John ChemESPN staff writerRead 9 minutes
ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Chiefs expect more from their defensive line in 2023 and, by extension, their ability to compete for the playoffs.
With a losing record (3-5) and failing to live up to expectations, the Chiefs traded away two former first-round picks, defensive ends Montez Lab and Chase Young, at Tuesday’s trade deadline.
At one point, the Chiefs wanted to build around a line that included first-round picks Darron Payne and Jonathan Allen. But after poor results, and several other holes in the record, they chose to go in a different direction – continuing to believe by adding future assets, team sources say, they can compete this season.
Washington received a high second-round pick from the Chicago Bears for Lab — the 26th overall pick in 2019 — and a third-round pick for Young — the second overall pick in 2020 — from the San Francisco 49ers.
Here’s what the discounts mean.
What does this mean for the direction of the franchise?
This means that it has future properties. Washington now has three draft picks in the top 50 and five in the top 100 in 2024. The Chiefs also have impressive needs along the defensive line and could use a defense in their back seven, among other positions. They also have nearly $90 million in salary cap space. They can attack free agency and the draft.
Regardless of what the chess and sweat business looks like, Washington wants to win this season. The Chiefs didn’t want to unload all of their pending free agents because they wanted to compete in 2023. This is one of the reasons, according to a team source, that they did not trade backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett; They want to cover if something happens to starter Sam Howell. Washington coach Ron Rivera has made it clear how much he values Brissett.
The extra draft capital will allow them to acquire more young talent — or be aggressive if they want to trade. Josh Harris, owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, has seen the Philadelphia Eagles move this way.
Why would commanders trade off their defenses?
Both will be free agents this offseason, and based on these moves, the team didn’t want to invest heavily in one position group. Now, one source said, commanders can build a more balanced roster with spending and draft picks. Washington already traded two other first-round picks in Payne and Allen. The team had to provide a foundation for defensive success. But Rivera was honest when asked if they played at the level he expected this season.
“It’s not consistently enough,” he said. “You see, but you always have to see, and that’s really the sign when it comes together, it’s consistent.
Throughout the offseason, team sources said they wanted to extend Lab. And if Young produces, you can always use the franchise tag on him and keep both players. After all, if Howell plays well, he gives them a young quarterback on a rookie contract. Plus, Washington has all that space for 2024. The combination is to protect both — if the commanders want it.
However, while Sweat and Young have combined for 11.5 sacks this season, the team has lost five of its last six games. Internally, several sources said, it became clear that the commanders needed more help elsewhere — and it was hard to keep sweat or youth. Labs would be the preferred long-term option, a source said, but the cost of the deal — Spotrac lists his market value at around $25 million a year — combined with the Bears’ availability make him a viable option to trade. The source said it’s unlikely the team would have traded up if it was just a third-round pick.
In 2021, Young was concerned about his long-term health after suffering not only a torn ACL, but also a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, according to multiple sources. Indeed, according to the sources, medical issues have kept some groups from expressing interest. from making a discount.
Another factor hinges on compensation choices. Because Washington has plenty of cap space, it could be active in free agency. If the Chiefs signed an expensive player, they would negate what they lost in Labb or Young — and even if they didn’t get a compensatory pick.
A lack of on-field chemistry among the starting defensive line was also a concern, several sources said. According to sources, when Rivera said three weeks ago that the “do your job” mantra will lead the defensive line as much as any other team, Young was the target of that message; According to one source, the team viewed trading him as a “subtraction.” A source said the lack of gap discipline affected not only the rush but also the run defense.
The coaching staff also improved in every key statistical category two years ago when Washington went 4-2 without Sweat and/or Young for six games — from allowing 29.9 points per game to 17.5 and 284 from 400 yards per game. But Sweat and Young are having more productive seasons than 2021.
Ultimately, Washington will need a lot more help from its back seven to improve this season. The Chiefs are 31st in points and 29th in yards because that team has so many holes. If they don’t stop allowing big plays — 22 pass plays lead the NFL in 25 or more plays allowed — then it won’t be enough to turn the season around.
What does this mean for Ron Rivera and his crew?
Because it’s his fourth year under Rivera — and they have a new owner in Harris — the staff was under the impression that he would have to produce this season to stick around, one coach said earlier. At 3-5, and without a winning season, they didn’t produce.
But this may help them. If Washington can fix its season, if Rivera and company make moves and the owner is accepted and still shows they can win, it could make a strong case for him to stay. And they would leave the franchise in good stead for the future. Rivera said this season is to see if Howell is the long-term answer at quarterback.
Before the season, Rivera told ESPN he wasn’t worried about his future.
“If we go 8-8-1 this year and he fires me and they win the division next year and we draft 40 out of the 53 players and it’s the same quarterback, I’m guaranteed,” Rivera said. “Send me my Super Bowl ring. That’s the way I look at it. I want us to be right and for this community to find that joy again.”
What role did new owner Josh Harris have in the decision?
Harris was certainly involved in the process — as any owner would be. But his style represents a change for Washington, which used a more frenetic decision-making process under previous owner Daniel Snyder, multiple sources said.
In this case, Harris gave the front office — in the form of a discount — the information to gather. General manager Martin Mayhew and assistant general manager Marty Hurney asked for offers on several players and then included Rivera. The team then took those offers to Harris, who asked them about potential deals. He wants to understand the process, why they want to keep a certain player, or why, say, a third-round draft pick represents good value. Then they would make a joint decision. Sometimes they reject deals — like a team’s sixth-round offer for quarterback Brissett, according to sources.
It’s the same way he works with other sports teams he owns, including the 76ers and New Jersey Devils.
How do commanders fill the holes on the defensive end?
Two years ago, James Smith-Williams and Casey Tohill died when Laub and Young were injured. That will be the case again this season. Both Smith-Williams and Tohill will be free agents after the season.
Smith-Williams played 183 snaps, and Toohill played 102. Toohill has a career-best four sacks. Smith-Williams, more of a run-stopper, has one. They also have veteran Efe Obada and two rookie tight ends in KJ Henry, a fifth-round pick, and Andre Jones Jr., a seventh-round pick who flashed in the preseason.
But Washington’s defense still thrives on Payne and Allen. The Chiefs bolstered the interior with backups John Ridgeway, who the Dallas Cowboys said they had not waived after cutting him last offseason, and Fidarian Mathis, a 2022 second-round pick.