Falcons Free Agent Targets 2023: Daron Payne

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The Falcons are set to have around $60 million in cap space this offseason, and that figure could quickly balloon to over $70 million if Atlanta parts ways with Marcus Mariota. There isn’t a single position group that doesn’t need top-end talent or depth. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith are entering a critical juncture in their tenure with more cap space than ever. This continues a series of potential Falcons free agent targets, moving on to Daron Payne. Below are past editions:

Falcons Free Agent Targets 2023: Daron Payne

Daron Payne isn’t going to be cheap. Spotrac projects his market value to be five years, $97.4 million, which is an average salary just south of $19.5 million per year. That might be expensive, but that’s the going rate for an elite interior defender, which is exactly what Payne has become.

Per Pro Football Focus, Payne has the most run stops (86) from 2018-20 and 95 quarterback pressures since 2021 (10th-most). He’s quickly established himself in the upper echelon of defensive linemen, with an ability to successfully defend the run and rush the passer.

Payne posted a career-high in sacks (11.5), tackles (64), tackles for loss (18), and quarterback hits (20) this season. He was voted to Pro Football Writers of America’s All-NFC team along with Dexter Lawrence and Javon Hargrave. His sack total only trails Chris Jones and Quinnen Williams, earning the first Pro Bowl selection of his career. Even when he can’t get to the quarterback, he affects the game, posting a career-high five pass breakups this season, tied for seventh at his position.

The Falcons could use another reliable defender next to Grady Jarrett, but paying top of the market for Daron Payne could be seen as frivolous. Despite posting 11.5 sacks this year, he never eclipsed 5.0 in the years prior. Matt Ioannidis is a former teammate of Payne and could be had for a significantly cheaper contract while still giving the Falcons a ton of production. I would love it if Atlanta were ultra-aggressive in pursuing an elite player like Payne, but I hope the front office is still placing a premium on value.

Photographer: Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

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