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Commanders fans approve of front office trading away Sweat and Young; fans like the new direction

Survey results!!

Fan Confidence

Apparently, if you want to boost the confidence of Commanders fans, then you need to lose to a division rival at home and trade away a pair of first-round edge rushers two days later. That’s what happened this week, and Hogs Haven readers responded with a sharp increase in confidence.

After fan confidence collapsed to a season-low figure of just 10% last week, it took a sharp upward spike this week to 60%.

Fans may have been buoyed by the quality of the team’s play against the Eagles. After all, Eric Bieniemy, discussing the offensive performance in that game said, “We played good enough to entertain folks; we didn’t win. Did we play well? Yes. Did we do enough to win? Absolutely not.” But the Commanders fans have seen this movie before, most recently in Week 4 when the Commanders lost to the same Eagles team in overtime in Philadelphia. For this reason, it seems prudent to look elsewhere for an explanation of the 50-point upward spike in confidence in our Reacts survey.

The trade deadline

One other thing stands out as having changed in the last 7 days. Washington’s front office, for the first time in a long time, did something meaningful at the trade deadline, which was this past Tuesday. In case you haven’t heard, they traded away 2019 first-round pick Montez Sweat and 2020’s second-overall draft pick Chase Young. It had been widely expected that Washington would trade one of these players, with more people seeming to expect Sweat to be shipped out and Young to be retained than vice versa, but very few people had “trade them both” on their Bingo cards.

Comments from Commanders decision-makers after the fact indicated that the original plan seemed to be to move just one of them (apparently the team was keener on keeping Sweat and trading Young), but the offers that developed for Montez were just too good to refuse, so Washington pulled the trigger on trading both players.

The Josh Harris effect

Before discussing how fans felt about the trades themselves, I think we have to consider ‘the Josh Harris effect’ that fans seem to have read into these trade decisions.

Many Commanders fans had expressed dismay and disappointment that Harris hadn’t stepped in and taken action to fire coaches after the multiple failures the team has put on display during its 1-5 skid over the past 6 games.

I think many of those fans were mollified when they saw the Washington front office acting in a brutally rational way this week. Concerns that the organization would be frozen into inaction by Ron Rivera’s lame duck status were quelled. Worries that Ron would get fleeced in any deal that was struck seemed unfounded when the team got an early 2nd round pick in return for a player who probably only had 10 more games left in a Commanders uniform.

Post trade comments that confirmed the involvement of Josh Harris in the consideration of all trade offers and the assistance of newly-hired-but-not-yet-started executive in charge of analytics, Eugene Chen, boosted confidence that the path forward appears to be paved with reason and built on a foundation of rational analysis of data, which feels a long way from the decision-making practices of recent years decades.

I think this had a lot to do with the reversal in fan confidence numbers. If Harris is involved in upgrading the team’s analytics and helping Ron Rivera make rational long-term decisions about the roster, then it’s easier to feel that the future is in good hands.

Fan approval for the trades

Montez Sweat

In this week’s survey, the question about the trade with the Bears asked readers to imagine themselves as the Commanders’ decision-maker responsible for evaluating the trade offer from Chicago, and to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the second round pick offered for Montez Sweat.

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Nearly 4 out of 5 people responding to the survey answered that they would have greeenlit the trade. This is incredibly strong support.

Chase Young

The same question form was used to ask about the decision to trade 4th-year DE Chase Young to the 49ers in return for what Albert Breer reported was a 3rd round comp pick.

Commanders fans were much more lukewarm about this decision, with only 51% saying yes, and only a slightly smaller number of people saying no.

What are some of the factors that might account for the difference in support for the two trade decisions?


Obviously, a second-round pick is more valuable than a third-round pick, but the difference here is even greater than it sounds on the surface. The Bears pick, if the draft order were to be determined today, would be #37, a mere 5 picks out of the 1st round. The Niners pick, coming at the end of the third round, will be close to pick #100 (we won’t know the exact order of all picks until after the season ends). With an estimated 63 spots between the Bears pick and the Niners pick, there is a difference of nearly 2 full rounds between them rather than the one-round that it appears to be on the surface.

Looking at the Rich Hill trade chart, the #37 pick has a value of 162 points while the #100 pick is valued at 36 points, making the Bears compensation appear to be 4.5 times more valuable.

When you take into account the original draft position for the two players, Sweat was chosen #26 overall. In 4.5 seasons, he started and played in 67 games, or 3,008 defensive snaps. In his career in Washington, he was paid $11.64m, and, by trading him, the Commanders saved $6.38m against the 2023 cap. The team traded him for a draft pick that appears to be just 11 spots later than the one used to select him in 2019.

Young, on the other hand, was taken with the #2 overall pick. In 3.5 season, he started 32 games and played in 34 games, or 1,769 snaps. In his career in Washington, he was paid $29.24m, and, by trading him, the team saved $561,000 against this season’s cap. Washington traded Chase Young for a pick that is roughly 3 full rounds (~98 picks) later than the one used to select him in 2020.

Washington spent less to get Sweat, got more play out of him during his time in a burgundy & gold uniform, paid him much less money, and got more in return for him at the end.

Age & potential

Chase Young is just 24 years old. When you take into account the knee injury suffered in 2021 that significantly derailed his career, Young may have a lot of upside potential ahead of him as he more fully recovers and increases his understanding of the NFL game.

Montez Sweat is 27 years old and getting close to the point where edge rushers begin to lose their edge. Sweat has been a very consistent performer, putting up 7, 8 or 9 sacks and between 45-50 tackles in each full season he has played. While he could still have his best football ahead of him, the general feeling seems to be that Sweat is who he is — a very good player that helps a defense against both the run and the pass, without rising to the level of a ‘star’ player.

2023 production

There was a recent flurry of tweets about one advanced metric:

The attention that this stat got in recent weeks was enough to give many fans the impression that Chase Young was out-performing his teammate by a large margin. I get the feeling that this swayed the thinking of a lot of commenters on the Hogs Haven blog, and I’m guessing that some had this in mind when they voted on the decision to trade Chase Young.

Personally, though, I think this particular tweet falls into the basket marked “lies, damnned lies, and statistics”.

While there seems to be a feeling among fans that Chase was having a better 2023 season than Montez, I don’t think that traditional statistics support that notion.

Despite playing one less game, Chase Young was certainly playing more snaps (407 for Young; 377 for Sweat). Yet, even though Montez Sweat had played 30 fewer snaps, he was actually out-producing his counterpart. Consider this comparison from Pro Football Reference.

Sweat has more tackles, more QB hits, more tackles for loss, more sacks and more forced fumbles. Also, based on what I saw watching the games, I would say that Sweat was less often out of position, while Chase Young had a tendency to lose gap integrity while trying to rush the quarterback. Some of the anonymous comments attributed to sources inside the Commanders organization published after the trade to the Niners seem to confirm this idea.

National Survey Results

SB Nation sends out surveys to NFL fans of all 32 teams on a weekly basis during the season. This week, they were asked to vote for the “best” and “worst” trades, and the two ‘winners’ in those polls were Chase Young and Montez Sweat.

In saying that the Chase Young was the “best” trade, national fans seem to be giving the thumbs up to the 49ers for having acquired a marquee name pass rusher for the cost of a compensatory pick. Of course, most non-Commanders fans’ impression of Chase Young is based on his 2020 pre-draft hype and his days at Ohio State. He is generally perceived as an elite pass rusher who simply landed in a bad situation in Washington.

By the same token, the “worst” trade designation for the Montez Sweat deal seems to indicate that fans nationally think the Bears front office got robbed. In this case, I think they’re right. The Bears seem to be in a bit of disarray, and GM Ryan Poles seems as if he struggling to figure out how to build the roster in Chicago.

These results tend to support the opinions expressed in the Hogs Haven survey that imply that the front office clearly ‘won’ the trade with the Bears, while fans are more ambivalent about the deal with the 49ers.

Sunday’s game against the Patriots

Every week, in the national Reacts email survey, fans are asked to predict game outcomes for the coming week. This week, as usually happens, they have already been proven right by the outcome of the Thursday night game in which the Pittsburgh Steelers held off an end-of-game drive by the Tennesee Titans, sealing the 20-16 win with a red-zone interception with just 6 seconds left on the play clock.

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Washington is on the road this week, heading to New England for a Week 9 game against a struggling (2-6) AFC opponent.

Maybe there’s something to this whole “addition by subtraction” thing. Nationally, NFL fans responding to this week’s Reacts email survey predict that Washington, despite being road underdogs, will beat the Patriots in Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Reacts survey of Patriots fans done by Pats Pulpit supports this gloomy outlook for the home team. With headlines and sports talk shows shouting that this could be the end for Bill Belichick, just 13% of Patriots fans responding to the survey this week expressed confidence in the direction of Robert Kraft’s team.

Maybe there’s an opportunity to add to the Commanders win column. Injuries have bitten deep into the Patriots’ roster this season, and NE’s receiving group, featuring Jalen Reagor and rookie Demario Douglas in combination with QB Mac Jones, feels like it offers the best chance in a while for the Commanders secondary to excel in a game.

New England will enter its matchup with Washington without two of its best weapons. Leading receiver Kendrick Bourne has been placed on Injured Reserve, while DeVante Parker is in the concussion protocol. That’s going to limit the options for Mac Jones, who has already had an inconsistent season. He’s tied for the second most interceptions this season, and his QBR of 43.9 is 23rd among all quarterbacks.

NFC East

The fans in the Reacts national survey also predict that the Cowboys will fall to the Eagles and the Giants will lose to the only team that appears to be in more turmoil than the Bears, the Vegas Raiders. I’m a little skeptical about the Raiders’ ability to rise to the challenge behind rookie 4th round QB Aidan O’Connell and an interim coach, but teams often rally when a coach is fired mid-season. Let’s assume that the voters got it right, and let’s see what the result would be for the NFC East if they did.

If Philly and Washington win while Dallas and New York lose, then the division would look like this after 8 weeks of play:

Philadelphia would strengthen its hold on the division, but it has a brutal stretch of games ahead after the Week 10 bye — Chiefs, Bills, Niners, Cowboys (again), Seahawks — so nothing can be taken for granted.

Amazingly, in the current era of parity and expanded playoff formats, the Commanders, even at 3-5, are not out of contention for the NFC’s 7th seed, and their likelihood of staying in that race would be bolstered by a victory over the Patriots on Sunday to take them to 4-5. In any event, any playoff hope for Washington at this point looks like a long-shot.

Wildcard considerations

There are 4 teams ahead Washington in the ‘race’ to secure the 7th seed in the NFC playoffs. A lot of things would have to go right from Washington’s point of view for the Commanders to get ahead of all 4 of them.

Vikings 4-4

Of course, the big news for the Vikings is that starting QB Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles tendon last week, and the team now has a choice of turning to 5th round rookie Jaren Hall, or the recently acquired journeyman QB Joshua Dobbs. Things don’t look great for the Norsemen for the balance of the season.

Saints 4-4

The Saints, like the Commanders, have been inconsistent in 2023, with big wins against the Chiefs and Chargers early, but also losses to the Packers, Buccaneers and Texans (twice). New Orleans plays the Vikings and the Buccaneers down the stretch, meaning two guaranteed losses (and two wins) for the three teams ahead of us that currently have 4 losses. A game against the Lions looks like the only big challenge remaining on the Saints schedule, but they’ve still got 4 divisional games left, and we all know how unpredictable those can be.

Buccaneers 3-4

After a 3-1 start, Tampa has lost three straight, and now the Buccaneers are on the road for five of their next seven games. Tampa Bay lost to the Eagles, Lions and Bills, so they’ve lost to tough teams while generally beating the teams they should. Like Washington, the team has to get above .500 if it wants to seriously compete for a playoff spot.

Rams 3-5

Things have not gone well for the Rams, and now, after QB Matthew Stafford’s thumb injury, they could struggle this week against the Packers. There’s a big drop-off when Brett Rypien is behind center. Rams fans will be praying for a healthy Stafford and Kyren Williams when they host surging Seattle in Week 11. After that, they still have the Browns, Ravens, Saints and Niners. Of course, they host Washington in Week 15. If the Commanders can go 3-2 or better in the 5 games they play before then, the trip to LA could be important in determining that 7th seed.

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