- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Washington Commanders have put the franchise tag on Daron Payne, solving one of their biggest offseason problems by keeping the standout defensive tackle under contract following the best season of his NFL career.

Payne will earn just over $18.9 million if he plays on the franchise tag next season, a likelihood given Washington already had extended fellow Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and still need to determine a course of action on pass rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young.

But even after drafting yet another Crimson Tide defensive tackle, Phidarian Mathis, in the second round last year as Payne’s projected replacement, the Commanders had to figure out a way to keep the accomplished veteran in the fold. After Mathis was lost to a season-ending knee injury, Payne led the team with a career-high 111/2 sacks and went to the Pro Bowl.

Payne was set to become a free agent next month after Washington previously did not pick up his fifth-year option, a decision that forced management’s hand on the franchise tag, which the Commanders foreshadowed using.

Coach Ron Rivera, a retired linebacker, said Payne “fits the formula of what we want to do and how we want to play and (has) the skill set that you would like to have.”

Washington’s previous regime selected Payne 13th in the 2018 draft, and he has since made 296 tackles and recorded 26 sacks in 81 NFL games.

Paying Payne — for less money than the team saved by releasing quarterback Carson Wentz after a failed, one-year experiment — shores up a defense that ranked third in the league. But it does complicate the decision to pick up Young’s fifth-year option with the 2020 No. 2 pick coming off a torn ACL in his right knee, after the Commanders already decided to do so for Sweat.

Quarterback update: Rivera, speaking to reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday, clarified comments about what his expectations are for second-year quarterback Sam Howell next season.

“He’s not our starter,” Rivera said. “He’s coming in as the QB1. He’ll get a great opportunity to be our starter. But we do want to find a veteran quarterback. We have Taylor Heinicke that’s a free agent. We’ve got to work through that as well. And we’ll see what happens from there.”

Staff shuffle: The Commanders made several coaching changes on the staffs overseen by Rivera, new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Tavita Pritchard was named quarterbacks coach after previously serving in that role at Stanford; former QBs coach Ken Zampese was named senior offensive adviser for game management; Brent Vieselmeyer was promoted to defensive backs coach to replace Chris Harris, who went to Tennessee; Richard Rodgers was named senior defensive assistant/safeties and Christian Garcia was promoted to assistant defensive backs/nickels coach.

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