Free agency in the NFL is always filled with fool’s gold. Sometimes a team strikes real gold, but It’s well established that many high profile free agent signings don’t live up to the billing of their contract. Some of these signings also have long lasting effects via the compensatory draft pick system. As the league starts to gear up for 2017’s free agency period, I thought I’d add another annual piece to studying the compensatory pick system by looking three years back and pinpointing teams that either navigated free agency in 2014 so poorly that it cost them comp picks in 2015, or navigated it wisely and got talent that outweighed the sacrifice of potential 2015 comp picks.
For reference, you may find the list of the 2015 compensatory picks awarded here, and the cancellation charts for all 32 teams here. (Select the 2015 tabs on both pages.)
- CFAs Lost (3): Jairus Byrd (4th), Alex Carrington (7th), Arthur Moats (7th)
- CFAs Gained (5): Corey Graham (5th), Brandon Spikes (6th), Chris Williams (6th), Keith Rivers (7th), Anthony Dixon (7th)
Graham was a worthwhile acquisition for the Bills, becoming a 16-game starter in 2015 and 2016 with a decent chance to finish off his 4 year, $16.3 million contract. However, Spikes, Williams and Rivers spent only the 2014 season with the Bills, with Williams and Rivers being particularly questionable acquisitions as each player only started three games. Had Buffalo passed on those three players, Graham would have cancelled out one of the 7th rounders, thus opening up a 4th round comp pick for Byrd.
- CFAs Lost (3): TJ Ward (4th), Shawn Lauvao (5th), Oniel Cousins (7th)
- CFAs Gained (5): Donte Whitner (4th), Karlos Dansby (5th), Ben Tate (6th), Jim Dray (7th), Paul McQuistan (7th)
The current Browns regime almost certainly would have gone nowhere near signing any of these five players, preferring to gain 4th and 5th round comp picks for Ward and Lauvao. But while Tate was a notable bust free agent acquisition, Whitner and Dansby at least were regular starters for the Browns in both 2014 and 2015, so it’s tough to definitively argue that the Browns made a mistake in canceling out their possible comp picks for Ward and Lauvao.
- CFAs Lost (6): Emmanuel Sanders (5th), Ziggy Hood (6th), Al Woods (7th), Jerricho Cotchery (7th), Ryan Clark (7th), David Johnson (7th; failed to make 32-pick limit)
- CFAs Gained (4): Mike Mitchell (5th), Cam Thomas (7th), LeGarrette Blount (7th), Arthur Moats (7th)
This is a nitpicking of the Steelers, as signing Mitchell was clearly worth giving up a 5th round comp pick, and their only other gains would have been 7th rounders. But Blount was such a famous free agent bust for Pittsburgh—ending up back on the Patriots before the season was over to add insult to injury—that I think it’s fair to note that they would have got a 7th for Clark above the 32 pick limit had they cut Blount just two weeks earlier. Thomas at least was able to play out his contract, while Moats is still on the Steelers today.
- CFAs Lost (3): Antoine Bethea (5th). Donald Brown (6th), Kavell Conner (7th)
- CFAs Gained (2): Arthur Jones (4th), Hakeem Nicks (5th)
Jones and Nicks were signings I’m sure the Colts likely regret today. Jones only started 3 games in 2014, was placed on injured reserve the entire 2015 season, and was suspended for the first four games on 2016 and ended that year on IR once again. As such, Jason ranks Jones as the second highest likely cap casualty at his position for 2017. Nicks, meanwhile, garnered a paltry 405 yards on his one year deal with the Colts, a far cry from his peak productions with the Giants.
- CFAs Lost (8): Eric Decker (4th), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (4th), Zane Beadles (4th), Wesley Woodyard (5th), Knowshon Moreno (7th), Shaun Phillips (7th), Robert Ayers (7th), Jeremy Mincey (7th)
- CFAs Gained (3): Aqib Talib (3rd), TJ Ward (4th), Emmanuel Sanders (5th)
This may be the best example we’ve seen in a long time of a team hitting on all of its major UFA acquisitions at the expense of high comp picks. With Talib and Ward becoming core members of the No Fly Zone that was critical to the dominating defense that won Super Bowl 50, and Sanders pairing perfectly with Demaryius Thomas for over 1,000 yards on each year of this three year deal, it’s safe to say that John Elway and all Broncos fans prefer that kind of contribution over two comp picks in the 4th round and one in the 5th.
- CFAs Lost (6): Jared Veldheer (4th), Lamarr Houston (4th), Vance Walker (6th), Tracy Porter (6th), Rashad Jennings (7th), Mike Jenkins (7th)
- CFAs Gained (8): Austin Howard (4th), Justin Tuck (5th), Antonio Smith (5th), Tarell Brown (6th), James Jones (6th), Maurice Jones-Drew (7th), Kevin Boothe (7th), CJ Wilson (7th)
It may be too harsh to criticize Reggie McKenzie for some of these CFA signings if he had pressure from ownership to make a splash in free agency instead of taking a page from the Ted Thompson book on comp picks. And Howard appeared to work out decently, starting in 39 games over three seasons. But the once great Jones-Drew was clearly out of gas in 2014, chalking up only 96 yards. Boothe started no games, while Smith, Brown, and Jones lasted only one season, and Wilson a season and a half. If the Raiders had limited their CFA signings to just Howard and Tuck, they would have picked up a 4th, 6th, and two 7th rounders in comp picks.
- CFAs Lost (7): Linval Joseph (4th), Justin Tuck (5th), Hakeem Nicks (6th), Brandon Myers (7th), Keith Rivers (7th), Ryan Mundy (7th), Kevin Boothe (7th)
- CFAs Gained (9): Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (4th), Geoff Schwartz (6th), JD Walton (6th), Walter Thurmond (6th), Rashad Jennings (7th), Robert Ayers (7th), Quintin Demps (7th), John Jerry (7th), Zack Bowman (7th)
Suffice to say, there were a lot of personnel changes with Big Blue in 2014. Some of their CFA signings worked out well, such as Jennings, Ayers, Jerry, and especially Rodgers-Cromartie, whose performance can be argued outweighed the potential 4th round comp pick for Joseph that he cancelled out. On the other hand, Schwartz and Thurmond had some bad luck with injuries with the Giants, while Walton lasted only one year with the team. If the Giants had passed on those three players plus Bowman, 5th and 6th round comp picks could have been had for Tuck and Nicks.
- CFAs Lost (5): Mike Mitchell (5th), Captain Munnerlyn (5th), Brandon LaFell (6th), Ted Ginn (6th), Domenik Hixon (7th)
- CFAs Gained (3): Ed Dickson (7th), Antoine Cason (7th), Jerricho Cotchery (7th)
The Panthers may have made a small tactical error by cutting Cason too late in the season (three weeks after Week 10) to remove him from consideration for the comp pick formula. Doing so would have freed up a 6th round comp pick for LaFell. Dickson and Cotchery, on the other hand, had good contribution on the Panthers for their prices, and Dickson is still with the team today on a more lucrative extension.
I’m not going to list out all of the Bucs’ extensive CFA losses and gains, as they had no reasonable hope of gaining comp picks anyway. But I do want to give them a dishonorable mention for paying out big money to Cincinnati UFAs Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins, only to cut both of them after just one year. The Bengals were not only thrilled to get 3rd and 4th round comp picks for Johnson and Collins, but they even brought Johnson back to the team before they were awarded the 3rd round comp pick for him.
- CFAs Lost (4): Karlos Dansby (5th), Andre Roberts (6th), Jim Dray (7th), Antoine Cason (7th)
- CFAs Gained (3): Jared Veldheer (4th), Ted Ginn (6th), Ted Larsen (7th)
Ginn was a notable free agent bust for the Cardinals, spending only one year there before returning to Carolina the next season. Had the Cardinals passed on Ginn, they would have gained a 6th round comp pick for Roberts.