The Compensatory Draft Pick Program Is Ready For 2016 (With One Big Question)

A new update and a new addition has been made to the program devoted to projecting the NFL’s compensatory draft picks. These two items now have the program prepared to track not only the past (2015), but also the future (2016 and onward).

The update now has the 2016 tab on OTC’s draft page operational. Right now, the list of 2016 comp picks is quite boring—it is just showing the order of a hypothetical 8th round based on the 2015 draft order. Those represent the “non-compensatory” draft picks that would be awarded if there were fewer than 32 compensatory picks awarded. With no UFAs having been signed yet, this is the result we would get. However, once the deluge of free agent signings begins on March 10, you will see those non-compensatory picks rapidly disappear. As news comes of the APYs earned by UFA signings, the program will be promptly updated with the new data, so you can see where teams stand on potentially earning 2016 picks in real time. I will also occasionally post updates as the offseason progresses to analyze some significant developments.

To assist in understanding how teams are gaining and/or losing picks, the new addition I have made is the Compensatory Draft Picks Cancellation Chart. This chart, broken down by each team, will display all UFAs lost and gained, and illustrate which lost free agent is cancelled out by which gained free agent. This should help readers understand better how the formula works, and to also analyze and judge whether certain teams should be wary of adding more UFAs at the risk of losing 2016 picks. Obviously, the 2016 tab is currently devoid of players, but you can look at 2015 to get a example of what’s to come, and also to assist in answering any lingering questions you may have about 2015’s current projections.


With every year that passes with the compensatory draft pick process, there are usually one or two questions that emerge, either from newly discovered rules of the formula, or changes to the NFL contract rules in general. In 2016, the big question that I see lurking out there is how the formula will treat two types of team options on previous contracts.

The first of the two has to do with the fact that this is the first offseason in which the inaugural draft class (2011) of the current CBA will hit free agency. As you likely know, this CBA dictates that all drafted rookies sign four year contracts, but first round picks have a team option for a fifth season placed in their deals. While the majority of the 2011 first rounders had their fifth year option picked up, the players that did not have their options picked up and have an expiring contract are the following:

  • Jake Locker (Titans)
  • Blaine Gabbert (49ers)
  • Christian Ponder (Vikings)
  • Nick Fairley (Lions)
  • Adrian Clayborn (Bucs)
  • James Carpenter (Seahawks)
  • Mark Ingram (Saints)

The second type has to do with a few veteran contracts that had team options in them. The three players that could potentially raise question marks for the 2016 are the following:

The spirit of the compensatory draft pick formula is to compensate teams who lost players against their will. In general, if there’s a way that a team can retain a player without that player’s consent (not cutting the player and placing a tender the most common), that player will not qualify for the formula it the team makes the active decision to part ways with that player. He will qualify if his contract naturally expires, or if it automatically voids “phony” years primarily used for salary cap maintenance.

By that spirit, on the surface a team option, where a team has an active choice to retain a player, may suggest that such a player wouldn’t qualify for the formula. But in these cases it isn’t nearly as clear cut. In the case of the 2011 first rounders the formula could very well construe the fifth-year options as more of a contract extension on a standard rookie four year contract than a direct declining of a more established fifth year. With the three veteran contracts, it hasn’t been common for team options to have deadlines soon before free agency. As a result, it has proven more difficult to research for previous examples from the past than I imagined.

Because OTC currently lists Melton and the 2011 first rounders as UFAs, I will count them as qualifying players for the 2016 projection. But since we are headed into uncharted waters on both of these fronts, in the future I’ll be sure to include scenarios in case they don’t qualify, provided that they are relevant to the end result. In the meantime, for the veterans I’d appreciate it if anyone out there knows of any players in the past that had similar team options declined on their contracts. You need not know anything about the compensatory pick process—once I have the names I can do the dirty work on that myself. If you have any examples, please post them in the comments section of this post.