Steelers should not trade for Chase Young, Isaiah Simmons

Chase Young Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders
Chase Young Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders / Jess Rapfogel/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers had one of their more active offseasons in recent memory. New general manager Omar Khan set a new tone for a franchise known for its patience (or apathy, depending on your persuasion) during the time between seasons. This new strategy set fans abuzz, sending them out to search for Khan’s next move. 

Two such players from the 2020 NFL Draft earned their focus: Chase Young of the Washington Commanders and Isaiah Simmons of the Arizona Cardinals. Both players were top-ten selections in that draft, but neither team picked up the fifth-year option of their respective rookie contracts. This makes 2023 a contract year for both Young and Simmons. 

Young and Simmons are both supremely talented athletes who have yet to reach their full potential. However, each of these players carries significant risk that would make trading for them a poor move for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In this article, I’ll break down the case against trading for each of them. 

Trading for Chase Young would be a mistake

Steelers fans have been drooling over the possibility of acquiring Chase Young since the clip of Mike Tomlin talking to him during their matchup in 2020 hit the internet. As Tomlin said, the Steelers rarely are in a position to acquire a player with Young’s traits. However, since that moment, Young’s career has not gone according to plan. Injuries robbed him of his 2021 season and limited his effectiveness when he returned to the field in 2022. 

Washington elected not to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract, making him eligible for free agency after this upcoming season. This ramped up trade speculation for Young, given that they have a good edge rusher across from him in Montez Sweat, and they’ve already spent tons of cash on the defensive line (Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne). Naturally, nearly every fanbase deployed their own version of the Squidward pointing meme, and the Steelers were not excluded.

However, I don’t believe the Steelers will or should trade for Chase Young for multiple reasons. Firstly, the injuries are somewhat concerning. Young, in theory, should be better this season as he is further removed from his injury. But he could suffer a setback and make the trade not worth it. Of course, an injury could happen to anyone at any time. But surrendering assets for a player with lingering concerns does not seem like a sound strategy.

Secondly, if they make this trade, it’s unclear where and how often Young would see the field. Young has only played in 4-3 defenses since college, and he’s built like an ideal defensive end for that scheme. Even though the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between the 4-3 and 3-4, especially in a Nickel-dominated NFL, the jobs are very different. Furthermore, if they wanted him to move inside to defensive end, he does not have the size (or skillset) to be successful in that role. 

Furthermore, Pittsburgh already has one of the best pairs of edge defenders in the NFL. Yes. T.J. Watt has missed time over the course of the last two seasons due to injuries. But are you really going to take either of those players off the field, given their experience in the system and chemistry with their teammates? Sure, they need to rotate Watt and Alex Highsmith to give them breaks, and having Young and Markus Golden as your second line of edge rushers is quite the duo. Essentially, Young will be a rotational third edge rusher who would need an injury to see the field consistently and make the trade worthwhile. 

What kind of draft capital does a backup with great potential command? Here is a very similar example. In 2018, after declining his fifth-year option, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded Dante Fowler to the Los Angeles Rams for a third- and fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. After that year, Fowler signed a one-year deal with the Rams, put together the best season of his career, and left for Atlanta. The difference, however, is that the Rams traded for Fowler to make him a starter rather than a rotational player. But Young was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020, while Fowler had one decent season before he was traded. So the trade package value should be relatively similar. 

Regardless, if the trade is made, how do the different types of on-field outcomes change the Steelers’ calculus in the following off-season? Unless he falls off a cliff or suffers another injury, Pittsburgh is not moving on from T.J. Watt anytime soon. If Young doesn't get on the field, due to injuries or otherwise, then the Steelers wouldn’t re-sign him, making the trade useless. 

If he somehow does get on the field and produces, would the Steelers try to re-sign him cheaply, relative to the larger contract that Alex Highsmith will most likely command? Perhaps, but then you’re taking a considerable risk, letting an excellent player who did everything right for the organization that developed him walk out the door in exchange for an inconsistent, albeit talented, acquisition. 

The middle ground is difficult to suss out in this situation. Perhaps they find a way to get Young on the field enough that he makes a good (but not great) impact for this defense. They finally get the Alex Highsmith contract extension done but also keep enough money to convince Young to return on a relatively cheap deal. The likelihood of all those stars aligning seems rather low. 

Steelers should avoid an Isaiah Simmons trade

Of these two moves, trading for Isaiah Simmons makes more sense regarding organizational alignment. But based on what the Steelers need and how the first few years of Simmons’ career have gone, there is a very narrow path toward this trade being beneficial for the Steelers. Simmons was in the same draft as Young and was lauded as an athletic freak that could be transformational for the right defense. 

Unfortunately, he seemingly landed with the wrong defense, as the Arizona Cardinals struggled to figure out how to use Simmons’ unique skillset. They shoehorned him into playing linebacker, hoping that his athleticism would allow him to be a dynamic playmaker. But his lack of instincts for the position caused him to be more of a liability than an asset. Simmons demonstrates the dark side of versatility as a prospect’s dominant trait; just because you “can” do everything doesn’t necessarily mean you will be good at everything, especially at the NFL level.

Simmons bounced between linebacker and safety before finally finding a home as Arizona’s slot defender. This past season, things finally seemed to click for him as he grew more comfortable with the defense and his role in it. Nevertheless, he still had some bad games and moments. Furthermore, the Cardinals are installing an entirely new scheme with a brand new staff under head coach Jonathan Gannon. The new staff allegedly wants to keep Simmons at one position, or at least within one position group, which should be good for him. But it’s still not guaranteed that he will be a good fit in this new scheme. 

Moving on to the Steelers, trading for Simmons would probably be doable in terms of compensation. Simmons has not been consistently productive and is only under contract for this season. The Cardinals are most likely trying to sell off players for future draft capital, while the Steelers are in a win-now mentality, trying to stay afloat in the AFC playoff race. Simmons could probably be had for a Day 3 2024 draft pick, even if it has to be in Round 4, with another later pick in 2024 or 2025 tacked on as well. 

However, this puts Simmons (and the Steelers, by extension) in a challenging situation. He would be forced to learn another defensive scheme in a short amount of time, possibly in the middle of the season. Furthermore, Pittsburgh would be trading for him to fill a role as a coverage inside linebacker instead of strong safety. They do need a long-term answer at the latter position, as Keanu Neal is a limited veteran. But this would put Simmons back in the position where he struggled the most. Even though the Steelers have plenty of experienced veterans around him on the back end (Neal, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee, Patrick Peterson, Cole Holcomb), this is still a big ask for Simmons. 

dark. Next. Which Steelers rookie has the best chance to win Rookie of the Year?. Which Steelers rookie has the best chance to win Rookie of the Year?

Overall, given his story up to this point and the situation he would be coming into, Simmons is not set up to succeed and thus make his trade worthwhile and possibly command a new contract from the Steelers after the season. Even though the draft compensation would not amount to that much, this trade does not make a ton of sense for Simmons or Pittsburgh. They are not well-served to help each other at this juncture.