The Washington Commanders elected to fundamentally shift how they structure their team yesterday, and it's going to provide an opportunity for younger players to step up.
The Commanders moved two of their starting defensive linemen just hours before the trade deadline. They dealt 2019 first-round pick Montez Sweat to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 second-round pick, while 2020 first-round pick Chase Young was sent to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a 2024 compensatory third-round pick, pending a physical.
There are several reasons why the Commanders chose to change their attitudes about trying to keep one or both players after the 2023 season. They aren't giving up on the season, but the decision to move on from two foundational pieces of the roster does show that Washington is looking to the future.
"It's an opportunity to see what else we have," head coach Ron Rivera said during his Wednesday press conference. "It's an opportunity to go out and win football games with different guys, and we feel we have an opportunity to go out and play and play well."
The path that led to Washington trading Sweat and Young began about 10 days ago, according to Rivera. The front office began fielding calls about players, and from there, the team began to gather information about potential compensation and present their findings to Managing Partner Josh Harris.
Rivera said that ownership and the front office were aligned in the decision, and Harris was on board with the ideas on the possibilities that trading Sweat and Young could give the team going forward.
Rivera knows decisions like the ones that were made on Tuesday are difficult. He's experienced them as a player and coach. The reality, however, is that they are part of being in the NFL.
"It's always difficult to say goodbye to guys that help you...but it's also part of the business side of it," Rivera said. "And that's never easy. For us, more than anything else, this is creating some opportunities for some other guys. It's creating a different opportunity for us as a football team, and we've got to make the best of it."
Check out the best photos of the Washington Commanders going through their first practice of the week as they prepare for the New England Patriots.
Once the trade with Young is finalized, the Commanders will have five picks in the first three rounds of next year's draft, including two second-rounders and two third-rounders. That gives the franchise a level of flexibility that it has not had in several years.
"It's going to give us an opportunity to build for the future," Rivera said.
Whatever that future looks like, it's going to be markedly different from how the Commanders have structured their roster in previous years.
Part of that is due to the development of Sam Howell, who is currently sixth in passing yards and tied for sixth in passing touchdowns. Despite the growing pains that Howell has shown through his first nine career starts, the team is confident in the player he could become, and the evidence they have seen -- the most recent being 397 yards and four touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles -- suggest that his future is bright.
"I know this franchise has been looking for a long time [for a quarterback]," Rivera said. "And for the first time in a while, I think that guy might be here."
That means that the Commanders want to do what they can to provide him with protection and weapons.
"It's not saying we're gonna build everything on offense," Rivera said. "But it gives us a chance to spread it around and keep some of the guys that we want to keep, go after some of the guys we want to go after and draft who we want to draft."
In terms of players who will replace Sweat and Young in the immediate future, the Commanders already have several options on the roster.
The Commanders also have draft picks Andre Jones Jr. and K.J. Henry primed for more pivotal roles on defense. Jones looked impressive in training camp, but he hasn't much of an impact during the season aside from playing on special teams. Henry has yet to be active on gameday.
Rivera said he has spoken to them about them getting more chances to show what they can do.
"I think that's the thing that's exciting is really to find out where that is," Rivera said.
And as for what this means for the rest of the 2023 season, Rivera said the Commanders still believe they have "every opportunity in front of us."
"We want to see what we have and see if we can win football games and put ourselves in that same position."