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The path for the Commanders to bring back Daron Payne in 2023

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Ron Rivera revealed that his Commanders need to bring back Daron Payne next year, and for anybody watching the Washington defense this season, the head coach speaks the truth. 

"You look at the defensive line and you’ve got these two tackles that we want to keep together," Rivera said Monday via the Washington Football Talk podcast. "We want to do everything we can to keep them together."

Washington's defensive front has dominated this season and Payne, along with Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat, have been the keys to a resurgence for the Commanders.

Payne and Allen each have 6.5 sacks this year, the only pair of defensive tackles with 5+ sacks in the league, and the duo also have combined for 25 tackles for loss. Those are ridiculous numbers through 11 games. 

Rivera explained that when he built his best teams in Carolina defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short anchored a stout defense. In 2015, that Panthers team went 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl. Now the coach now sees the same anchors in Payne and Allen. 

Here's where things get complicated: Payne is slated for unrestricted free agency after this season. 

"We know it’s going to be hard but we're going to do it," Rivera said of keeping Payne long-term.

Washington was smart to get a long-term contract done with Allen two seasons ago, and perhaps the team can do the same with Payne before free agency opens in March. 

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But the bigger question - How?

The NFL salary cap is slated to rise to $225 million next year and current cap projections show Washington to have about $20 million in cap space when the new league year opens. 

Now let's be real - the move for Carson Wentz looks like a mistake, but give the Washington brain trust some credit. Last year when the team traded for Wentz, despite all the posturing that he was the long-term answer, the Commanders did not rework Wentz's deal. That meant a big cap hit in 2022, but it also meant the ability to release Wentz in 2023 and save $26 million against the cap. 

So assuming the Commanders admit the Wentz mistake when the season ends, all of a sudden Washington has $46 million in cap space. 

A new contract for Payne will probably start somewhere around $19 million in annual salary. In 2021, Allen signed a four-year contract extension that pays him roughly $18 million per season. Considering inflation in real life let alone in the NFL, Payne will get more. 

The situations are also much different, as Allen signed with a year remaining on his contract. That's not the case with Payne.

Washington will likely need to start negotiations with Payne based on the franchise tag for defensive tackles, which the website OvertheCap.com projects to come in just north of $18 million per year. 

The good news for Washington is assuming they can get the basic parameters for a Payne deal worked out, the team can spread out the cap impact via signing bonus over the life of the contract. 

Nothing is simple in building a roster in the NFL and Washington will have a number of other decisions to make as well.

For Rivera, however, it's become clear that keeping Payne on the team carries significant importance.