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Playing tag with Daron Payne: what options do the Washington Commanders have with their Pro Bowl defensive tackle?

what are the Commanders’ options with their Pro Bowl defensive tackle?

NFL: Washington Commanders at New York Giants Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Of Washington’s pending veteran free agents, only one is a legitimate candidate for the franchise tag: Daron Payne. In 2022, Payne’s cap hit was $8.53m.

Payne had an impressive 2022 season, finishing with career highs in tackles (64), tackles for loss (18), QB hits (20), sacks (11.5), and safeties (1).

A quick look at the top-12 DL contracts indicates that the 26-year-old Payne compares favorably to a number of older players who are currently earning between $16m and $21m per year, but with a sharply rising salary cap, many observers project his value on a multi-year contract to be in the range of $20m to $22m per year.

There’s reason to believe that it may not be ‘business as usual’ for player contract negotiations in Ashburn as the Washington Commanders franchise goes through the process of being sold. It’s been widely reported that the Commanders will probably use the franchise tag on Daron Payne; if that’s going to happen, the deadline is Tuesday, March 7th.

It seems like a good time to remind people of the three options for franchise tags, the relative costs, and how they differ.

Non-Exclusive franchise tag

The Non-exclusive franchise tag which is commonly referred to as just the ‘franchise tag’ is a one-year tender of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the last five years, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. The player can negotiate with other teams, but his current team has the right to match any offer or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signs with another club.

Exclusive franchise tag
(cost not yet determined)

The Exclusive franchise tag on the other hand is a more expensive tag as it takes the average of only the top five salaries at the player’s position for April of the current year, or 120 percent of his previous salary, whichever is greater. It also offers the team more protection as the player is not allowed to negotiate with other teams. Generally this is reserved for players who other teams would happily surrender the two first round picks for.

Transition tag

The transition tag on the other hand holds the least finical commitment while also offering the least protection. It takes the averages of the top 10 salaries at the position as opposed to the top five and the tagging team receives no draft compensation if they do not match the deal.

There seems little doubt that the Commanders, if they tag Payne, would use the ‘standard’ (non-exclusive) tag at a cost of just under $19m for the 2023 season. The money would be fully guaranteed and 100% would count towards the 2023 salary cap.

Cost of a 2nd franchise tag

The cost of a 2nd tag for Payne in 2024 can’t be less than 120% of the 2023 tag amount, which means that a 2nd tag would cost $22.724m for the 2024 season.

Options after tagging

If the Commanders tag Payne by 7 March, then they have a few options:

First, they could just let him play on the tag. Payne’s only choices would be to:

  • play for the Commanders,
  • look for another team willing to offer him a long-term contract and give up draft picks to get him, or
  • refuse to sign the tag before 15 July, and sit out the season (similar to Le’Veon Bell in 2018); if Payne doesn’t sign immediately, the team can rescind the tag offer any time before he signs it, up until 15 July (as the Panthers did with Josh Norman in 2016)

Second, after tagging him, the team has until 15 July to sign a long-term contract with Payne. If they do, the franchise tag can effectively be ripped up and replaced with the new contract. Given that two tags total $41.66m for the ‘23 & ‘ 24 seasons (18.937 + 22.724), that figure of $41.7m for 2 years ($20.8m per year) sets the floor for any negotiation.

Third, the Commanders could tag Payne and then trade him to another team. This is not an uncommon practice. Here’s a list of teams that have done so in recent years:

  • 2020 Jaguars - Yannick Ngakoue
  • 2019 Texans - Jadeveon Clowney
  • 2019 Seahawks - Frank Clark
  • 2019 Chiefs - Dee Ford
  • 2018 Dolphins - Jarvis Landry

It’s hard to be sure what kind of return the Commanders would get in trade for Payne, but a 2nd round pick in the 2023 or 2024 draft seems to be the neighborhood that most people have mentioned.

What happens if the Commanders don’t re-sign or tag Payne?

If Daron Payne isn’t tagged by 7 March or signed to a contract extension before noon on 15 March, then #94 will become a free agent who can sign with any team (including the Commanders). There is likely to be strong interest in Payne, who would likely be a top-10 veteran free agent.

Comp pick

Last season, Brandon Sherff generated a 3rd round compensatory pick for the Commanders when he signed a contract worth $16.5m per season. Daron Payne would almost certainly do the same, assuming Washington didn’t sign enough qualifying veteran free agents to cancel out the pick. The 3rd round pick that Payne’s departure would generate would be awarded in the 2024 draft.


What will happen with Daron Payne in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Commanders sign him to a contract extension before March 15th
    (69 votes)
  • 3%
    Commanders let him walk in free agency and collect a 3rd round comp pick in 2024
    (30 votes)
  • 40%
    He is tagged and plays the season with the Commanders
    (378 votes)
  • 22%
    He is tagged by 7 March, but the team signs him to an extension before 15 July
    (207 votes)
  • 21%
    He is tagged by 7 March and then traded to another team
    (200 votes)
  • 1%
    He is tagged by 7 March but refuses to play on the tag and sits out the 2023 season
    (12 votes)
  • 3%
    A killer asteroid strikes the Earth before the tag deadline next Tuesday
    (36 votes)
932 votes total Vote Now

Reading the Collective Bargaining Agreeement: Types of tags

[Definitions from Article 10 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement]

Non-exclusive franchise tag

The Nonexclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position ... the player shall be permitted to negotiate a Player Contract with any Club, except that Draft Choice Compensation of two first round draft selections shall be made with respect to such player in the event he signs with the New Club, and the Signing Period for such player shall be determined under Section 15 below.

Exclusive franchise tag

The Exclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Salaries in Player Contracts for that League Year as of the end of the Restricted Free Agent Signing Period that League Year, as set forth in Article 9, Section 2(e), for players at the position (within the categories set forth in Section 7(a) below) at which he participated in the most plays during the prior League Year, or (B) the amount of the Required Tender under Subsection (a)(i) above, whichever is greater.

[NOTE: Players who receive this tag cannot negotiate with other teams.]

Transition tag

In each League Year during the term of this Agreement, each Club shall be permitted to designate one player who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent or Restricted Free Agent as a Transition Player in lieu of designating a Franchise Player ... Any Club that designates a Transition Player shall receive the Rights of First Refusal specified in this Article notwithstanding the number of his Accrued Seasons. Any Transition Player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club during the period from the first day of the League Year following the expiration of his last player contract to July 22, and any Club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between Clubs of any kind, subject only to the Prior Club’s Right of First Refusal described in this Article.

[NOTE: There is no compensation if the player’s original team decides not to match an offer presented to the player by another team.]