An intriguing new name could soon become a target if the 49ers are still interested in adding to their wide receiver depth chart. According to a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pittsburgh Steelers wideout James Washington agent has informed the team that his client is requesting a trade. While it’s unclear whether the Steelers intend to shop the 25-year-old receiver, it’s clear the situation in Pittsburgh is far from ideal.
The Steelers drafted Washington in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft out of Oklahoma State. Washington quickly found a role as a backup receiver, starting six games and hauling in 16 receptions for 217 yards and one touchdown. Then, in 2019, with Antonio Brown unexpectedly forcing his way out of Pittsburgh, Washington found himself in a far more prominent role. Appearing in 15 games, making ten starts, he racked up a team-leading 735 receiving yards on 44 receptions.
Yet, things have not continued trending up for Washington since then. While he appeared in all 16 regular-season games last year, Washington received just seven starts amassing 392 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 30 receptions as rookie receive Chase Claypool surpassed him on the depth chart.
Heading into this season, Washington is firmly entrenched behind Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and Juju Smith-Schuster on the depth chart. An injury could obviously open up a greater opportunity, but Washington has no interest in waiting per Schefter's report.
Questions about the depth of the 49ers receiving corp behind Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel have swirled all offseason. After not making a significant upgrade through free agency or the draft, many of those questions have continued into training camp. There are several potential viable options on the 49ers roster, including former third-round pick Jalen Hurd and free-agent acquisition Mohammed Sanu. Another minor offseason addition, Trent Sherfield, has excelled in the early days of the preseason, making a strong case for a more prominent role in the team’s offense.
However, seemingly every potential 49ers pass-catcher comes with some degree of injury history. Samuel, Aiyuk, and tight end George Kittle all missed at least four games last season, while Hurd has missed the last two regular seasons due to significant injuries. Sanu, who has been the healthiest of the group in recent history, is easily the oldest, turning 32 in August.
Washington’s draft pedigree and production history would immediately make him one of the most proven receivers on the 49ers depth chart, but perhaps more importantly to the team’s front office. He’s consistently stayed on the field. Over his three-year career, Washington has played in 45 of the Steelers' 48 regular-season games. Going back to his four years in college at Oklahoma State, Washington never missed a game.
While the 49ers have signaled their confidence in their receiver group throughout the offseason, but a young player like Washington could be exactly the type of player they are willing to target. Already without a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, the Niners will likely only be willing to make a move if it came at a minimal cost. Still, after requesting a trade and falling out of favor Pittsburgh, that could very easily be the case.