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The NFL Management Council Makes Corrections To The 2021 Compensatory Picks

Per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal:

These corrections by the NFL Management Council mean that what I thought was my biggest miss in projecting the 2021 compensatory picks ended up being a correct projection on my part. I had thought the value of Damiere Byrd’s contract would not qualify against the Patriots, and that it would thus not cost them an additional comp pick on top of the 3rd and 4th rounders they had been awarded without any controversy for the departures of Tom Brady and Kyle Van Noy (the latter of who’s already back on the Patriots). The initial release of the comp picks by the NFL Management Council said otherwise, but now they have backtracked.

There are two possible reasons for this. One could have been that the qualification cutoff just needed to be nudged a little bit higher to disqualify Byrd’s contract, even at $1.9 million APY. However, I believe that is not the case, as it would cause misalignment in the valuation of other comp picks. Specifically, it is because the Patriots are only getting a 5th rounder for Jamie Collins’s departure, and not a 4th as I had projected. That valuation indicates that one thing that I still got wrong was that I had the wrong number of leaguewide players considered in the formula, regularly the most difficult aspect of projecting compensatory picks.

Instead, I am guessing that the NFL Management Council decided not to count the $300,000 in incentives that Byrd earned on the season. Further evidence of this comes from Michael Signora stating that the correction was “to the calculation of average yearly compensation”. Although Appendix V, Section 2(a) states that incentives “that are earned by the player in the first League Year of the contract” will count, my guess is that this was overridden by Paragraph 11, which allows for teams to designate signed unrestricted free agents as “Excluded UFAs” that automatically disqualify the player from qualifying as a compensatory free agent (CFA). Byrd’s base compensation was for $1.6 million, which fell below the threshold of $1.75 to qualify for Excluded UFA status. However, study into future similar contracts, where the base is below the threshold but adding earned incentives pushes it above, will be needed to verify whether this is the case.

Further evidence that there were miscalculations on the NFL Management Council’s part with regard to APY was an error in where one of the Falcons’ picks were placed. This one is easier to explain. I am guessing that they erroneously counted a $500,000 incentive in De’Vondre Campbell’s contract that would have been awarded had the Cardinals made the playoffs. I had added it in as a way to get Campbell to be placed in the right order, but since the Cardinals did not make the playoffs, clearly that was not earned by Campbell.

The lucky beneficiary of these errors were the Bears. Had the Patriots been properly awarded with a comp pick for Collins’s departure, Chicago’s second 6th rounder would have missed the 32 pick limit. However, the NFLPA was willing to relent on the 32 pick limit, and retain the awarding of that Bears pick.

Changes to my evaluation of the 2021 compensatory picks projection will be made to account for these corrections.

2022 Compensatory Picks Potential

The 2021 league year in the NFL officially starts on Wednesday, March 17. The two day negotiating period of free agency commences on Monday, March 15, and this is the time when we would typically get first knowledge of the largest contracts to be signed. With those contracts signed come the generation of compensatory picks for the 2021 NFL Draft, thus it’s time to take a look at what comp pick potential teams might be looking at.

Buffalo Bills

With Matt Milano recently extended, the only other pending UFA that might see serious action on the comp pick list would be Daryl Williams, who got his career back on track in Buffalo at right tackle. With some money to spend on a solid team with Super Bowl aspirations, the time to strike on signing the right CFA may be now. Potential: Very Low

Miami Dolphins

Ted Karras played every single snap at center on a 1-year deal. Davon Godchaux is a young interior defensive lineman that could see a comp pick worthy deal. Finally, there’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of the most popular veteran quarterbacks out there that even on a backup salary could be in consideration. But with only 13 pending UFAs and a team still being shaped for Brian Flores, more work on the free agent market could be in order. Potential: Low

New England Patriots

The Patriots have 20 total pending UFAs even after the new extensions to Cam Newton and Justin Bethel. Combine this with a team that regularly makes an effort to get them, and with previously tagged Joe Thuney not getting tagged again at the top of the list, and that should keep New England on the list somewhere. The only aggravating factors might be having the lowest payroll in the league to improve a roster on a team that missed the playoffs for the first time in ages. Potential: High

New York Jets

There are not many notable potential CFAs on the Jets’ list of pending UFAs (Breshad Perriman? Neville Hewitt?), and like their division rival Patriots, they are just below them with money to spend on a worse roster. I would expect the Jets to be one of the big teams to generate comp picks for other teams than for themselves. Potential: Very Low

Baltimore Ravens

It looks to be typical comp picks season in Baltimore once again for the 2022 NFL Draft. They’re down to only 12 pending UFAs, but they include two previously tagged edge rushers in Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon, a key reserve at the same position in Tyus Bowser, starting center Matt Skura, complementary wide receiver Willie Snead, and the perennially underrated Derek Wolfe. Potential: Very High

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals did not use a tag on either William Jackson III or Carl Lawson, and both players should be in high demand on the market. Combine this with 22 pending UFAs and a franchise that typically is not known for spending, we should expect the Bengals to break their usual drought of earning comp picks this time around. Potential: Very High

Cleveland Browns

Most of Cleveland’s pending UFAs of note that were big contributors last season are on the older side (Olivier Vernon, Malcolm Smith, Terrance Mitchell, Andrew Sendejo), which may depress their comp pick potential. Rashard Higgins is an intriguing option at wide receiver for teams should he not re-sign with the Browns. Like the Bills, a recent playoff team like the Browns might be better suited to make a push for the right CFAs right now. Potential: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers just emerged from a deep cap crunch, and one consequence is that they did not use any tag on possibly worthy players like JuJu Smith-Schuster or Bud Dupree. Both should expect good deals elsewhere if they leave Pittsburgh. But it doesn’t end there: Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, and Cameron Sutton are also key contributors hitting the market. The Steelers should be very competitive with the rival Ravens and Bengals in collecting comp picks for 2022. Potential: Very High

Houston Texans

Will Fuller is the only notable potential CFA of note for Houston this year, and given a new regime at both GM and head coach that’s in place, they may want to shape the roster to their own liking with external CFAs from teams they are familiar with. Potential: Very Low

Indianapolis Colts

Long time leading wide receiver TY Hilton leads this list, followed by other long time familiar names in the NFL like Justin Houston, Xavier Rhodes, and Denico Autry. The downside is that all of them are over 30. Younger names that teams might take a shot on are Marlon Mack and Malik Hooker, both recovering from injuries, and Jacoby Brissett could also be good for a high level backup contract that’s comp pick worthy. The Colts have some money to spend but they may also have room to gain some comp picks at the same time. Potential: Moderate

Jacksonville Jaguars

With Urban Meyer now in charge, the Jaguars having oodles of both cash and cap to spend, and with Keelan Cole leading a very unimpressive list of pending UFAs, look for the Jaguars to extend their league leading comp pick drought from 11 drafts to 12. Potential: Very Low

Tennessee Titans

Notable Titans hitting the free agency market are Jonnu Smith, Jayon Brown, Corey Davis, Desmond King, and DaQuan Jones, with the eternally curious contractual case of Jadeveon Clowney on the table as well. Last offseason, the Titans broke their long drought of comp picks with quality, focusing on one 3rd rounder for letting Jack Conklin depart, while extending other candidates in Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry. This time around, I’d expect more quantity coming Tennessee’s way. Potential: High

Denver Broncos

With Justin Simmons once again tagged, likely on the path to a long term extension, Shelby Harris is the only other pending UFA of note, and his value on the market has high variance to it at that. The Broncos’ needs in free agency are very targeted (cornerback, high level backup quarterback), but especially if they extend Harris this may be a good year for new GM George Paton to acquire more CFA talent if the price is right for now, laying the path for comp picks later. Potential: Low

Kansas City Chiefs

On the one hand, the Chiefs have a handful of intriguing potential CFAs that could similar intrigue teams. Bashaud Breeland, Austin Reiter, Demarcus Robinson, and Daniel Sorensen are among them, and never discount Sammy Watkins getting another big deal based on his high draft pedigree. On the other hand, their offensive line needs a ton of help, as Super Bowl LV demonstrated, and was confirmed with the recent cuts of long time tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, and they may have no choice but participate a little in the CFA market in order to fix it. Potential: Moderate

Las Vegas Raiders

Jon Gruden has never been shy in pursuing CFAs–even when they regularly don’t work out–nor has he been shy in tampering with them, either. With an offensive line decimated by recent cuts, a defense still very much struggling, and Nelson Agholor the only possible CFA of note, I expect Gruden to continue his modus operandi of being a league leader in signing CFAs, creating comp picks for other teams instead of the Raiders. Potential: Very Low

Los Angeles Chargers

Hunter Henry did not receive another tag, and thus he’ll be a leading tight end on the free agent market for teams to target. Melvin Ingram turns 32 but should also still have demand at edge rusher, too. Other players that could get comp pick worthy interest include Michael Davis, Rayshawn Jenkins, Denzel Perryman, and a trio of starting offensive linemen in Sam Tevi, Forrest Lamp, and Dan Feeney. However, given those last three pending departures, of which Trai Turner may soon join them, the Chargers’ comp pick potential could be hampered by the necessity to sign CFA offensive linemen. Potential: Moderate

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys prioritize keeping their own homegrown players–like Dak Prescott–over signing external veterans, and this practice naturally leads them to earn comp picks. This offseason should be no different, with players like Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, and Tyrone Crawford hitting the market, with Andy Dalton still likely good for a high backup QB salary that would be comp pick worthy. Potential: High

New York Giants

With Leonard Williams tagged again, the defensive lineman that will likely get the most attention in free agency will be Dalvin Tomlinson. Kyler Fackrell could also get some attention after playing out a one year deal in New York, while Wayne Gallman caught some eyes in relief of Saquon Barkley in 2020. An aggravating factor is that there’s not many other notable CFAs beyond this trio, but a mitigating factor is that the Giants don’t have a lot of cap space to work with to pursue external CFAs. Potential: Moderate

Philadelphia Eagles

Never count out Howie Roseman in the quest for comp picks, but this looks like a weak year for him to pursue them for Philadelphia. Jalen Mills is the only Eagle that looks to sign a comp pick worthy contract on a low list of 12 pending UFAs. However, with the Eagles holding a high payroll and low cap space, that might end up naturally creating a comp pick or two for them. Potential: Low

Washington Football Team

The two names to watch here would be Ronald Darby, who may finally get his chance to earn a lucrative long term deal, and Ryan Kerrigan, long a reliable edge rusher but no longer has a path to starting in DC with Chase Young and Montez Sweat now in town. However, Ron Rivera does have cash to spend to improve the team if he so chooses, so there is reasonable doubt as to whether he’ll pursue the path of comp picks down the road, or CFA help right now Potential: Moderate

Chicago Bears

The Bears have 20 pending UFAs, but there’s only two of them that might be comp pick worthy: defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris, and of course Mitch Trubisky, even if it’s only on a backup contract. If the Bears do get comp picks, it’ll likely be similar to last offseason, with more quantity than quality, getting 6th or 7th rounders on the lower end of the list. Potential: Low

Detroit Lions

Kenny Golladay was not tagged by the Lions, making him perhaps the most desired wide receiver that will become a UFA. Romeo Okwara and Marvin Jones round out a list of 18 total pending UFAs. The Lions typically do not prioritize comp picks, but on one hand there is a new GM in Brad Holmes in the building, and like many teams the Lions are on the cap brink. But on the other hand, Holmes may want to immediately craft his new roster to his liking, starting with free agency. If the Lions do pursue comp picks, the priority will likely be focusing on preserving a 3rd rounder for Golladay’s departure. Potential: Moderate

Green Bay Packers

It looks like business as usual for generating comp picks for Green Bay. Corey Linsley and Aaron Jones will be the two leading names to watch here, and despite his playoff struggles Kevin King could get a comp pick worthy deal as well. Combine their history with a payroll that’s already been dedicated to the players they’ve committed to keep, and it would be a surprise if we don’t see the Packers on the final comp pick list. Potential: Very High

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings’ quantity of pending UFAs is low at 11, but they do have some quality to work with here. That starts with Anthony Harris, who will not be tagged again, and fellow defenders in Eric Wilson and Jaleel Johnson. The question will be whether Minnesota has to hold off on signing CFAs of their own to avoid canceling any of these possible departures. Potential: Moderate

Atlanta Falcons

Alex Mack turns 36, but may still have plenty of desire for teams to continue his career at center. Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, and Sharrod Neasman will be a trio of safeties that could also pique attention elsewhere. With other peripheral names like Darqueze Dennard or Charles Harris on the table, there’s no one that stands out for the Falcons but their pending UFA slate is not desolate, either. Potential: Moderate

Carolina Panthers

There’s not a lot of intriguing names slated to leave Charlotte: Curtis Samuel and Mike Davis might be the only headliners. Perhaps Russell Okung can still find attention at a desirable position at tackle. Also working against the Panthers getting comp picks is having plenty of money to spend on a team that still needs improvement. Potential: Low

New Orleans Saints

The Saints surprisingly tagged Marcus Williams, but even with him off the market they have lots of other pending UFAs that will draw interest. They include Trey Hendrickson, Alex Anzalone, Sheldon Rankins, and Jameis Winston. Combine this with one of the most nightmarish cap situations the NFL has seen in years, and it may no longer be prudent to regularly note that the Saints historically don’t care about comp picks. Potential: Very High

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs tagged Chris Godwin, and extended Lavonte David, so those moves, though obviously a net positive for the franchise, depressed their comp pick potential for 2022. But they still have Shaq Barrett to try to also extend before he’d hit the market as a very desirable edge rusher. Other players with contracts expiring are Ndamukong Suh, Leonard Fournette, and while it would seem highly unlikely that Rob Gronkowski or Antonio Brown would play elsewhere, they also are without new contracts. Conclude this with a total of 23 pending UFAs, and even if the Bucs succeed in extending Barrett, they should still be in play for comp picks. Potential: Moderate

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are tied for the lead with a division rival with pending UFAs at 26. That alone will put them in play for some form of comp picks. Most of them won’t generate such picks, but there’s enough notable names at the top (Haason Reddick, Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Beachum, De’Vondre Campbell, Dre Kirkpatrick) that they could be in good shape even if they decide to pursue external CFAs to sign. Potential: High

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are the inverse of all of their division rivals: low in quantity (11 pending UFAs) but high in quality (John Johnson, Leonard Floyd, Troy Hill, Austin Blythe, Josh Reynolds, Gerald Everett Samson Ebukam). Combine this with their payroll very locked in on their top players, and their draft capital depleted from acquiring such players, and the Rams will likely appreciate some high comp picks to help fill that void. Potential: Very High

San Francisco 49ers

And it’s the 49ers that are the aforementioned tie with the Cardinals in leading in pending UFAs. And there’s some good names set to hit the market, too: Trent Williams, Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Kerry Hyder, Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Juszczyk, Jaquiski Tartt, and Jason Verrett. Like the Cardinals, the 49ers should have no problem earning comp picks even if they sign external CFAs to replace some of them. Potential: Very High

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks also have a high number of pending UFAs at 21, and like the 49ers and Cardinals there are names that could get attention on the market at the top. They include Shaquill Griffin, Chris Carson, David Moore, Quinton Dunbar, and perhaps most intriguing is the very long tenured KJ Wright. Seattle is not afraid of signing CFAs from other teams if they feel they need them, but they also have a long history of prioritizing comp picks. Potential: High

New Changes to OTC’s Draft Section

In preparation for free agency, of which will result in the beginning of the creation of a new slate of compensatory picks, as well as the draft itself, OTC’s section on the draft has been upgraded to better serve the needs of learning more about the draft from a contractual standpoint.

Streamlined Draft Page

OTC’s main draft page will be keeping things simpler for the time being. One table, listing all draft picks, and what contract each pick will receive. This will allow for more flexibility in the future to add more possible draft features, as well as to build an archive of previous drafts.

Rookie pools have been updated to account for the current salary cap. Updates on traded picks have also been made, a process that will be finalized when the NFL releases its full draft order soon.

Centralized Compensatory Picks Page

You’ll now find on the same page OTC’s list of projected compensatory picks, as well as cancellation charts for all 32 teams. Our goal here is to make it easier for readers to understand how comp picks are assigned by being able to see the list and charts side by side in one view.

Currently, comp pick information for 2021 is up, as well as for 2022, which will update in real time as compensatory free agent (CFA) signings are agreed upon, starting next week. Comp pick history for previous drafts will be restored in the near future. OTC’s old comp pick cancellation charts page is now deprecated and will be sunsetted in the near future, so please use this link to OTC’s compensatory picks page from here on out.

Compensatory Formula Page

Appendix V of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement ended the official secrecy of the compensatory formula. To help to provide more transparency to how the compensatory formula works, we’ve created a dedicated page on the subject. Here, you will see all players considered in the formula, with CFAs highlighted, as well as OTC’s projections on how each player’s points are calculated in order to rank them by round. This is a good place to go if you understand the basics well and are looking to go into the weeds on why certain players are valued at certain rounds.

Fitzgerald-Spielberger Trade Value Chart

Finally, we have created a page to reference our recommended trade value chart, devised by OTC founder Jason Fitzgerald and Pro Football Focus analyst Brad Spielberger. Use this chart to assist in whether trades of draft picks make good sense, and to learn more, consider reading The Drafting Stage.

* * * *

To access all of OTC’s draft tools, go to its dedicated dropdown on the navigation dashboard. We hope these upgrades will make your draft-oriented, contract-based information gathering better!

Introducing New Cash Flow Features To OTC

There are several important factors to consider when analyzing NFL contracts. Most observers are well aware of the Average Per Year (APY), as well as how essential fully guaranteed money is for the well being of players and for the roster management of teams.

But cash flows–the timing of when, and how much, money goes from a team to a player–is the other important metric that doesn’t get as much attention, yet should. And we at OTC hope to raise more awareness of cash flows to the NFL discourse.

Securing the bag

To explain the importance, let’s say that you are good enough at your job that someone is willing to pay a very large sum of money to you over a course of multiple years. In what manner would you want that money to be distributed to you? Generally, you want as much as you can get as soon as possible. That’s because it would give you greater ability to utilize the benefit of money to its fullest extent, whether that is spending it on goods and services that would immediately improve your life, or taking advantage of compound interest via investing on your part, instead of your employer’s.

In the NFL, the importance of getting as much cash as you can as soon as you can is considerably heightened when, as is well known, the length of contracts can be deceiving. A recent OTC database query indicates that most contracts of three years or more fail to last beyond two seasons, with the odds of the contract being terminated after just one season being greater than the contract being fully completed.

As such, a contract with a very high APY or even high guarantees may end up being a poor deal for the player if the cash is backloaded into seasons the player never sees with the team.

Our new cash flow features

To help you better understand how cash flows in the NFL work, we’ve launched two resources to get you started just before free agency, with plans to expand in the future.

The first is our central cash flows page that can be found under the Contracts dropdown of OTC’s dashboard. Here, you’ll find all active contracts listed by how much they are paying over the course of each year of the contract. As with other pages, the columns are sortable and can be filtered by team and position.

There are two tabs to view:

  • Annual cash payments are a useful place to go to see just how much cash is due to a player in any given year, which can be important in times like this when teams are judging whether they feel players are worth those payments, even regardless of their accounting on the current salary cap.
  • However, the view is defaulted to running cash flows, which are a summation of how much the player is set to earn over the course of the contract. This is more important in judging the cash value of a contract as a whole, instead of over just a given year.

To further illustrate the importance of running cash flows, let’s go right to the top four contracts in APY in the league, all quarterbacks:

Patrick Mahomes has been renowned for shattering the APY ceiling in the NFL. But take a look at how much money is coming to him in the first four years of his extension, officially starting in 2022. Mahomes is behind all three of his peers in earning new money through the first two years, does not pass Aaron Rodgers until Year 3, and is still behind Deshaun Watson by Year 4.

Mahomes shouldn’t be begrudged for choosing to play the long game–he is in a very safe position in the NFL, after all. But there’s a reason why ten year contracts like he signed are extremely rare–almost all other players in the NFL won’t get the benefit from a team of presumptive employment that long. Instead, the aim for players is to frontload as much cash as you can early on in the contract.

The second view is that each active player now has a cash flow section on his dedicated page, right below the main contract details and notes. This section will document the annual and running cash due to each player, as well as visualizing the progress he has made in his contract.

Let’s use Garett Bolles, a left tackle recently extended by the Broncos, as an example:

Within his $68 million extension was a shade under $2 million classified as old money, cash that he had already earned or was scheduled to earn under his previous contract. Bolles was paid a $20 million signing bonus to kick off his new contract, of which has obviously been marked as earned. As you can see, Bolles has already surpassed more than a quarter of earning his entire contract.

But in 2021, the first official year of his extension, you can see how minimal his pay is, just $1 million. This is somewhat a misleading extreme, as this feature was designed more to keep Bolles’s 2021 cap number low. But when this view is paired with comparison at his peers at his position, it can be demonstrated that it will take him longer to earn his money. Of course, like with Mahomes, Bolles shouldn’t be begrudged for his decision to get the comfort of knowing where he’s going to play for the long term.

Preparing for free agency

As we see start to see news of new contracts trickle out 10 days from now, keep an eye on how these contracts measure up in cash flows. Typically, when you see an NFL insider explicitly report that a player will be paid $X in the first year, $Y over two years, $Z over three years, and so on, the source is coming from the agents’ side that is positive about how the cash will flow to the player. Similarly, whenever you hear a report that contains only the APY and/or guarantees, even if impressive, once we have the contract up on OTC double check to see how the cash flows stack up with other positional comparables. It might end up demonstrating that the player ceded ground on this metric in return.

Projecting The 2021 Compensatory Picks

This article refers specifically to OTC’s projection for the 2021 NFL Draft’s compensatory picks. For details on the basics and methodology of projecting compensatory picks in general, please reference this article. Note that this projection does not include compensatory picks awarded via 2020 Resolution JC-2A, of which, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, are awarded separately.

To understand how this projection is generated for each team, please reference the compensatory picks cancellation charts here.

The Projection

TeamRoundCompensated DepartureAPY
NE3Tom Brady$27,375,000
LAC3Philip Rivers$25,000,000
NO3Teddy Bridgewater$21,000,000
DAL3Byron Jones$16,500,000
TEN3Jack Conklin$14,000,000
LAR3Dante Fowler Jr.$15,000,000
DAL4Robert Quinn$14,000,000
NE4Kyle Van Noy$12,750,000
LAR4Cory Littleton$11,750,000
PIT4Javon Hargrave$13,000,000
GB4Blake Martinez$10,250,000
MIN4Trae Waynes$14,000,000
KC4Kendall Fuller$10,000,000
NE4Jamie Collins$10,000,000
GB5Bryan Bulaga$10,000,000
DAL5Randall Cobb$9,000,000
KC5Emmanuel Ogbah$7,500,000
ATL5Vic Beasley$9,500,000
SF5Emmanuel Sanders$8,000,000
ATL5De’Vondre Campbell$7,000,000
BAL5Michael Pierce$9,000,000
CAR5Vernon Butler$7,625,000
TB5Breshad Perriman$6,500,000
ATL6Wes Schweitzer$4,500,000
CHI6Nicholas Williams$5,000,000
PHI6Jordan Howard$4,875,000
GB6Kyler Fackrell$4,600,000
MIN6Mackensie Alexander$4,000,000
CAR6Daryl Williams$3,350,000
CHI6Chase Daniel$4,350,000
PIT6Sean Davis$4,000,000
DAL6Jeff Heath$3,375,000
Compensation over 34-pick limit; not awarded
PHI6Ronald Darby$3,000,000
CHI6Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix$3,750,000
PIT6Tyler Matakevich$3,575,000
TB6Beau Allen$3,500,000
CHI6Kevin Pierre-Louis$3,000,000
ATL7Adrian Clayborn$2,875,000
PHI7Kamu Grugier-Hill$3,000,000
MIN7Andrew Sendejo$2,250,000
IND7Devin Funchess$2,500,000
NE7Elandon Roberts$2,125,000
IND7Joe Haeg$2,300,000
MIN7Jayron Kearse$2,000,000
BAL7Patrick Onwuasor$2,000,000

Note that although there are 45 eligible compensatory picks listed in this projection, each year only exactly 32 picks are awarded. Therefore, the picks that rank 33rd and lower are not awarded, although the official release will typically acknowledge presence of any comp picks in excess of 32, as this list does with strikethrough text.

Typically, the official release comes out on the Friday before the NFL Scouting Combine. However, since a traditional combine will highly likely not take place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be no reliable date to expect this release. Thus, expect the release to be some time after the Super Bowl (February 7) but before the start of free agency (March 17).

New Challenges

Last year was my most successful projection, correctly identifying all eligible compensatory picks to each team, and being off by one round on only three picks. However, this year I do not expect to be anywhere near close to that accurate, due to significant changes in the compensatory formula, as well as sui generis factors due to the pandemic.

Changes from the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement

The 2020 CBA revealed, via Appendix V, how the compensatory formula is governed. Notable explicit changes and revelations are as follows:

  • Per game roster bonuses now count in full. In the past, such bonuses declared not likely to be earned (NLTBE) may not have consistently counted.
  • Workout bonuses, weight bonuses, incentives, and escalators will count if they are either ones earned in the first year of the player’s contract, or are considered likely to be earned (LTBE).
  • The only honors that are recognized are those awarded by the AP All-Pro and PFWA On-Field Awards lists–and their recognition is minimal.
  • Compensatory free agents (CFAs) must now rank in the top 35% of leaguewide players to qualify. Previously, this was 50%.
  • The restriction of compensation to the 5th round for players with 10 or more accrued seasons does not apply to quarterbacks. (This is highly relevant this year due to the presence of Tom Brady and Philip Rivers as CFAs, whose departures should award the top two comp picks.)
  • Players, even if they are otherwise considered Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) are no longer eligible to become CFAs if they did not complete the “Maximum Possible Term” of their contract. Specifically, this removes the ability of teams to get comp picks for players with declined options. The only exception to this new rule are for automatic void years for purposes of prorating cap dollars.
  • Players who sign Veteran Salary Benefit contracts are ineligible to become CFAs. (However, moving the percentile qualification to 35% likely makes this rule moot.)
  • Teams may now designate players as “Excluded UFAs” that disqualify them from being CFAs, so long as they are signed to one year deals for no more than $1.75 million. This projection assumes that all such players were designated as such.

In addition, there are a few changes not explicitly written but may be implicit:

  • Appendix V makes no mention of the previous rule of players being disqualified from being CFAs if they were cut in their first season before Week 10, or before they accrued 10 weeks on the roster. This omission is believed to imply that this rule has been abolished, and thus once a CFA is signed, he will remain a CFA.
  • While Appendix V explicitly says that the period for signings counting in the compensatory formula ends on the Monday following the NFL Draft, this may also include signings that were agreed upon in principle before that date, even if they were officially signed after.

Changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic

In addition to these long term changes in the CBA, on August 3, 2020 the owners and players agreed to a short term agreement that alters operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those changes included a Reserve/COVID-19 list where players were placed upon should they have contracted the virus, or been in close contact with someone who has contracted it, and also included an opt-out mechanism for players who did not want to play during the pandemic.

This agreement made no mention of how it would affect the compensatory formula, so we are left to try to piece that part of the puzzle for ourselves:

  • The first question would be whether players who opted out, of which included a few key CFAs, would still count in the compensatory formula. Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic reports that the answer is yes. Additionally, it is reasonable to speculate that such players, since they didn’t play, will receive no boost in their ranking from snap counts.
  • There is also the question of whether players who were on the Reserve/COVID-19 list will count as players in the number of leaguewide players CFAs are judged against. Appendix V says that number is “all players on rosters at the conclusion of a regular season”. Typically, this appears to include players that are on reserve lists, of which Reserve/COVID-19 is one of them. However, if they are not counted, it would change the cutoffs for each round and for CFA qualification, and potentially the awarded comp picks themselves.

Cutoff Projections

On that note, let’s address that most difficult part of projecting the compensatory picks–accurately identifying where these cutoffs lie. That is because the larger subset of the leaguewide players of which the smaller subset of compensatory free agents are judged against is never the same size, and requires accurately tracking roster transactions for thousands of players–a feat that will always have a margin of error.

At the end of the 2020 regular season, OTC’s database identified a total of 2,158 players that were either on the active roster or reserve lists. This number includes 64 players that were on the Reserve/COVID-19 list at that time. If 2,158 is an accurate number, this is what the cutoffs would look like:

RoundPercentileOverall RankRepresentative Player
3rd/4th95th (top 5%)109Derrick Henry
4th/5th90th (top 10%)217Rob Gronkowski
5th/6th85th (top 15%)325Saquon Barkley
6th/7th75th (top 25%)541DJ Moore
7th/Qualify65th (top 35%)756Christian Kirk

However, if the Reserve COVID/19 players are not counted, the number would be 2,094, and the cutoffs would look like this:

RoundPercentileOverall RankRepresentative Player
3rd/4th95th (top 5%)106Eric Fisher
4th/5th90th (top 10%)210Alex Mack
5th/6th85th (top 15%)315Laken Tomlinson
6th/7th75th (top 25%)525Derek Wolfe
7th/Qualify65th (top 35%)734Andy Janovich

The difference is subtle, but in a few cases may change the projection of certain comp picks.

Players On The Cutoff Bubbles

While it is my hope that my projection of where the cutoffs lie is correct, there is enough of a margin of error that the players that are very close to them may fall on the opposite side of where I have them projected. In most cases, if I’m wrong it means that the team in question will still get a comp pick for that player, but that it may be in a round higher or lower. But in a few cases (those are bolded), it could change cancellations, possibly taking away or greatly devaluing a projected comp pick—or possibly adding or greatly upgrading a comp pick.


  • Dante Fowler (Los Angeles Rams): #93
  • Possible projected 3rd/4th cutoff: #106
  • Possible projected 3rd/4th cutoff: #109
  • Robert Quinn (Dallas): #118
  • Kyle Van Noy (New England): #120


  • Jamie Collins (New England): #194
  • Possible projected 4th/5th cutoff: #210
  • Possible projected 4th/5th cutoff: #217


  • Vernon Butler (Carolina): #296
  • Breshad Perriman (Tampa Bay): #302
  • Possible projected 5th/6th cutoff: #315
  • AJ Klein (New Orleans): #322
  • Possible projected 5th/6th cutoff: #325
  • Maliek Collins (Dallas): #326


  • Ted Karras (New England): #492
  • Jeff Heath (Philadelphia): #497
  • Ronald Darby (Philadelphia): #499
  • Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (Chicago): #510
  • Tyler Matakevich (Pittsburgh): #519
  • Adrian Phillips (San Angeles): #520
  • Beau Allen (Tampa Bay): #524
  • Possible projected 6th/7th cutoff: #525
  • Derek Wolfe (Denver): #531
  • Kevin Pierre-Lewis: #539
  • Possible projected 6th/7th cutoff: #541
  • Greg Zuerlein: #544
  • Derek Watt (Pittsburgh): #549
  • Xavier Su’a-Filo (Dallas): #562
  • Kamu Grugier-Hill: #585


  • Jayron Kearse (Minnesota): #719
  • Nate Ebner (New England): #722
  • Patrick Onwuasor (Baltimore): #723
  • Possible projected 7th/Qualifying cutoff: #734
  • Possible projected 7th/Qualifying cutoff: #756

Qualifying/Valuation Questions

As mentioned above, CFAs who were cut before the regular season ended are believed to still remain CFAs in the compensatory formula. But just in case, those specific players this year were Gerald McCoy, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Sean Davis, Seth Roberts, Vic Beasley, and Jordan Howard.

Similarly, it is believed that players who opted out of the 2020 season will also count in the formula. The only two relevant CFAs in this group would be Michael Pierce and Devin Funchess.

On top of all this, the most unusual contract signed this offseason for purposes of CFA qualification was that of Jameis Winston. I’ll quote what I said back in April on this subject:

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.

Possible Altering Scenarios

  • Baltimore
    • If Seth Roberts and Patrick Onwuasor qualify, and Derek Wolfe’s contract is valued as a 7th rounder, Baltimore will get a 6th for Roberts.
  • Carolina
    • If Vernon Butler’s contract is valued in the 6th round, Carolina will get a 6th for Greg Van Roten instead of a 5th for Butler.
  • Dallas
    • If Maliek Collins’s contract is valued in the 5th round, Dallas will get a 5th for him instead of a 6th for Jeff Heath.
    • If Maliek Collins’s contract is valued in the 6th round, and the contracts of Jeff Heath, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, and Greg Zuerlein are valued in the 7th round, Dallas will get a higher 6th for Jason Witten.
    • If the contracts of Maliek Collins, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, and Greg Zuerlein are all valued in the 6th round, Dallas will not get a 6th for Jeff Heath, and an eligible 7th for Xavier Su’a-Filo will not make the 32 pick limit.
  • New England
    • If one of the contracts of either Adrian Phillips or Beau Allen are valued in the 7th round, and Ted Karras’s contract is valued in the 6th round, New England will get a 6th for Karras.
    • If the contracts of both Adrian Phillips and Beau Allen are valued in the 7th round, New England will get a 6th for Danny Shelton.
  • New Orleans
    • If Jameis Winston does not qualify, New Orleans will get a 5th or a 6th for AJ Klein.
  • Pittsburgh
    • If Derek Watt’s contract is valued in the 6th round, Pittsburgh will not get a 6th for Sean Davis, and an eligible 7th for Nick Vannett will not make the 32 pick limit.
  • Tampa Bay
    • If Jameis Winston does not qualify, Tampa Bay will not be eligible for any comp pick for Beau Allen in any scenario.
    • If Jameis Winston qualifies but Beau Allen’s contract is valued in the 7th round, Tampa Bay will not be eligible for a comp pick for Allen, and instead be eligible for a 7th for Winston that will not make the 32 pick limit.