With the league offices closing for today, the second Tuesday after the 2017 NFL Draft, it also closes out the addition of compensatory free agents (CFAs) into the formula for the 2018 NFL Draft. With only CFA subtractions now possible due to cuts or too low of a salary, it’s time to take a look at the list that’s emerged.
There is a bit of the changing of the guard in the teams seen in this year’s list. A few stalwarts like New England, Baltimore and Cincinnati remain prominent, but others like Green Bay, Denver, Seattle, and Pittsburgh are starkly missing. In their place are some teams with notable circumstances within 2018 free agency: the Los Angeles Rams (who like New England are on track to get two 3rd round comp picks), Minnesota (who saw three quarterbacks leave in free agency), Philadelphia (a major sleeper on pursuing comp picks, as I’ll explain below) and Washington (who, despite their hard earned reputation of being big time UFA spenders, are poised to break the longest active regular comp pick drought. The last time they got one was 2009, a 7th rounder that was used to draft Marko Mitchell.)
Also notable is that this could be the first year under the current CBA that getting a seven figure APY is required to qualify for the compensatory formula. Currently, Geno Smith, at $1 million even, is on the bubble of qualifying, and with him out of consideration (as is likely unless something disastrous happens to the durable Philip Rivers) it opens up a 7th rounder to the Chargers for either Kenny Wiggins or Matt Slauson, and also takes off the board a 4th rounder to the Giants for either Weston Richburg or Justin Pugh.
There are two players that, despite being listed as Unrestricted Free Agents in the official press release, I am guessing will not qualify for the compensatory formula. They are Donald Stephenson, going from Denver to Cleveland, and Derrick Johnson, going from Kansas City to Oakland. This is because both Stephenson and Johnson had their contracts shortened by renegotiating voids in their 2018 year in exchange for taking pay pay cuts in 2017. This is unfortunate for both the Broncos and Chiefs, as it will negatively impact their comp pick ledgers. For Denver, if Stephenson counted it would open up a 7th rounder for Corey Nelson (although he would be unlikely to make the 32-pick limit). Otherwise, it will end the Broncos’ four year streak of obtaining or being eligible compensatory picks–unless Brock Osweiler somehow becomes the Dolphins’ starting quarterback for most to all of 2018. The Chiefs, however, are projected to get a 6th or 7th rounder for Terrence Mitchell as of now, but if Johnson qualified they would likely get another 6th or 7th rounder for him as well.
The other unusual case involves Mike Wallace, going from Baltimore to Philadelphia. As I mentioned above, the Eagles are a team that have been largely ignored in recent comp pick studies, but historically this is mistaken to do so. From 2004 to 2011, the Eagles got multiple comp picks in six of those eight drafts, and were second only to Baltimore in the most total comp picks awarded. Howie Roseman was a high level executive with the team during those times, and looking at how he’s crafted some of his CFA signings, there are signs that he just as determined as Ozzie Newsome, Bill Belichick, or John Elway in manipulating the comp pick system.
This brings us back to Wallace. Early reports had his Eagles’ deal as one year and “up to” $4 million. However, it was soon discovered that there was plenty of funny money in that deal. $2.085 million of that $4 million are in Likely To Be Earned incentives, and among the most laughable was a $585,000 weight bonus to be earned by reporting to offseason workouts under 250 pounds. It’s laughable because Wallace, a wide receiver, has consistently played at a relatively svelte 200 pounds. But the comp pick formula shines insight on this unusual bonus, as it’s established that weight bonuses do not count. (See Terrance Knighton demoting a comp pick for Denver in 2016.)
But it doesn’t end there. Wallace’s $1 million signing bonus is actually an OATSB–Other Amount Treated As Signing Bonus. OTC also believes that this OATSB is a guaranteed workout bonus. Although it’s unclear how the comp pick formula will judge such a payment, it has been very consistent in not counting workout bonuses of any kind. Because there are many signs suggesting that the Eagles are manipulating the formula with Wallace’s contract, I’m therefore guessing that this $1 million will not count either. If that guess is correct, all that’s left to count is Wallace’s veteran minimum base salary of $915,000, and while he could still qualify if he plays enough snaps, currently that’s not enough to break the current qualification limit of $1 million.
The end result? If Wallace does not qualify, as I have it so right now, it opens up an additional 6th rounder to Philadelphia for Patrick Robinson, and it potentially costs Baltimore a 7th for Wallace.
|Team||Round||Compensated Free Agent||APY|
|Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded|
Names to watch in training camp
For the next few months, the most important thing to watch for with regard to 2019 compensatory picks is if any CFAs fail to make and stay on their team’s roster. If any CFA is permanently cut from their team’s roster before Week 10, they will not qualify for the compensatory formula. Using a little intuition, there are some teams that could feasibly improve their standing in 2018 compensatory picks if they cut certain players, and other teams that need to hope that certain teams don’t cut some of their former players.
Teams with CFAs signed
- Dallas: The Cowboys currently have only one comp pick on the board, a 4th for Anthony Hitchens. However, none of the three low level CFAs they signed (Kony Ealy, Cameron Fleming, and Deonte Thompson) have guarantees larger than $1 million. If Dallas cuts any to all of them, they could pick up a maximum of an extra 6th round and two 7th round comp picks.
- New York Giants: They are currently even with five CFAs each lost and gained. Of the five they gained, Michael Thomas and Cody Latimer could be the most vulnerable to being cut for comp pick reasons. It will not be cheap to cut either: Thomas was guaranteed $1.5 million, and almost all of Latimer’s $2.5 million was guaranteed. But if they cut one of the two before Week 10, it would open up a 4th rounder for one of Weston Richburg or Justin Pugh, and if they cut both it would open up an additional 5th or 6th for Devon Kennard. (Cutting Latimer would also end any scant hope the Broncos have to continue their comp pick streak.)
- Detroit: They currently have one 5th round comp pick for DJ Hayden on the board. But the Lions could get a second 5th rounder for Tahir Whitehead if they cut one of their lower valued CFAs. Among those, Kenny Wiggins should feel the least secure for a roster spot, given that Detroit just drafted Frank Ragnow in the first round. Wiggins has only $750,000 in full guarantees, so it will be quite cheap for the Lions to move on from him if they so choose.
- Seattle: Some regular comp pick seekers, like Green Bay and Denver, simply didn’t lose enough valuable CFAs to make it worth it to go after comp picks this year. But I’m having a hard time understanding how the Seahawks approached free agency this year. As I anticipated, the Seahawks lost high valued CFAs in Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson, and Paul Richardson–all currently valued as 4th rounders. But Seattle instead signed 7 CFAs of their own, taking them way out of contention to earn any of those 4th rounders. Of those seven, they could cut four of them (Dontae Johnson, DJ Fluker, Tom Johnson, and Shamar Stephen) with little consequence, as all have guarantees at or below $1 million. But that’s not the case for the other three (Ed Dickson, Barkevious Mingo, and Jaron Brown). This year, it seems clear that John Schneider is taking an educated gamble that the CFAs he signed will be worth more than the 4th round comp picks he could have otherwise received via the Seahawks’ usual modus operandi in free agency.
Teams with CFAs lost
- Baltimore: Ben Watson will turn 38 during the 2018 season, and the Saints only guaranteed $645,000 of his contract. If Watson fails to make the roster or decides to call it a career before the regular season, and Mike Wallace doesn’t qualify, it would jeopardize the Ravens’ 3rd or 4th round comp pick for Ryan Jensen.
- Los Angeles Chargers: As mentioned above with Detroit, if Kenny Wiggins fails to make the roster, it will take the Chargers out of comp pick contention. They may also have to fear the same with Matt Slauson, who will now have to compete with 1st and 2nd round rookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith alongside incumbent Jack Mewhort for a starting job at guard.
- Detroit: While the Lions could gain a comp pick, they could also lose the one they have now. Don Carey and Travis Swanson have minimal amounts of guaranteed money in their deals with the Jaguars and Jets, and if either fail to stick around then the Lions’ 5th rounder for DJ Hayden will have no choice but to come off the board.
- Minnesota: With the Jets drafting Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater’s roster spot is by no means safe. If he’s cut, the Vikings will see their 6th for him be demoted to a 7th for either Tom Johnson or Shamar Stephen. And speaking of those two, as described above Seattle may have their own comp pick reasons to cut them–that could potentially take comp picks off the board. (Fortunately for Minnesota, their 3rd rounder for Case Keenum should be as solid as they come.)
- Atlanta: They will have to hope that Andre Roberts not only makes the Jets’ roster, but also qualifies for the formula. If he doesn’t, that could jeopardize their 5th rounder for Taylor Gabriel. They could rectify that by in turn cutting or benching Logan Paulsen, on the same salary as Roberts.
- Carolina: Charles Johnson is another Jets receiver who could impact comp picks if he doesn’t make their roster. In Carolina’s case, they would lose a 6th rounder for Ed Dickson.