Nick Bosa might need Chase Young to succeed more than the 49ers do

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Chase Young of the Washington Commanders and Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers embrace after the game at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California.

Chase Young of the Washington Commanders and Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers embrace after the game at Levi’s Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For the second time in just a couple of months, star 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa has bet on himself.

When the Niners acquired Chase Young from the Washington Commanders just hours before Tuesday’s trade deadline, it was to plug a sizeable hole right as this season’s ship began to seriously take on water. But for Bosa, the move is now about so much more.

Fair or not, the 26-year-old has become the face of San Francisco’s shortcomings on the defensive line. It comes with the territory of signing a record-setting $122 million contract ahead of this season after holding out from preseason workouts and training camp. Through eight games this season, Bosa has just three sacks, putting him on pace for the worst output of his career in a healthy season. 

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Young’s arrival, made official Wednesday when he passed his physical, is expected to be a boon for Bosa and his fellow defensive linemen. But it’s also another layer of added pressure for Bosa after the Niners went out of their way to add another talented player to the line. If Bosa still can’t perform alongside Young, what does that say about the team’s decision to pay Bosa all of that money?

There’s a Super Bowl ring at stake here, for sure. But there’s also much more. Consider the many concerning post-trade reports — some anonymous, some not — about Young’s work ethic. Mike Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday that Young “was viewed as an undisciplined player who developed bad habits such as deviating from assignments in an effort to make splash plays.”

“His off-the-field priorities and commitment to his craft were often questioned, and he was viewed internally as a player who plateaued as a rookie,” Silver wrote, citing “several Washington coaches and other organizational sources.” (The Chronicle and SFGATE are both owned by Hearst but have separate newsrooms.)

Commanders coach Ron Rivera told reporters Wednesday that the defensive line — which featured Young along with fellow traded Commanders lineman Montez Sweat — had consistency issues this season. ESPN’s John Keim then reported that anonymous sources said “medical concerns prevented some teams who had expressed interest from making an offer” on Young.

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Niners general manager John Lynch downplayed all of this during a radio hit Wednesday, saying Bosa specifically had been a vote of confidence for Young. Bosa has known Young for some time, as they were teammates at Ohio State; Young has said the Niners edge rusher was a mentor to him.

“I know that Nick Bosa thinks very highly of him,” Lynch said. “That means a lot to us because Nick’s words are never hollow. I think sometimes, the economy of words, what Nick Bosa can say in a few words, I wish I had that skill. He just says it all like that.”

While Lynch spoke to Bosa after the trade was already done, it remains a notable vote of confidence in a player the organization hopes will make a significant impact. Even as they recorded three sacks Sunday against the Bengals, San Francisco’s defensive line has been a shell of itself, hardly getting any real pressure on quarterbacks who have picked apart a once formidable defense. Sure, Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow are talented players, but P.J. Walker, whose professional claim to fame is a notable XFL stint, was also successful for the Browns in Week 6.

Bosa has also turned his words into action. Matt Barrows of the Athletic noted in a mailbag that the 26-year-old is using his bye week to make sure that Young gets acclimated to the Niners’ defense before formally joining the team in practice next week. Even if the reports on Young were true — and, honestly, who could blame him for ignoring directions from the coaches of the 3-5 Commanders — it’s hard to imagine the bad habits continuing under this tutelage.

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The success of a trade should always fall first and foremost on the front office that made the decision. But given that Bosa is putting his fingerprints all over this acquisition, it’s fair to say that however this turns out, Bosa will bear at least some of the responsibility. Given the initiative he’s taken so far, he’s probably more than fine with that.

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