After one of the wilder openers to the new league year in recent memory, I thought the end of the work week would be a good time to catch up on where the tracker for the 2016 compensatory picks stands. It’s only been four days and we’ve had a total of 74 unrestricted free agents change teams. As it stands now, it has resulted in 36 possible compensatory picks to be awarded. The list below is far from final—many more changes will be made before the year is out. However, it does give a good skeleton outline for expectations down the road.
|Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded|
Before any analysis takes place, a few notes need to be made:
- You’ll notice that the APYs of the four players currently over the 32-pick are unknown. (There are also four others I don’t know yet that aren’t currently relevant to the results.) There is a good chance that any of these players could have APYs that move them up higher, and as such, fans of teams below the limit should be a bit more optimistic, and fans of teams just above the limit should show modest pessimism.
- That said, the APY currently listed for Tyrod Taylor is a minimum based upon the only known information discovered by Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun (whose work on Twitter @RavensInsider has been valuable in building data for the tracker and is greatly appreciated). Wilson’s report of $1.2 million guaranteed over two years is used to add a veteran minimum base salary of $745,000 to a prorated yearly bonus of $600,000 to get the current figure of $1.345M APY. However, once full details emerge on Taylor’s contract I expect that number to go up.
- Jason informed me that Terrance Knighton’s $450,000 “weight incentive” is unusual. Normally workout bonuses and incentives do not count in the APY. But this is one to keep in mind for altering scenarios at the end of the year, because if it does count it could push Knighton up from a 6th round value to a 5th, hypothetically helping Denver and/or hurting Washington.
- I had hoped that someone would come through with a past example of whether a contract with a declined team option before free agency would qualify the player as a UFA for the compensatory draft pick formula. Miguel Benzan (@patscap) came through with that example: Donte Stallworth earning the Patriots a 5th in 2009 after they declined his option a year earlier. Miguel also advised to cross check with the NFL’s official free agency press release, and indeed, the players I was concerned about were listed. This is a relief with one less worry for the program, and also for Patriots fans (more on that later).
With that, there are interesting insights even after just four days. The one that stands out to me the most, as I remarked on Twitter, is how more and more teams are knowledgeable of the formula and using it to their advantage. Here are the eight teams that stand out to me as above the cut:
- Baltimore: I’ve mentioned them before, as they’ve proclaimed Ozzie Newsome the Wizard of Compensatory Picks. To no surprise, their lost/gained ratio is already at 5/0.
- Green Bay: They too have been mentioned before, with Ted Thompson’s long streak of avoiding UFAs. They only have one pick right now, but it’s a good 4th rounder for Davon House, and don’t be surprised if more come later, such as for Tramon Williams.
- Denver: I’ve also noted in the past that this is a team that’s done a complete about face with attitudes in this regard. Andrew Mason has an excellent article for the team’s official website (and cites OTC) that demonstrates work that John Elway has done to project picks for the Broncos, coming to a similar conclusion as my program has. Denver holds two picks now but has the potential to get more.
- Seattle: This is a team that has been utterly cleaning up on the comp pick process recently. They’re projected to have a league-best 7/0 lost/gained ratio for 2015, and they’re already at 4/0 for 2016. They have also made savvy moves to improve their team (such as the megatrade for Jimmy Graham) that aren’t compromising those perfect records. Chris Cassidy has a detailed read at Cover32 Seahawks that should be a must-read for Seahawks fans wanting a Seattle-centric take on the subject. It’s clear that this is an emphasis for John Schneider.
- San Francisco: The NFC West wouldn’t be the same without an arms race featuring the 49ers opposing the Seahawks, and that’s the case here. Like Schneider, this is a focus for Trent Baalke, who received good news this morning when the Redskins gave Chris Culliver a monster contract to add a potential 4th rounder to the two 6ths already projected.
- Dallas: I haven’t talked about the Cowboys that much, but I should have. The layman fan’s perception of Jerry Jones is that he loves making big splashes in free agency and elsewhere to build the Cowboys. But when it comes to compensatory picks, Jones knows how to be patient to work the system. Since 2014 the Cowboys are actually tied for second in all time comp picks awarded. This year is really a perfect storm for Dallas in this regard, as a tight salary cap and high-stakes franchise tagging of Dez Bryant led to several Cowboys UFAs leaving, not least of who included DeMarco Murray jumping to a division rival. However, two 4ths (one for Murray), a 6th, and possibly one more could ease that pain next offseason.
- Cleveland: I never would have imagined to include this team in this list, as they are dead last in all time comp picks. But Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland had a prescient article just before free agency started warning us that things were going to be different this time around. And he has been correct: not only do the Browns currently boast the maximum of four comp picks, but they’re higher ones: two 4ths and two 5ths. If you’re a Browns fan definitely read Grossi’s article, it could give you a whiff of optimism that this team has needed for a long time.
- New England: It’s not surprising to see Bill Belichick on a list like this. But what might be more surprising (or not, if you know what he’s capable of), is that Belichick is not only taking advantage of the system, he’s doing it one step ahead of his peers, even those listed above. As mentioned above, the Patriots used a team option to void Donte Stallworth’s contract in 2008 instead of terminating it, making him a qualifying UFA. This year, the Patriots used this mechanism on three high-profile players: Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner. They retained the flexibility to possibly keep them, but if they decided to part ways they would also retain the possibility of comp picks. Revis and Browner already are in the lost column in favor for New England, and Wilfork should be there soon. Without them, the Patriots would only have a pair of 6ths projected. Instead, they have three 6ths and the second highest comp pick, a 3rd for Revis.
Adding up the comp picks that these eight teams are at right now, and only one-fourth of the league holds three-fourths of the 2016 picks. This might seem unfair to some, especially when seven of the eight teams have been recent playoff contenders. But the rules are in place, and teams are simply observing the rules to make them work for them. In fact, one reason you see lots of regular contenders here may be that they get more chances to hit in the draft.
To wrap it up, here are a couple possible observances for the future:
- While it’s possible that Vince Wilfork could net the Patriots a better comp pick, it’s not going to be much better. This is due to the “Alan Faneca rule”, which disappointed the Steelers and their fans when they discovered a player with ten or more accrued seasons can only earn a maximum of a 5th round pick. Hypothetically, there are several players (Lance Briggs, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne among them) with more than ten years, but Wilfork is the only one I’d imagine might ordinarily break the 5th round barrier.
- Transition tagged Charles Clay’s situation is certainly up in the air after the Dolphins snatched Jordan Cameron away from the Browns. But any team interesting in signing Clay to an offer sheet should know that Clay will count against them in the comp pick formula. While most tendered players do not count, transition tagged players are the exception, perhaps because teams don’t receive any draft compensation for refusing to match the offer sheet. See Steve Hutchinson in 2007, who counted in favor of Seattle in the wake of the whole poison pill drama against Minnesota that resulted in retaliation ensnaring Nate Burleson.