Chase Young pulled on a white beanie hat and sat down at his locker. He hadn’t been a big factor in the San Francisco 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday. He’d played rotational snaps, 16 against the pass and eight against the run, and registered two stats: one assisted tackle (on a short run) and one pressure/quarterback hit (on a 25-yard pass).
Young said his first game against his old team wasn’t emotional, but current and former teammates believed it meant something to him. San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa said Young “really wanted to put on a good show” and that the 49ers “wanted to get him a couple sacks.” After the game, Young sounded disappointed.
“Every game, I feel like I could play better. This one, I feel like I definitely could’ve played better,” he said. “Wish [Commanders quarterback Sam Howell] would’ve held the ball a little bit more. But you know, it’s all good. We did our jobs. We did everything we do to get the W.”
In the locker room, Young didn’t seem interested in dwelling on what happened in Washington, where he’d once looked like a franchise cornerstone before everything unraveled. He seemed to be enjoying the moment, which, for the 49ers, was pretty good: The Arizona Cardinals upset the Philadelphia Eagles and helped San Francisco clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
But Young and the Commanders are approaching a crossroads. Soon, Washington will move on from the regime that drafted the former Ohio State star second in 2020, and in March, Young will be a free agent at just 25 years old. The next couple years will be important for both, though Young probably has more at stake than the new Commanders ownership group, given his talent, injury history, underwhelming production and finite playing career.
For now, though, Young seems relatively happy as the third end on a Super Bowl contender.
“Love this team, love the coaches,” he said. “It was a blessing to come to such a great organization — just the history — and I’m trying to take full advantage.”
Before the game, Young said it “felt good to be home.” He missed his dogs, which his dad has been caring for in Virginia, and he saw family members. The 49ers team hotel wasn’t far from where he grew up in Cheltenham, Md.
But Young said the game felt pretty normal. He greeted friends, helped lead his team out of the tunnel and saw his supportive parents in the crowd. He’d even been in the visitor’s locker room at FedEx Field before; the Commanders’ defense had used it during a preseason intrasquad scrimmage.
During the game, Young mostly found himself matched up with Commanders backup left tackle Cornelius Lucas, who started in the absence of the injured Charles Leno Jr. Lucas said facing Young felt like practice because they’d gone up against each other there for the past four years. That included some trash talk from Young, which Lucas said he didn’t really respond to.
“I’m more of, like, a conserve-my-energy-kind of guy,” he said. “I’ll get him riled up and let him talk, but I’m more focused on what I need to focus on.”
After the game, Young talked more with Commanders players and coaches, including Howell, receiver Terry McLaurin and defensive tackle Daron Payne. Even though they shook hands, things still appeared frosty between Young and Coach Ron Rivera. They hadn’t spoken since the trade, and Young’s description of their interaction was brief.
“It was cool seeing former coach,” he said. “Now it’s on to the Rams.”
In November, after the trade, Young told San Francisco reporters the 49ers’ culture stood in stark contrast to the Commanders’, in large part because they expected to win every week.
“It’s kind of that same thing at Ohio State,” Young said.
After the game Sunday, McLaurin said it was difficult to see the 49ers play together because they were talented, deep and having fun, in large part because they expected to win every week.
“It kind of reminds me a little bit of Ohio State,” McLaurin said.
In many ways, Young and McLaurin cut contrasting figures. They’re far apart in pedigree, performance and perception among the fan base. But the college that unites them has given them pretty much the same perspective on a franchise that finds itself on the precipice of a new beginning — but with no guarantee the next era of football will be better than the last one.
In the visitors’ locker room, Young grabbed his two suitcases and wheeled them toward the door. He wasn’t happy with his performance, but he still had a chance to change things. He was, after all, headed to the playoffs.