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.
|LAR||3||Dante Fowler Jr.||$15,000,000|
|NE||4||Kyle Van Noy||$12,750,000|
|Compensation over 34-pick limit; not awarded|
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).
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.
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:
|Round||Percentile||Overall Rank||Representative Player|
|3rd/4th||95th (top 5%)||109||Derrick Henry|
|4th/5th||90th (top 10%)||217||Rob Gronkowski|
|5th/6th||85th (top 15%)||325||Saquon Barkley|
|6th/7th||75th (top 25%)||541||DJ Moore|
|7th/Qualify||65th (top 35%)||756||Christian Kirk|
However, if the Reserve COVID/19 players are not counted, the number would be 2,094, and the cutoffs would look like this:
|Round||Percentile||Overall Rank||Representative Player|
|3rd/4th||95th (top 5%)||106||Eric Fisher|
|4th/5th||90th (top 10%)||210||Alex Mack|
|5th/6th||85th (top 15%)||315||Laken Tomlinson|
|6th/7th||75th (top 25%)||525||Derek Wolfe|
|7th/Qualify||65th (top 35%)||734||Andy 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.