In the new CBA, the deadline for unrestricted free agents to be able to qualify as compensatory free agents (CFAs) was moved up again, now to the first Monday after the draft. This year, that’s April 27. Now that that date has passed, let’s take a look at where OTC’s projection for the 2021 compensatory picks stand. If you have any questions about how this list is generated, please take a look at the cancellation charts for all 32 teams here.
|Team||Round||Compensated Free Agent||APY|
|LAR||3||Dante Fowler Jr.||$15,000,000|
|NE||4||Kyle Van Noy||$12,750,000|
|Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded|
The new rules in the CBA that were designed to reduce circumvention of the rules of the compensatory pick formula have not resulted in fewer projected eligible comp picks. Whereas 2020 saw only 33 eligible comp picks, 2021 is projected to have around 42, which is also the record for most eligible comp picks that was set in 2016. This is resulting in all but one eligible 7th round pick missing the 32 pick limit.
There are also some deviations from the norm in the teams showing up on this list. The most unusual team to see on this list are the Saints. No team has cared less about comp picks than the front office led by Mickey Loomis: the Saints have only been awarded two regular comp picks in the past 20 drafts, and both were 7th rounders. But this year represented an unusual one for the Saints, who saw Teddy Bridgewater leave New Orleans on a veteran starting quarterback contract. That type of contract is a slam dunk 3rd round compensatory pick value, so even Loomis may have seen that as too good to pass up.
Another team that’s a rarity to see on the list are the Titans. They have not been awarded a comp pick since 2013, but they are clinging onto a 3rd rounder for the departure of Jack Conklin. The Bears, also long time comp pick skeptics, have turned around and are maxed out at having four eligible comp picks. Some regular comp pick hitters like the Seahawks and Broncos are missing this time around, while others like the Patriots, Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles, and Rams are still prominent on the list.
Finally, it appears that the Packers have reverted to form on their heavy focus on gaining comp picks. While Brian Gutekunst passed up on them in his first season as GM, this time around he’s got Green Bay with getting one each in the 4th, 5th, and 6th rounds.
I noted earlier that the new CBA has explicitly clamped down on some of the shenanigans teams used to circumvent the compensatory formula in their favor. The NFL Management Council may also have the power to implicitly clamp down–and early evidence of that may be emerging regarding the April 27 deadline this year.
One of the most prominent players that was still on the market around this date was Jameis Winston. Most would have guessed that even as a backup quarterback, Winston would sign a contract that would be CFA eligible, provided he signed before April 27. On April 26, Charles Robinson reported that Winston was finalizing a contract with the Saints. Soon after, Katherine Terrell, the Saints reporter for The Athletic, said that the deal would not be officially processed until after the comp pick deadline passed. However, by the end of the day, Greg Auman, also at The Athletic reporting on the Bucs, said that teams aren’t allowed to circumvent this deadline, thus that Winston might qualify anyway even if the official processing was after April 27.
Proof of this may reside in the NFL’s two official transaction wires on April 28. On the AM wire, it contained a long list of UFAs that did not receive the UFA Tender from their former teams, and “[a]s a result, such players are not compensable free agents under the Compensatory Draft System.” However, Winston, as well as a few other players, were not on this list. Then, on the PM wire, while there were dozens of free agent signings listed, Winston was one of three players listed in a separate subsection as signed under the “Free Agency System Signings”.
In my opinion, this is strong evidence to suggest that the NFL Management Council is declaring that Winston will be a CFA on the basis of the deadline. If so, that’s potentially a blow against the Saints, who would lose a 6th rounder for the departure of AJ Klein, with the signing of Winston canceling out that departure. It would also raise questions on how the NFL Management Council would come to this conclusion. Had the Saints and Winston kept negotiations secret until after April 27 at 4 PM ET, would they have secured that Winston wouldn’t have qualified as a CFA?
However, there’s another wrinkle that may still disqualify Winston from becoming a CFA. That is that he signed for far less than most expected. According to Field Yates, the base value of Winston’s contract is $1.1 million, which is far too low to qualify on its own. But $3.4 million in incentives were also part of the contract. Under the new CBA, incentives that are considered Likely To Be Earned count in the compensatory formula. Tom Pelissero later reported the breakdown of his incentives: based on playtime in both the regular season and playoffs, and the Pro Bowl. Since in 2019 the Bucs did not make the playoffs and Winston was not named to the Pro Bowl, those incentives will be NLTBE. However, since Winston played over 99% of the snaps in 2019, there’s a good chance that the $1.76 million incentive for regular season playtime will be LTBE. If that is correct, Winston’s APY for comp pick purposes would be $2.86 million, and even if he didn’t play a snap in 2020, that should be enough for him to qualify as a CFA.
There is one other relevant player that could be caught in the deadline judgment of the NFL Management Council. That player is Timmy Jernigan. Aaron Wilson reported back on April 1 that he signed with the Texans. However, Jernigan’s contract has not been officially processed, nor announced by the Texans. But Jernigan was also not listed on the April 28 AM transaction wire. Should the deal fall apart, this would clearly cost the Eagles a 6th rounder for his departure. However, if the contract does become official in the future, and the NFL Management Council judges Jernigan the same way it may judge Winston, the Eagles would still retain that comp pick.
Names to watch in training camp
For the next few months, the most important thing to watch for with regard to 2020 compensatory picks is if any CFAs fail to make and stay on their team’s roster. While this may change under the new CBA, given the possible interpretation of the April 27 deadline that is looking (as well as any COVID-19 complications), under the old CBA, if any CFA is permanently cut from their team’s roster before they accrue 10 weeks on the roster, they will not qualify for the compensatory formula. Using a little intuition, there are some teams that could feasibly improve their standing in 2020 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
- New England: It’s no surprise that they have three high valued comp picks on the board. But they could get a fourth, a 6th rounder for the departure of Danny Shelton, if they cut either Adrian Phillips or Beau Allen.
- Los Angeles Chargers: Nick Vigil may not qualify anyway if he does not play a high level of snap counts–a possibility with first round pick Kenneth Murray now on the team. But if the Chargers want to be safe with their comp picks, cutting him would open up a 7th rounder for the departure for Phillips–or keep safe a higher comp pick, as explained below.
- Green Bay: Devin Funchess may not be a lock to make the roster, and if he doesn’t the Packers can max out on their comp pick eligibility with a 7th rounder for the departure of BJ Goodson–or, like the Chargers, protect a different comp pick.
- New Orleans: Should Winston’s contract qualify him as a CFA, and things just don’t work out for him in New Orleans, cutting him would reopen up that 6th rounder for the departure of AJ Klein.
- San Francisco: Similarly with the Chargers and Packers, the 49ers pick up a 7th rounder for the departure of Levine Toilolo if Tom Compton doesn’t make the team, and could also protect their other CFA departure as detailed below.
Teams with CFAs lost
- Los Angeles Chargers: Should the Patriots cut Phillips, potentially for their own comp pick reasons, and Nick Vigil also qualifies against them, the Chargers would lose their 3rd rounder for the departure of Philip Rivers.
- Green Bay: If Funchess qualifies, but Goodson does not or is cut by the Browns, the Packers would lose their 6th rounder for the departure of Kyler Fackrell.
- Tampa Bay: Again, Allen could be cut for comp pick reasons in New England. If that happens, Jameis Winston does not qualify, but Joe Haeg does qualify, they’d be shut out of the board by losing their 6th rounder for the departure of Breshad Perriman.
- San Francisco: Should Toilolo not make the Giants roster, and Compton still qualifies against the 49ers, they would lose their 5th rounder for the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, and be shut out of comp picks altogether.