The move cut ties with their most productive pass-rusher this season and signaled a change in direction for the franchise, especially after trading fellow defensive end Montez Sweat to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 second-round pick earlier in the day.
Young would have been a free agent after the season. Washington declined to pick up his fifth-year option in the offseason. It would have counted $17.452 million against the 2024 salary cap but also would have been guaranteed money.
For the 49ers, the trade for Young comes a day after coach Kyle Shanahan said general manager John Lynch was working the phones but was unsure what players might be available to bolster a team riding a three-game losing streak.
"If we think there is a chance to improve us, we'll do it," Shanahan said Monday. "It doesn't sound like there's a lot of options out there, but doesn't mean for sure no. I know we'll look up that all the way up to the deadline and see if anything changes."
What changed is that the Niners, who were expected to have as many as 12 picks in next year's draft before Tuesday's trade, found a potential solution to their pass rush problems for a reasonable price, largely because of Young's past injury issues.
Because there were lingering concerns about Young's right knee -- he tore the ACL and ruptured his patellar tendon in 2021 -- Washington was hesitant to make a commitment. Commanders coach Ron Rivera also said in the offseason that he hoped it would serve as motivation for Young to have a stronger season.
Young, who missed the opener with a neck injury, has five sacks in seven games and has also created 16 incompletions, which is tied for fourth in the NFL this season. Overall, in 34 games over four seasons with Washington, Young had 14 sacks, 90 tackles and 6 forced fumbles (3 recoveries).
The 49ers are projected to get a compensatory third-round pick for offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and another compensatory third-round pick for the losses of Ran Carthon and Demeco Ryans, with one of those third-rounders being sent to Washington for Young.
Through eight games, the non-Bosa defensive ends -- Clelin Ferrell, Drake Jackson, Kerry Hyder Jr. and Gregory -- have struggled to generate consistent pass rush. Of that group, Ferrell has the best pass rush win rate at 17%, and that quartet had a combined 5.5 sacks and 22 pressures.
Young, who combined with Bosa for 33 sacks as teammates at Ohio State during the 2017 and '18 seasons, arrives with a 25% pass rush win rate this season, up from 19% his first three years, and has 25 pressures, which ranks eighth in the NFL.
He is the latest big investment the 49ers have made in the defensive line. That room now has five former first-round picks in Bosa, Young, Ferrell and defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, and two former second-round picks in Jackson and Gregory. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was a third-round pick but signed a four-year, $81 million deal with the Niners in the offseason.
Despite those investments, San Francisco has struggled to affect quarterbacks this season under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. The Niners rank 24th in pressure percentage (26%) and are tied for 18th in sacks (18).
For Washington, trading Young and Sweat means the Commanders can turn their attention to quarterback Sam Howell, who has two years remaining on his rookie contract. That allows them to invest more at other spots.
Washington's defense ranks 31st in scoring and 29th in yards per game. If those rankings continue, it would be the worst defensive showing in franchise history. Washington has never finished ranked in the bottom four of both points and yards since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Washington does rank sixth in the league with 25 sacks, but the Commanders are 23rd in pass rush win rate. Among defensive linemen, Young ranks fifth in this area -- but none of his linemates is in the top 55.
Washington opted for Young as the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft rather than quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert in part because the franchise had drafted Dwayne Haskins the previous year in the first round. Although Rivera was hired in January 2020, the staff knew then-owner Dan Snyder was the one who wanted to draft Haskins.
Young produced as a rookie with 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries. He returned a fumble for a touchdown.
However, Young started slowly in 2021, with only 1.5 sacks in the first nine games. He then injured his knee. It was initially believed to only be an ACL injury, but news surfaced later about his patellar tendon. Young started practicing again in November but did not play until the final three games.
Rivera said multiple times that Young had to regain confidence in his knee, even after doctors had cleared his return.