As the Commanders completed what looked on the surface to be a reluctant sell-off at the trade deadline, Ron Rivera said all parties were onboard with the trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young. A virtual meeting with new owner Josh Harris appears to have provided the final push for the Commanders to trade their defensive ends, though other factors were part of the equation.
It looks like the Washington coaching staff was readier to trade Young than Sweat. Rivera, DC Jack Del Rio and others wanted to make it past the deadline with Sweat still on the roster, according to ESPN.com’s John Keim and Jeremy Fowler. But two second-round offers came in for the contract-year edge rusher — from the Bears and Falcons — leading the team to complete the first of its two deadline-day deals.
Following the Commanders’ Week 8 loss to the Eagles, calls came in on the DEs and other players, per Fowler and Keim. While the Commanders had done legwork on trades involving Sweat and Young for more than a week going into the deadline, it was not known until hours before the Oct. 31 trade endpoint how Harris felt.
The Dan Snyder successor expressed an openness to trade the defensive ends and acquire draft capital, and while Fowler and Keim do not describe the meeting as Harris mandating both be traded, the owner leaning in that direction looks to have provided the biggest difference in Washington making the surprising call to trade both Sweat and Young. Both players were gone hours after the meeting.
Young’s propensity to freelance within Del Rio’s scheme looks to have made the Commanders more amenable to trading the former No. 2 overall pick, and the team dropped its asking price to move on. It took only a third-round compensatory pick for the 49ers to acquire the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Sweat had been more consistent, but with the Commanders expecting both players to cost near-top-market money, they decided to cut bait. As should be expected, the extensions given to Jonathan Allen (in 2021) and Daron Payne (in March) played a role, along with the defensive line’s early-season struggles, in the Commanders determining they would not be in position to extend Sweat or Young.
Rivera wanting to keep his top sack artist in the fold makes sense, as he entered this season on a hot seat. The fourth-year Washington HC had hoped to retain enough pieces to salvage this season, a sentiment some in the front office shared as well; losing Sweat, who has since signed a high-end Bears extension, did not help matters. The 2019 first-round pick is closing in on his first double-digit sack season, collecting 6.5 of his nine QB drops in Washington. Without Sweat and Young, the Commanders are close to starting over at defensive end.
While Washington had regressed on defense even with its two walk-year sack artists, the team has cratered on that side of the ball without them. The Commanders have allowed back-to-back 45-point games, the second coming after Rivera — after a morning conversation with Harris — fired Del Rio and defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer.
Harris and Rivera have retained a solid relationship, per ESPN, but the writing has been on the wall for the well-liked sideline bastion for a while. The Commanders are also more likely than not to clean house in the front office, with ex-Panthers execs Marty Hurney and Eric Stokes joining GM Martin Mayhew as staffers in play to follow Rivera in being ousted. It is unknown what type of coach and leadership structure Harris will prefer in 2024, but he effectively asked a lame-duck staff to trade draft capital it most likely will not be in position to use come April.
Rivera, 61, is on track to be fired by a new owner for a second time. David Tepper canned the former NFC champion HC during the 2019 season, the Panthers owner’s second on the job. This has been Mayhew’s second crack at a GM job. The former Washington Super Bowl-winning cornerback, who is 58, served as Lions GM from 2008-15.