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Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Washington’s standout defensive lineman is projected to break out in 2024

By meerna Jun12,2024

A year ago, the Washington Commanders were one of the worst teams in the NFL. That’s the main reason why the franchise underwent a significant makeover in the offseason, which included hiring a new general manager, head coach and franchise quarterback. A potential resurgence in the NFC East starts with Jayden Daniels, but if the Commanders are going to make any noise in 2024, he’ll need the rest of his team to be up to the task.

It all starts with the defense, which finished last in the league last season, giving up an average of 388.9 yards and 30.5 points per game. No other team gave up more than 26.8 points per game.

READ MORE: Washington’s Commanders aren’t the only NFC East Division team undergoing massive changes

Two of Washington’s three highest-paid players on the roster are cornerbacks Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. Both defensive linemen will earn $21 million this season. Problem? Both underperformed compared to their expectations in 2023. Payne recorded a career-low 53 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks, while Allen had his lowest total since his rookie season with 53 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 5.5 bags.

This year, commanders will need more of a defensive center. That’s exactly what NFL.com’s Eric Edholm predicts for at least one member of the duo, expecting Payne to have a resurgence under head coach Dan Quinn.

“Payne didn’t have a bad 2023 season, mind you, but it was clear how much harder life was for him and Allen after Montez Sweat and Chase Young were traded on a franchise-altering day last Halloween,” Edhold wrote. “Even after that moment, Payne showed what he was capable of, collecting three of his four sacks, including two in a late-season loss to the Rams.”

“Dan Quinn is a former DL coach who knows how to create pressure with his fronts. “The Cowboys have been attacking from all sides over the last few years, and I expect Quinn’s leadership to do the same, even with less talent,” Edholm continued. “We may have to build on the committee’s efforts and be less star-driven than was the case with Quinn in Dallas or Sweat and Young in Washington. But don’t forget about some of the lesser-known players Washington brought in this offseason.”

According to PFF, Payne’s overall numbers dipped last season when he posted a career-worst defensive rating of 61.2. It’s worth noting that seven of his tackles for loss and three sacks came after Washington traded Chase Young and Montez Sweat, which makes me optimistic that he’ll be able to move in the right direction. At the same time, he may well be fighting for his job as Payne enters the second year of the four-year, $90 million contract extension he signed last March.

“Payne has a lot to lose in 2024.” – Edhold wrote. “This season, his salary is over $21 million, which will increase to over $26 million and $28 million over the next two years, respectively. Even with Jayden Daniels’ rookie QB salary, which helps with accounting issues, getting significantly worse, Payne and Allen could be playing for the Washington job.”

“Two years younger than Allen and one season removed from an 11.5-sack Pro Bowl campaign, Payne may have a better chance to shine in 2024 and remain a key part of Washington’s defense going forward,” Edhold continued.

It’s been less than two years since Payne was named to the Pro Bowl after recording 18 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks in 2022, a linebacker in the middle of his prime.

A large factor in Quinn’s hiring was his success in consistently building a top-notch defense for the Dallas Cowboys. Quinn will look to do the same as he leads one of his former employer’s biggest rivals.

READ MORE: Washington State commanders ‘learned a lot’ during offseason training program

Stick Gameday Commander and Commanders blocked podcast providing broader coverage of Washington’s leadership throughout the 2024 season.

By meerna

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