2018 Compensatory Picks Primer

Now that the league’s “legal tampering” period is open (and with it may come initial news of free agent contracts to be signed), it’s time to prepare followers of the compensatory pick system of what to expect for 2018.  Below the fold you can find a list of aspects to watch out for as free agency begins on Thursday, March 9 at 4 PM ET.

2018 starts with a blank slate of “supplemental compensatory picks”.

As you can see on OTC’s draft page, for now the 32 comp picks for 2018 are merely a list of what the order of an 8th round in the 2017 NFL Draft would be if it existed.  (The actual order will be based on the 2018 NFL Draft, but of course we have no way of knowing its order now.)  These are known as supplemental compensatory picks, and they would be awarded if there are less than 32 regular comp picks awarded, starting with the worst teams and going from there. Supplemental comp picks have not been needed since 2012, and with more teams working the formula than in the past, I doubt they will be needed for 2018. However, this set up makes you aware of their existence and possible usage.

What are the current estimated round cutoffs?

As always, this is the most difficult question to answer to perfection. Furthermore, as new contracts of unusual size are signed, those cutoffs will frequently change to account for them. So keep in mind that what’s current now may not be as soon as free agency opens, and these figures should be seen as provisional.

With that caveat in place, the 2018 projection is currently working on the estimation that there will be 2084 players on rosters at the end of the 2017 season (using a three-year average from 2014-2016), and is using cutoff percentiles based upon comp picks awarded from 2015-2017.

CutoffRank (of 2084)Estimated APYRepresentative Player
3rd/4th108$9,000,000Vontae Davis
4th/5th203$6.375,000DeMarco Murray
5th/6th292$4,500,000Darren Sproles
6th/7th476$2,125,000Brad Wing
7th/Qual977$645,000Juwan Thompson

Keep in mind that snap count adjustments will raise or lower the value of many players.

Starting quarterbacks, starting offensive linemen, starting defensive backs, and a few elite wide receivers, tight ends and traditional linebackers will likey see their value rise. These players regularly log over 90% of their snaps, provided they do not get injured.  Running backs, defensive linemen, and edge rushers usually do not get this boost due to their snap counts being depressed via rotation.  And of course, backups that rarely see the field (particularly backup quarterbacks and backup offensive linemen) may see their value fall. Keep this in mind as you see the estimations of what round a player is valued at, particularly if it’s near a cutoff.

Look for a press release from NFL Communications that lists every Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) when the new league year starts.

The address for all press releases by the NFL is nflcommunications.com.  On or about 4 PM ET on Thursday, there should be a release listing the status of all players with expiring contracts. (Here was 2016’s version.)  Use the official list as a complement to OTC’s own free agency page to see the players that are classified as UFAs.  Many, but not all, of these players will become Compensatory Free Agents (CFAs). Some of the exceptions will be listed below.

A UFA must sign a contract before May 9 in order to qualify as a CFA.

This date used to be June 1, but two years ago it was bumped up to the second Tuesday after the draft.  This year, that is May 9 (and not May 12, as it was only for the first year).  Teams that want to sign low level UFAs without having them count against their CFAs gained may wait until after May 9 to do so.

Colin Kaepernick will not qualify for the compensatory formula.

This is due to the Laveranues Coles rule that demonstrates that a player who renegotiated his original contract that allowed it to be shortened via a new player option to void does not become a CFA. While I expect Kaepernick to be listed as a UFA in Thursday’s press release, I am fairly confident that I do not expect him to be a CFA.  This could be a benefit to teams interested in Kaepernick who are also interested in earning compensatory picks for 2018.

Adrian Peterson, Ryan Clady, and Josh Mauga might not qualify for the compensatory formula.

Similar to Kaepernick, these three players also had their original contract shortened via renegotiation. Unlike Kaepernick, the shortening came via a team option to void, instead of a player option.  I have yet to come across an example of this situation that affected comp picks in any given year—and if you have any example of such contracts, please inform me of them so I can check if they did affect anything.  For the time being, I am forced to make a guess on this class of players as to whether they will qualify as CFAs.  I am guessing that they will not, on the intuitive basis that teams should not get CFA credit for shortening a contract that was meant to expire later, as is the case with Kaepernick, et al.

However, I could easily be wrong about that.  I would advise any teams interested in signing any of these players that are also mindful of their comp pick standing to try to inquire to the Management Council for clarification on this point, and for fans of these teams to be aware that while OTC’s charts may not show Peterson, Clady or Mauga, they may still have the potential to cancel out a comp pick.

The highest round DeMarcus Ware, Andrew Whitworth, Julius Peppers, Lawrence Timmons and Lorenzo Alexander can be valued at is the 5th round

This is due to the Alan Faneca rule that declares that any CFA with ten or more accrued seasons may be valued no higher than a 5th rounder.  For this reason, Denver, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Buffalo should not expect anything more than a 5th for these players—and teams interested in signing this class of players can spend more than the estimated $6.35 million APY without jeopardizing any 3rd or 4th round valued CFAs they may have lost.  Teams managing any internal cancellation charts should adjust accordingly.


Depending on the details that are released by reputable insiders over the next two days, you may see some of these deals entered into OTC’s compensatory formula program to provide a preview of how the comp pick list and cancellation charts will operate.  But keep in mind that those early numbers will be provisional, and will be subject to change as the full details of the contracts come in.