How to read and react to breaking contract news: Daron Payne's "$90 million" deal
It's time to update how you process NFL contract news, 3/12/2023
It’s about to be a busy week of news in the NFL, with most of that centered around contracts being signed by some of the top players who are currently negotiating deals with new teams, old teams, extensions, and in some cases, trades. We’ve already seen some reports ahead of Monday—the first day that free agents can talk to teams other than their current franchise—including Geno Smith staying with the Seahawks, Daniel Jones staying with the Giants, Derek Carr signing with the Saints, and just today, Jalen Ramsey getting traded to the Dolphins so that he could drastically increase his guaranteed salary and take home pay in a state without income tax.
There was another piece of breaking news on Sunday, as the Washington Moons avoided a franchise tag year for Daron Payne by signing him to a four-year, $90 million contract instead of having him play on the tag for $18.9 million in 2023.
Is this news notable for the Seahawks? Not directly. Seattle was never going to entertain the premise of signing Payne to a contract despite some others in the blogosphere pretending that he was an option.
There also aren’t any comparable defensive tackles on the Seahawks who could sign for deals anywhere in the same ballpark.
If anything, the only way this could indirectly impact the Seahawks is the idea that if they want to improve the interior of their defensive line and on that side of the trenches, Seattle will need to keep taking shots in the draft. Poona Ford is a free agent who may not be re-signed; Quentin Jefferson, Shelby Harris, Bryan Mone, and Al Woods are all cap casualty possibilities; L.J. Collier is also a free agent. That’s basically the entire defensive line other than Myles Adams, himself an excusive rights restricted free agent.
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I expect the Seahawks to retain a couple of their defensive linemen, to go bargain hunting again (here are some names I’ve already outlined), and to use the draft as a place to restock the defensive line. Though my first mock draft pick for the Seahawks after the 2022 Russell Wilson trade was Charles Cross, my last before the draft was Jordan Davis.
Seattle never addressed defensive tackle in the 2022 draft. In fact, they haven’t picked any defensive tackle since Demarcus Christmas in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. This is out of character: In the three years prior, Pete Carroll selected Jarran Reed, Jefferson, Malik McDowell, Naz Jones, and Rasheem Green.
I expect the Seahawks to draft at least one defensive tackle in 2023 and that’s a pick that could come with one of their first four selections. Payne’s contract is not only a reminder that top-tier players at the position have crossed over the $20 million mark in annual salary, but also that the Seahawks could find an elite talent with their picks that sit between 20 and 52. Or if they trade back from five and go with a defensive tackle in the early teens; Payne and Aaron Donald both went 13th overall, Chris Jones went 37th, Jonathan Allen went 17th, Kenny Clark went 27th, Vita Vea went 12th.
As I’ve also written in the past, patience with defensive tackle prospects can pay off.
But what did Payne really sign for on Sunday? It’s common for people to process contract news EXACTLY like this by now:
“Four years, $90 million? So divide 90 by four…Wow, Payne got $22.5 million per year!!!”
Sure, it’s all very technically accurate and it’s what even what most players have been manipulated into believing is what’s most important: The average annual salary. Many of us have also been trained to now not look to AAV, but to GUARANTEES. Right?
Yes, that’s important to do. It’s why I predicted that Geno Smith’s contract news would go exactly as it did: That people would focus first on the AAV (which turned out to be my predicted mark of $35 million per season, only if he reaches all of his incentives) but that the numbers that mattered would be options and incentives.
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As we head into free agency week, I want to share how I now “read” contract term news. You should stop going “Take the total number, divide it by the years, that’s the value of the contract!” and you should start doing this…