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



There’s something interesting brewing in Washington after another franchise reset. New GM Adam Peters had a strong offseason, quietly bringing about sweeping changes by adding a slew of competitive, hungry veterans and turning in what could be a very respectable draft class, perhaps even one that can upgrade this team’s talent immediately.

Defensively, there are still a lot of questions that need answering. There’s a new scheme, a handful of new starters and worries in the back end and off the edge. But defensive tackle should remain an unquestioned strength with Payne and Jonathan Allen back, along with the addition of early second-rounder Jer’Zhan Newton. It also doesn’t hurt that both the division-rival Eagles and Cowboys are breaking in new starters at center, having to replace long-term starters.

Payne didn’t have a poor season in 2023, mind you, but it was clear how much tougher life was for him and Allen after Montez Sweat and Chase Young both were traded on one franchise-changing day 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 fronts. The Cowboys attacked from all angles over the past few years, and I expect Quinn’s Commanders to do similar, even with less talent. The pass rush might have to be a committee effort and less star-driven than it was for Quinn in Dallas or with Sweat and Young previously in Washington. But don’t overlook some of the lesser-known edge rushers Washington brought in this offseason.

Payne has a lot on the line in 2024. He’s playing on a salary-cap number of more than $21 million this season, and that figure rises to more than $26 million and $28 million, respectively, over the next two years. Even with Jayden Daniels’ rookie-QB salary helping accounting matters out significantly, Payne and Allen might 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 might have the better chance to shine in 2024 and remain a key fixture on the Washington defense going forward.

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