Under new ownership, the Washington Commanders are heading in the direction of a rebuild after selling at the NFL trade deadline.
Washington on Tuesday sent Montez Sweat to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 second-round draft pick and fellow pass rusher Chase Young to the San Francisco 49ers for a compensatory third-rounder next year. The Bears announced their acquisition of Sweat, pending a physical, and the NFL confirmed the 49ers’ deal for Young after the deadline passed.
The moves give Washington five picks in the first three rounds of the first draft since Josh Harris and his group bought the team from longtime owner Dan Snyder for $6.05 billion. They came hours after the Harris-owned Philadelphia 76ers traded James Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers in a big shake-up in the NBA.
With Harris in charge, the Commanders might soon be charting their own course to “Trust the Process” of getting younger with the aim of becoming a perennial playoff contender.
But first comes the pain of parting ways with two recent first-round picks who were supposed to be foundational pieces for a difference-making defense that has instead contributed to five losses in six games after a 2-0 start.
The Commanders first traded Sweat to the Bears, giving Chicago a 27-year-old disruptive defender with a pattern of consistent production. He has 6 1/2 sacks this season and 35 1/2 to go along with 197 tackles since Washington traded up to draft him with the 26th pick in 2019.
The 2-6 Bears have a league-low 10 sacks. No other team has fewer than 15.
“Montez is a huge addition to our team,” Bears general manager Ryan Poles said after dealing away a second-rounder for the second time in as many years following an ill-fated 2022 trade with Pittsburgh for receiver Chase Claypool. “He is not is not only a great player but a great person. We expect him to help elevate our defense.”
Sweat is in the final year of his rookie contract and looks primed for a big payday in free agency, whether it’s with the Bears or elsewhere. His future in Washington looked murky after the front office committed big money to defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.
Trading Young instead of signing him long term signals an organizational commitment to stockpiling draft picks for future success, even if coach Ron Rivera, GM Martin Mayhew and many of those currently in the front office won’t be around to use them.
Washington took Young with the second pick in 2020, and he had 7 1/2 sacks his first pro season to earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. It looked like Young, a local product, would become the face of the franchise, but he struggled early in 2021 after skipping some offseason workouts and had just 1 1/2 sacks in his first eight games.
Young tore the ACL in his right knee Nov. 14, 2021, and after a more complicated than expected surgery and lengthy recovery did not play again until Christmas Eve 2022. The team decided not to pick up his fifth-year option, setting him up to be a free agent after this season.
Following a neck injury in exhibition play that stunted his return to form and caused him to miss Week 1, Young was finally starting to produce again. Despite his five sacks, the defensive line was not the strength of the unit like it was supposed to be, and Rivera said Monday the group was “not consistently enough” playing up to expectations.
After a 38-31 loss Sunday to Philadelphia, Sweat and Young were asked repeatedly about the possibility that was their last game together. Sweat said his agent was keeping him abreast of any trade talks.
“Anything can happen, but I can only control what I can,” Sweat said. “Yeah, that thought goes across your mind, but you hate to think like that.”
Rivera, in his fourth season in charge of Washington’s football operations, refused Monday to discuss anything related to the trade deadline, including hypothetically who would step into a starting role of Sweat or Young were no longer around. That figures to be veteran Casey Toohill, who has four sacks this season.
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow and AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.
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