is to weigh the individual value propositions that each player presents. This offseason, with Scherff, Allen, and Payne all at critical decision points, will be an illuminating look at their ability to do so.
If we could get a second round pick in 2021, would you support trading Daron Payne?
This poll is closed
No, not for that compensation.
No, not for any compensation.