On Tuesday, the Washington Commanders made a significant trade, sending their star defensive end, Chase Young, to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a third-round pick. This unexpected move marked a clear shift in direction for the franchise, especially considering their earlier trade of defensive end Montez Sweat to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 second-round pick on the same day.
Chase Young was set to become a free agent after the current season, as Washington had chosen not to exercise his fifth-year option during the offseason. This decision, while saving them $17.452 million against the 2024 salary cap, also meant forfeiting guaranteed money.
For the 49ers, the acquisition of Chase Young came just a day after their head coach, Kyle Shanahan, had mentioned that their general manager, John Lynch, was actively exploring potential player additions to strengthen their team, which was struggling with a three-game losing streak. Shanahan expressed their willingness to make improvements if the right opportunity presented itself, even though it seemed there were limited options available in the market.
What changed the equation was the 49ers’ need for a pass-rush solution and their willingness to take a calculated risk. The deal became feasible, primarily due to lingering concerns about Chase Young’s right knee, which he had previously injured, tearing his ACL and patellar tendon in 2021. These concerns had made Washington hesitant to make a long-term commitment to the player. Additionally, Commanders’ coach Ron Rivera had hoped that not picking up Young’s fifth-year option would motivate him to have a stronger season.
Chase Young, despite missing the season opener due to a neck injury, had performed well, accumulating five sacks in seven games and contributing significantly with 16 incompletions created, which ranked him fourth in the NFL for the season. Over his four-year tenure with Washington, he had amassed 14 sacks, 90 tackles, and forced 6 fumbles (with 3 recoveries) in 34 games.
To facilitate the trade, the 49ers are projected to receive a compensatory third-round pick for the departure of offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, as well as another compensatory third-round pick for the losses of Ran Carthon and Demeco Ryans. One of these third-round picks would then be sent to Washington in exchange for Chase Young.
The 49ers had previously signaled their intent to bolster their pass rush by acquiring Randy Gregory on October 6, underlining their commitment to strengthen their outside pass rush alongside star player Nick Bosa. Before the trade for Young, the non-Bosa defensive ends on the 49ers, including Clelin Ferrell, Drake Jackson, Kerry Hyder Jr., and Randy Gregory, had struggled to consistently generate pressure, with a combined 5.5 sacks and 22 pressures. Chase Young’s arrival, with a 25% pass rush win rate this season, provides a significant boost to the team’s pass-rushing capabilities.
This trade further solidifies the 49ers’ investment in their defensive line, with the addition of Young alongside Bosa, Ferrell, and defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, all former first-round picks. In addition, Jackson and Gregory, both former second-round picks, contribute to the depth and talent of the defensive line.
Despite their defensive investments, the 49ers had struggled to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks under the guidance of their new defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks. The team ranked 24th in pressure percentage (26%) and tied for 18th in total sacks with 18.
Trading both Chase Young and Montez Sweat provides the Washington Commanders with the opportunity to pivot their focus towards quarterback Sam Howell, who still has two years left on his rookie contract. This newfound flexibility allows them to allocate resources to address other areas of concern.
Previously, Daron Payne and Jon Allen, two defensive tackles whom Washington had invested in heavily, failed to yield significant defensive results. Currently, their defense ranks 29th in yards per game and 31st in scoring, putting them on track for one of the franchise’s worst defensive performances in history.
Despite accumulating 25 sacks, Washington’s defense struggles with the 23rd-lowest pass rush victory percentage in the league. Among defensive linemen, Chase Young excelled in this aspect, ranking fifth. However, his departure leaves a significant void in their pass-rushing capabilities.
In the 2020 draft, Washington opted for Chase Young as the second overall pick after selecting Dwayne Haskins in the first round the previous year, passing over quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. This choice was made under the leadership of owner Dan Snyder, who was hired in January 2020, rather than coach Ron Rivera.
Chase Young made a remarkable debut with 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries during his rookie season. However, his 2021 performance was hampered by injury, and it took some time to rebuild his confidence following his return.