June 23, 2024

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Which NFL players will improve in 2024?  Trevor Lawrence, Bryce Young are among nine locks to rise

Which NFL players will improve in 2024? Trevor Lawrence, Bryce Young are among nine locks to rise

There’s something interesting brewing in Washington after another franchise reset. New GM Adam Peters had a solid offseason, quietly shaking things up by adding a slew of hungry, competitive veterans and transforming what could be a very respectable draft class, and maybe even one that could instantly upgrade this team’s talent.

Defensively, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. There’s a new scheme, a few new starters and new concerns on the back end and beyond. But defensive tackle should remain an unquestioned force with Payne and Jonathan Allen returning, along with the early addition of Jerzan Newton at No. 2. It also doesn’t hurt that both the division-contender Eagles and Cowboys are fielding new players at the position and have to replace starters long-term.

Payne didn’t have a bad season in 2023, but it was clear how difficult life was for him and Allen after both Montez Sweat and Chase Young were traded in a single day to change the franchise last Halloween. Even after that point, Payne showed what he could do, 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 generate pressure with his front. The Cowboys have attacked from all angles over the past few years, and I expect Quinn’s leaders to do the same, even with less talent. The pass rush may be an effort by committee and less star-focused than it was with Quinn in Dallas or with Sweat and Young previously in Washington. But don’t ignore some of the lesser-known edge rushers Washington brought in this offseason.

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Payne has a lot on the line in 2024. He’s playing for more than $21 million in salary this season, and that number rises to more than $26 million and $28 million, respectively, over the next two years. Even with rookie Jayden Daniels’ salary helping solve the accounting matters significantly, Payne and Allen may be playing for their jobs in Washington.

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 player in Washington’s defense moving forward.