The Philadelphia Eagles finished the 2022 campaign with 70 total sacks, obliterating the franchise record of 62 sacks set in 1989. It was a historic season for a locked-in defensive line that had thermal scopes on rival quarterbacks on every snap. They were the gold standard.
The Eagles had four different players record double-digit sacks: Haason Reddick (16), Javon Hargrave (11), Josh Sweat (11), and Brandon Graham (11). It marked the first time in NFL history that a team had ever done that. And it may be the last time as tough decisions dance on the horizon. General manager Howie Roseman will face the impossible chore of keeping the band together and bringing them back in perfect harmony.
Hargrave and Graham are free agents, along with Fletcher Cox who quietly registered seven sacks. Throw Robert Quinn and his 102 career sacks into that discussion, too. Roseman is going to have to prioritize his offseason to-do list, something made more complicated by the uncertain contract situations surrounding offensive stars Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders. Much to consider, yes.
There is also mild speculation of the Eagles doing a complete 360 and signing a high-priced free agent like Washington Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne. The former first-round pick is headed to free agency after a career year in which he recorded 11.5 sacks. He was listed as a first alternate for the Pro Bowl.
If the Eagles wanted to get younger at the position — Payne will turn 26 in May, compared to Hargrave’s 30th birthday coming up in February — then it stands to reason they would at least kick the tires. Martin Frank of Delaware Online recently threw the idea out there:
It’s possible that the Eagles let both Cox and Hargrave go and spend big for someone like Washington’s Daron Payne, who’s five years younger than Hargrave. That’s because the other defensive tackles coming back in Davis, Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu are all on their rookie contracts.
Payne Could Command Up to $21 Million Annually
The estimates for Payne’s next contract seem to fluctuate by the day, much like the inverse of Tesla stock. That’s to say his price tag is going up. The Athletic’s Ben Standig did a deep dive on what the 25-year-old pass rusher might get on the open market. He talked to two agents representing marquee free-agent defensive tackles who put Payne’s value at $21 million annually. That’s in line with Aaron Donald.
“It won’t be close. Significantly north of ($21 million annually),” an agent told Standig. “People have f***** with the tackles compared to the D-ends for too long.”
Meanwhile, Spotrac estimates Payne’s market value at $19.4 million annually, or a five-year deal worth $19.5 million. Pro Football Focus listed the 320-pounder as the 11th-best free agent available in 2023 and wrote: “Payne has 95 quarterback pressures since the start of 2021, 10th most among interior defenders, with his 11.8% pass-rush win rate over the same span a very respectable figure on the inside.” The only slight knock on him is his run defense.
Commanders GM Says ‘We Definitely Want Him Back’
Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew didn’t mince words when asked about whether he wanted Payne back for the 2023 season. He told ESPN’s John Keim that “Daron is an important part of what we’re doing,” then revealed he had a plan for free agency, one that included bringing Payne back.
The best-laid plans often go awry, though. Payne was pretty straightforward about his goals when he was cleaning out his locker on January 9. He expects a big-time payday and doesn’t care what color the uniform is as long as the money is green.
“I just want what I earned,” Payne said. “It’s like all the work that I put in, like over the years, finally came to fruition for me so it just gives me faith to go into this offseason and keep grinding like I’ve been grinding and come out here and do it again.”
When asked specifically if he wanted to be back in Washington, Payne said: “I can’t say too much right now, just trying to get my stuff and get going.”
Payne will have his suitors in free agency, maybe the Eagles will be one of them. Remember, Payne was teammates with Jalen Hurts at the University of Alabama — and Roseman has been stockpiling Crimson Tide players in recent years. Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger threw the Seattle Seahawks into the mix, too. Stay tuned.