Declined Team Options Will No Longer Allow Players To Become Compensatory Free Agents

One of the odd quirks of the NFL’s complicated compensatory pick formula is that if a contract includes a team option on a future year of the contract, and the team declines that option, making the player an unrestricted free agent, that player would qualify as a compensatory free agent (CFA) in the team’s favor.

This quirk has never made sense with regard to the spirit of the idea behind compensatory picks: that teams should be compensated for players that they lose beyond their control. For example, this has been consistent with regard to any contract that was terminated, or if a team declines to offer a restricted free agent tender–in each case, the team had a way to keep the player if they so wanted to. In practice, the team also has the same choice when declining a team option, but the compensatory formula still counted it. Historically, the teams that have exploited this loophole are the Patriots, Broncos, and Ravens, and in recent years the 49ers under John Lynch and the Eagles under Howie Roseman have also been exceptionally aggressive about it.

But this is coming to an end. A source informs OTC’s Brad Spielberger that players who have their team options declined will no longer qualify as compensatory free agents.

While this is a big change for projecting future compensatory picks, there are a few additional facets, some of which may still cast questions on how this rule change will be handled.

First, this rule changes does not apply to players on first round rookie contracts that had their fifth year option declined. This is likely because, unlike the problematic team options described above that are singularly negotiated between a player and a team, these fifth year options are mandated leaguewide by Art. 7, §7 of the CBA.

Second, it is unclear precisely when this rule change occurred. It is clear that the rule change did not affect the 2018 compensatory picks, as Denver got a 3rd rounder after declining Russell Okung’s option. But I was unable to find a similar example among the 2019 comp picks. For the time being, we believe that the best guess is at the start of the 2019 league year on March 13.

For the upcoming 2020 comp picks projection, the only player that could be affected by this rule change is Nick Foles. However, his situation is complex. Philadelphia actually exercised his team option, but then Foles immediately countered that move by declining his own player option, becoming a free agent. I will not be changing my projection that the loss of Foles will earn the Eagles a 3rd round comp pick, but I will add a note in my projection in case I’m wrong.

Finally, it is also unclear whether contracts signed before whenever the rule change was made will be granted a grandfather clause by the compensatory formula. The answer to this question may alter the plans of some teams as to how they want to handle the contracts of players with upcoming team options.

The following is a list of players that have team options on their upcoming contracts. Option deadlines highlighted in yellow are ones that for the 2020 year of that contract. We will have to keep a close eye on whether or not these contracts have their options declined or not as we get closer to the start of the 2020 league year, and make a special case as to whether or not these players will qualify as CFAs if their options are declined.

PlayerTeamDate SignedOption DeadlineOption Year(s)
Von MillerBroncos7/15/20163/17/20202020
Von MillerBroncos7/15/20163/9/20212021
Vance McDonaldSteelers12/9/20163/17/20202020
Vance McDonaldSteelers12/9/20163/9/20212021
Ronald LearyBroncos3/10/20173/17/20202020
Kyle Juszczyk49ers3/10/20173/17/20202020
Brandon CarrRavens3/16/20173/17/20202020
Brandon McManusBroncos9/11/20173/17/20202020
K’Waun Williams49ers9/29/20173/17/20202020
Daniel KilgoreDolphins2/14/20183/17/20202020
Jerick McKinnon49ers3/1/20183/9/20212021
Start of 2018 League Year
Todd DavisBroncos3/14/20183/17/20202020
Weston Richburg49ers3/14/20183/9/20212021
Weston Richburg49ers3/14/20183/8/20222022
Nickell Robey-ColemanRams3/15/20183/17/20202020
Dontari PoePanthers3/18/20183/15/20202020
Jarius WrightPanthers3/20/20183/17/20202020
Cameron ErvingChiefs9/4/20183/17/20202020
Jarrod WilsonJaguars1/21/20192/25/20202020
Bobby MassieBears1/31/20193/19/20212021
Bobby MassieBears1/31/20193/15/20212022-2023
Spencer LongBills2/12/20193/17/20202020
Spencer LongBills2/12/20193/13/20212021
Marcell DareusJaguars2/26/20192/25/20202020
Matt SchaubFalcons3/5/20192/25/20202020
Isaac SeumaloEagles3/5/20194/2/20202022-2024
Jason KelceEagles3/5/20193/27/20202021
Brandon GrahamEagles3/11/20194/2/20202021-2023
Eric WeddleRams3/11/20193/17/20202020
Brett KernTitans3/11/20193/12/20212021-2022
Start of 2019 League Year
Nigel BradhamEagles3/13/20193/17/20202020
Nigel BradhamEagles3/13/20193/12/20212021
Nigel BradhamEagles3/13/20193/12/20222022
Adrian PetersonRedskins3/14/20192/25/20202020
Jason McCourtyPatriots3/14/20193/17/20202020
Jamize OlawaleCowboys3/14/20193/17/20202020-2021
DeSean JacksonEagles3/14/20193/22/20202021
Ja’Wuan JamesBroncos3/15/20193/12/20222022
Cameron FlemingCowboys3/15/20193/17/20202020
Mark Nzeocha49ers3/15/20193/12/20212021
Chris ConleyJaguars3/16/20192/25/20202020
Chris ReedPanthers3/19/20193/17/20202020
Robbie Gould49ers7/14/201912/31/20202021-2022
Damon HarrisonLions8/22/20193/15/20212021