NFL News & Analysis

After declining Chase Young's fifth-year option, the Commanders will face a key decision in 2024

Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders defensive end Chase Young (99) and defensive end Montez Sweat (90) sack Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Commanders are approaching a pivotal decision. The team announced in April that it would not pick up edge defender Chase Young’s fifth-year option, making this season the final one of his rookie contract. Fellow edge defender Montez Sweat is also entering the last year of his rookie deal.

Sweat (81.5 career defensive grade) and Young (87.3 career defensive grade) are two of the NFL's best edge at the position. So should Washington be forced to choose between them at the end of the year, it will indeed be a difficult decision, to say the least.

Draft Expectations

Expectations were high for both players entering the league. Washington selected Sweat 26th overall in 2019, hoping to fill the void created by Preston Smith’s departure (free agency). Sweat impressed in his final season at Mississippi State. He recorded four-plus pressures in nine games and ranked tied for sixth in pass-rush productivity (11.0) among Power Five edge defenders.

Young’s 96.0 pass-rushing grade in 2019 at Ohio State remains a single-season PFF record. He was widely viewed as the best defensive player in the 2020 NFL Draft and had drawn comparisons to players such as Myles Garrett, Von Miller and the Bosa brothers. There was little doubt about his transition to the NFL. Washington selected him second overall, making it the fourth straight year of drafting a defensive lineman in the first round. Young‘s arrival meant Washington’s revamped line was complete.

Where They Have Succeeded

Sweat and Young rank in the top 10 in many categories. Both have become elite run defenders. Since 2020, Young ranks fourth in run-defense grade (88.9), and Sweat is just ahead of him in second (90.1). They have combined for 105 run stops since 2019. They have also combined for 50 tackles for loss or no gain.

Both players excel at attacking the football, as well. Since 2020, they have batted 14 passes and forced 11 fumbles. Young ranks top five in both categories, while Sweat has 10 career batted passes (tied for sixth).

Where They Can Improve

Young and Sweat have struggled with consistency as pass rushers. Sweat has a career 76.5 pass-rushing grade (38th) but has lacked year-to-year stability in that facet. Here is Sweat’s production in terms of grading and pass-rush productivity score:

Season Pass-Rush Grade Pass-Rush Productivity Score
2019 58.8 (6th worst) 6.1 (42nd)
2020 78.7 (14th) 7.3 (19th)
2021 66.2 (31st) * 5.6 (35th) *
2022 76.6 (12th) 8.2 (13th)

*Rankings taken from weeks played

Sweat got off to a slow start in his rookie year. Through the first eight weeks of the season, he ranked near the bottom in win rate (7.6%, sixth worst) and pressure rate (7.0%, eighth worst). Those numbers improved in the second half of the season. From Weeks 9-17, Sweat’s win rate and pressure rate jumped to 13.0% and 12.9%, respectively. He also tallied six sacks during that span, too (tied for 13th).

Sweat carried that momentum into 2020. His win rate (13.3%) and pressure rate (12.2%) held steady, and he finished with 46 total pressures (25th). In the following campaign, Sweat did not make the leap many anticipated, and he missed eight games due to injury and personal reasons. He rebounded with a career year in 2022, as he led Washington in total pressures (62), win rate (18.3%) and pressure rate (14.5%).

Young’s issue has been in living up to the expectations tied to his draft status. As good as he has been, an edge rusher drafted No. 2 overall is expected to become one of the best pass rushers in the league, and his production so far has not reflected that.

Here is how Young has compared to other top edge rushers so far in his career. These are the five highest-graded edge rushers since 2018:

Player Pass-Rush Grade Sacks Total Pressures Pass-Rush Productivity Draft Selection
Myles Garrett 94.0 68 295 8.8 1st (2017)
Micah Parsons 92.8 21 127 11.4 12th (2021)
T.J. Watt 92.2 74 294 9.2 30th (2017)
Joey Bosa 92.0 37 233 9.7 3rd (2016)
Nick Bosa 91.2 42 240 9.8 2nd (2019)
Chase Young 74.0 (21st) 8 69 5.0 2nd (2020)

Young got off to a great start in the NFL. He recorded six sacks and earned a 75.9 pass-rushing grade in 2020. He finished the year with an 87.1 defensive grade, sixth best among edge defenders and 18th best among all defensive players. Young was named Defensive Rookie of the Year and earned a Pro Bowl nod. Like Sweat, Young also endured a frustrating 2021 season. He improved his win rate from 11.9% in 2020 to 13.4%, and his pressure rate remained roughly the same (8.7% in 2021 and 9.0% in 2020). However, he recorded only two sacks and five quarterback hits before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 10.

Young missed 23 games before returning for the final three contests of 2022. He played 114 total defensive snaps and earned a 78.4 defensive grade (10th during that span). He was used primarily as a rush linebacker (75 snaps) and earned an 80.2 grade from that alignment (seventh). In all, Young finished the season with seven total pressures (six hurries, one hit) — a small sample size, but an encouraging sign.

Could Both Players Return to Washington in 2024?

Can the Commanders afford to keep both Young and Sweat long term? Will they opt to re-sign only one, or could both players leave in free agency? Any of these options is possible, and much could be predicated on whether Ron Rivera remains the head coach. Washington is projected to have close to $100 million in cap space at the start of the 2024 free agency period, per Over The Cap. Other key players on the team are also slated to hit free agency, including Kam Curl, Kendall Fuller and Curtis Samuel. Rivera has a history of rewarding those who have played well on expiring contracts (Jonathan Allen in 2021, Terry McLaurin in 2022), and that bodes well for both Sweat and Young. 

The key for Sweat may be in the path that Daron Payne just took. Washington exercised Payne’s fifth-year option in 2021 but decided not to offer an extension prior to the beginning of the 2022 season. The risk paid off. Payne earned a 62.2 defensive grade but was a tone-setter for the defense. He finished with career highs in sacks (12) and quarterback hits (10). Payne also set career marks in batted passes (four) and tied for eighth in the NFL in run stops (28).

The team placed the franchise tag on Payne this past February and signed him to a four-year extension at the start of free agency. Sweat is also coming off a career season and has been everything that Washington drafted him to be. There is still a possibility that he could sign an extension sometime during the offseason. Even if Sweat does play out the year on his option, another strong performance should net him the contract he is seeking.

Young’s situation is more complex. He has checked a lot of boxes, morphing from a record-setting pass rusher in college into a top-tier edge player in the NFL, when healthy. He’s great against the run (fourth in run-defense grade), rarely misses tackles (four in his career), stonewalls ball carriers (fourth in tackles for loss or no gain) and makes plays on the ball (13 combined forced fumbles and batted passes).

Yet, his pass-rushing efficiency is surprisingly low (5.0 career productivity score, tied for 42nd), and that was the one area he was expected to excel in. Young is more than capable of bringing the heat (73 total pressures, 20th), but he has struggled to get to the quarterback (20 combined sacks and hits).

Washington undoubtedly wants to see improvement in this regard; however, the team may be more concerned about his knee. Young not only tore his ACL, but he also ruptured his patellar tendon. The rehab was extensive, taking him 13 months to return to the field. This means Young has not played a full season since his rookie year. Despite his encouraging return in 2022, Washington will want to see if he can return to form and if his game will continue to evolve. They will also want to see how his knee holds up across a full season and make sure that there are no lingering complications. If Young can answer those questions this season, he could receive the franchise tag in 2024.


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