Evaluation of the 2015 Compensatory Draft Picks Projection, Part 2

After spending some time reviewing the official 2015 compensatory pick awards, with one small exception I’ve been able to reconstruct the exact order of the picks in the projection program. This will now also provide an accurate projection of the rookie pool each team needs to contribute for all its draft picks in 2015, including compensatory picks.

I was able to do this by applying the following adjustments for all of the Unrestricted Free Agents signing with new teams in 2014:

  • Applied an adjustment to the contracts’ average per year (APY) for playing time based upon the player’s offensive and defensive snaps. (No postseason honors adjustment has been made yet due to lack of sufficient information.)
  • Adjusted the cutoffs between rounds, and assigned round value based upon adjusted APY.
  • Established a range for the minimum qualifying value.

Adjusted APY

I knew that playing time was factored into the compensatory formula, but I didn’t know how as AdamJT13 never revealed how he applied that factor. The adjustment that I have found to get most of the picks in the right order is to use the offensive or defensive snap percentages as a coefficient on the actual APY. This adjustment uses 45% of the snaps as a base, in which a player who plays this amount will see no change, and for most players the adjustment will range to -9% (at 0% of the snaps) to +9% (at 90% of the snaps). Jason has noticed in the past that 45% seems to be a notable number for determining playing time benchmarks in contracts in general.

For players who played more than 90% of the snaps, this playing time adjustment will get a 50% bonus, meaning that the maximum increase possible (for someone who played 100% of the snaps) is 16.5%. This added bonus helps to explain how players who were valued exceptionally higher than anticipated, including Zane Beadles (100% of snaps), Mike Mitchell (96.8%), Breno Giacomini (100%), Captain Munnerlyn (98.2%), and Evan Dietrich-Smith (93.5%).

Round-By-Round Cutoffs

With the adjusted APY in place, this helped to find some trends as to where the cutoffs between each round took place. This was aided particularly by the fact that the actual APYs of certain players near the cutoff were very close:

  • 4th/5th cutoff: As I anticipated, TJ Ward ($5.625M APY) was valued as a 4th, even without accounting for his Pro Bowl bid (otherwise, Denver would have gotten two 4ths instead of one). Similarly, Antoine Bethea ($5.25M APY) was valued as a 5th (otherwise, Bethea would have cancelled Donte Whitner and San Francisco would have gotten a 6th for Tarell Brown instead of a 4th for Whitner).
  • 5th/6th cutoff: Corey Graham ($4.025M APY) was valued as a 5th, while Brandon Browner ($3.87M APY after his 4-game suspension) was valued as a 6th. This is clearly a small range in which the cutoff could be placed.
  • 6th/7th cutoff: Both Dexter McCluster and Joe Mays signed for contracts of or near $3M APY. Thus, it was natural to assume that they would cancel each other out. However, because Kansas City received a 6th for what has to be McCluster, the formula had to have treated he and Mays differently enough to demote Mays to a 7th while keeping McCluster at a 6th. Those two differences would be that Mays had annual workout bonuses of $50,000 that do not count in the formula, and the fact that McCluster played 24.1% of the offensive snaps while Mays played in 10.8% of the defensive snaps.

Having knowledge of those close values, the cutoff formula that I found to work neatly within them is as follows. The first cutoff, between the 3rd and 4th round, is calculated as 1/16th of the salary cap. For 2014, that number would be $8,312,500. The other three cutoffs are then applied respectively as three-quarters, one-half, and one-third of that number. The table below thus shows what the estimated cutoff levels could be for both 2015 and 2016 based on APY adjusted for both playing time and postseason honors (even though postseason honors were not relevant in 2015):


Minimum Qualifying Value

As yet it does not appear that the threshold value needed to qualify for the compensatory formula is based upon ratios similar to the above. But the good news is that by applying the above playing time adjustment, there is a clear demarcation between players that we know qualified and those that we know didn’t qualify:


While we know CJ Wilson qualified because he was explicitly listed in the official press release, we also know that Charles Brown did not qualify because if he had, there would have been a mention of New Orleans being eligible for a compensatory pick that was not awarded due to being over the 32-pick limit. Accounting for that, we can plainly see that the only anomaly was Domenik Hixon, who I’ve speculated qualified because of his unique circumstance of being released with an injury settlement.

Therefore, the cutoff for qualification in 2015 appeared to be between $775,284 (Wilson) and $768,829 (Brown) in adjusted APY. If a 7.1% increase in the salary cap from 2015 to 2016 is applied, it would suggest that the 2016 qualification cutoff is between $823,991 and $830,909. That said, I will not apply this cutoff in the 2016 projections until the end of the 2015 regular season. This is because it is possible for a player that’s even on a veteran minimum deal to qualify if he gets enough playing time for the entire year.


The end result of these changes is that there is now only one discrepancy between the official 2015 compensatory picks and OTC’s 2015 compensatory picks program. That difference is that the program says that the 4th round picks for Cincinnati (Anthony Collins) and Baltimore (Arthur Jones) should be swapped. I haven’t been able to find any good reason why this is different. Somehow, the NFL either docked Jones about $500,000 in APY (seemingly unlikely, even if he played less than 45% of the snaps), or added the same to Collins (even more unlikely given his terrible season with the Bucs). I’ve applied a manual override to this case for purposes of accuracy for the 2015 rookie pool.

  • theowl

    Great work Nick. It is a puzzle! I have a question. Do the teams know the formula or have they done the same “figuring it out” that you have? And if that is the case, why don’t they know? Why does the league keep the process/formula a secret?

    • Nick

      I doubt that any teams know the exact formula, and I don’t know why it’s kept a secret. The only reasons I can think of is that the league may cite competitive balance, and the union may not want to give teams an excuse to not spend money on certain free agents. Every year we always seem to hear of teams not being certain of what they’re going to get. This year the Bengals were nervous that signing Marshall Newhouse was going to cost them a 4th, and it was very close to happening if you look how close Newhouse was to the line.

      I’m guessing that Baltimore and Green Bay, at the very least, have put good work into “figuring it out”, as they are frequently on the record in stating how important comp picks are to them. More teams could be joining them–I’m guessing that includes Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco, and probably the new regime in Cleveland too. Bill Belichick knows how to work the system as well. This year it looks like Detroit is paying even more attention to comp picks than I suggested to preserve that 97th overall pick for Suh. They’re now at the point where they could sign several UFAs without putting that pick at risk.

      • PetEng

        You think GB actually put in effort to figure it out? They just seem averse to signing FAs. Their comp haul is just an outcome of their total lack of desire to hire FAs.

  • theowl

    It is amazing a large majority of NFL football fans don’t realize that the value of a player is the combination of his abilities and salary. And in the case of most free agents, the cost is their salary and usually a draft choice. Even a teams own free agents. For example the Packers signed Cobb to a multiyear contract for an average of 10 million plus per year, but also gave up a 3rd round draft pick to do so… and the 49ers signing Torry Smith cost them 8 mil per year as well as a 4th rounder. A little of tangent, but I still can’t believe the Seahawks are going to get a 3rd round pick for Byron Maxwell!

    • theowl

      Your cancellation chart is great. It is one of the best tools out there, if not the best new tool. Is there any way to include a team’s own free agents still unsigned, as well as a team’s own free agents resigned? A resigning is really just a cancellation of itself. And it would be nice to include something that notes post June 1st signings.

      • Nick

        Thank you! With comp picks you always get questions like “Why won’t the Eagles get a 3rd for Maclin????” and I’ve found it easier to answer those questions visually by showing who cancels who.

        I suppose it’s possible to include re-signings but as you note it would be redundant as the player just cancels himself, and I want to limit data entry as much as possible. It might be a good idea to include unsigned UFAs so as to see how much potential teams have in getting comp picks. Some years teams might not get more than a 7th or two, and that might be the year to forgo comp picks and make a splurge for UFAs if you need to.

    • Dan Kunze

      This is a really good point and I never looked at it this way.

    • Nick

      I agree that many fans don’t see the forest for the trees, although I think that perception is improving in recent years. It’s also important to note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with giving up a potential comp pick if the price is right. In the case of Cobb and Smith I’m sure the Packers and 49ers felt that it was unlikely they’d be able to find a comparable rookie WR in the 3rd-4th rounds.

      On the other hand, you do have those mega-signings like Maxwell that make your head scratch. As a Broncos fan I like Julius Thomas but bringing him back wasn’t worth paying $9.2 million per year and a 3rd round comp pick. Similarly, I’m sure the Bengals are very happy they let Michael Johnson walk for one year.

  • Dan Kunze

    Wow. Just wow. Outstanding work, Nick.

    • Nick

      Thank you!