Daron Payne is in a peculiar position with the Washington Commanders. Though he’s been a tank on the interior defensive line for the squad — playing in at least 15 games per season since his rookie campaign in 2018 — contract talks may not produce the long-term deal he is seeking.
Washington's front office has more pressing concerns with locking other stars into their tenures - namely Terry McLaurin - leaving Payne in limbo. But despite the lack of an update on his contract, he says it is nobody else’s business.
“That’s between my coach, my agent and me,” Payne said following Tuesday’s minicamp session at Ashburn.
The Commanders exercised fellow defensive lineman Montez Sweat’s fifth-year option back in April. In doing so, the team adds Sweat to their list of pass-rushers who are locked into the roster for multiple upcoming seasons.
Payne, meanwhile, is entering the final year of his initial contract in Washington. With Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Chase Young inked for multiple years, already there is over $42 million dedicated to three guys on the defensive line in 2023, per Spotrac. It’s very possible Payne might suit up elsewhere in 2023.
His attendance at voluntary OTAs was spotty, as well. He wasn’t present for last Wednesday’s session and participated mostly in individual drills before that. Even so, it’s his right to take part in as much, or as little, of team activities as he would like given the nature of OTAs.
“I mean, it was voluntary, so I could’ve did it, but I didn’t have to, so I didn’t. But now it’s minicamp and I’m working,” Payne said.
Payne was a full participant in mandatory minicamp on Tuesday of this week, though.
“I just like training, I like being around the guys, I like just fellowshipping,” Payne said. “It was fun for me to be here and get some work in…it felt good being out there with the team, with the guys. Just going hard with them, ready for the season, ready to get back out there.”
Perhaps this ambiguous status led Washington to drafting a fellow interior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis out of Alabama, Payne’s alma mater, in the second round this past April. Mathis could step in once Payne’s situation in Burgundy & Gold plays out, but when asked if it’s a bit awkward knowing that dynamic, Payne wasn’t flustered.
“No, not really. I play ball. I know what I bring to the table,” Payne said.
Payne and Mathis were close even before they wore the same colors on draft night. Though Mathis was drafted four years after his predecessor, the duo overlapped in Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide squad in 2017. Being in the same position group, the two became very close.
“He’s a quick learner and he’s a big body, and he’s real active,” Payne said of his linemate. “I’m pretty excited to see him. I know just playing with him in college, he was always excited, always brought the energy, so I feel like that’s gonna be a good pickup for the team.”
It’s a good thing to hear that two position mates, and apparent friends, are gelling well on the field given their years of experience together. It’s even better to know that the elder statesman does not concern himself with the possibility of being replaced.
Yes, Payne’s contract is a bit of an elephant in the room, but he and Mathis are simply ready to take on the task ahead of them in preparing for the 2022 season.
“Oh yeah [we’re close]. That’s my dog,” Payne said.