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As training camp approaches, most fans are still hopeful that the Commanders will come to their senses and add a new insider linebacker.
Dont’a Hightower and Anthony Barr are still out there, but both are long in the tooth and will be expensive. After that, the pickings are slim but there might be a diamond in the rough hiding in USFL pergatory.
Dear readers, I present to you Donald Payne.
Payne is a slightly undersized (6’0, 225), 27 year old middle linebacker for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. He led the league in tackles by a huge margin, racking up 117 in just 10 games. He also recorded 2 sacks, 3 interceptions (returning 2 for touchdowns!) and a forced fumble.
Payne was an absolute monster this season. He was the USFL’s version of Micah Parsons. Ok, maybe I’m getting a little too excited, but he was really good.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: the USFL
Is a JV league. Producing there doesn’t mean he can do it in the NFL. But what if I told you, he has done it in the big league too?
Payne started the last five games for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019 and racked up 59 tackles, a sack a fumble recovery and a pass break up. Unfortunately, off-season surgery and Covid-19 derailed his chances at sticking with the Jags for 2020. He was then signed by Ron Rivera and company here in Washington and placed on the practice squad, and later spent time with Miami and San Francisco.
So, sure, Payne has had looks in the NFL and bounced around a bit. But now he has 10 games worth of film where he dominated lesser competition and has produced at the highest level when given a chance. The Commanders coaching staff is familiar with him as well.
It might be time for another look at Donald Payne.