Evaluation of the 2021 Compensatory Picks Projection

UPDATE (3/19/2021): This article has been edited to reflect mistakes that the NFL Management Council made in its initial compensatory pick release.

The 2021 compensatory draft picks were released today. As always, upon seeing the official release it’s proper to judge how my projection did against it, especially with a season of so much upheaval.

TeamRdCompensated Departure
NE3Tom Brady
LAC3Philip Rivers
NO3Teddy Bridgewater
DAL3Byron Jones
TEN3Jack Conklin
LAR3Dante Fowler Jr.
DAL4Robert Quinn
NE4Kyle Van Noy
PIT4Javon Hargrave
LAR4Cory Littleton
GB4Blake Martinez
MIN4Trae Waynes
KC4Kendall Fuller
GB5Bryan Bulaga
NE5Jamie Collins
DAL5Randall Cobb
ATL5De’Vondre Campbell
SF5Emmanuel Sanders
KC5Emmanuel Ogbah
ATL5Vic Beasley
BAL5Michael Pierce
TB6Breshad Perriman
NO6A.J. Klein
ATL6Wes Schweitzer
GB6Kyler Fackrell
CHI6Nicholas Williams
CAR6Bruce Irvin
MIN6Mackensie Alexander
PHI6Ronald Darby
PHI6Jordan Howard
CAR6Daryl Williams
DAL6Jason Witten
CHI6Chase Daniel
Over 33-pick limit; not awarded
CHI7Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix
PIT7Tyler Matakevich
TB7Beau Allen
CHI7Kevin Pierre-Louis
ATL7Adrian Clayborn
PIT7Nick Vannett
PHI7Kamu Grugier-Hill
MIN7Andrew Sendejo
MIN7Jayron Kearse
IND7Devin Funchess

Highlighted in dark green, I got 28 of 32 comp picks correct with the correct player and the correct round. In addition, 9 of the 13 picks that I claimed would be eligible for comp picks but would miss the 32 pick limit were correct. Three of the four I incorrectly included were for the departures of Elandon Roberts, Joe Haeg, and Patrick Onwuasor, players that did not qualify to become compensatory free agents (CFAs). We’ll get to Roberts and Haeg later, as they’re a part of my biggest miss this year, but for Onwuasor the simple consequence is that Baltimore was never going to be eligible for more than one comp pick, as I thought they might.

Highlighted in yellow, there were 2 3 comp picks that I had the correct player for, but was off by one round. In both two of these cases, I had the picks as 5th rounders, but the the NFL Management Council said they were 6th rounders. For Tampa Bay’s pick, I simply had Breshad Perriman’s contract on the wrong side of the cutoff. For Carolina’s first pick, Vernon Butler’s contract also just missed the same cutoff, but in the Panthers’ case it slightly altered their cancellation chart, awarding a 6th for the departure for Bruce Irvin instead of a 5th for Butler’s departure. In addition, I had projected Jamie Collins’s contract to be valued as a 4th rounder, but the NFL Management Council instead placed it just below the cutoff, into the 5th round level.

Highlighted in blue, there was 1 comp pick that I was wrong on but anticipated that I could be wrong on. This was the mysterious case of Jameis Winston, who was officially signed by New Orleans right after the CFA deadline, but news of the signing broke beforehand. While I projected Winston’s contract to qualify, it clearly didn’t, as he wasn’t listed in the charts of either New Orleans or Tampa Bay. One of two things happened: either the NFL Management Council stuck to the letter of the rulebook and disqualified Winston’s contract based on when it was officially signed, or some of Winston’s incentives were not considered in the compensatory formula, as I thought they might. Whichever case is true, this freed up an additional 6th round comp pick for the Saints for the departure of AJ Klein, as I said it would if I was wrong about Winston.

Highlighted in red, there were 2 was 1 comp pick I was wrong on and did not anticipate. This is really three misses rolled into two, as I’ll try to explain.

Let’s start with the valuation of Ronald Darby’s contract. This is one that I did somewhat anticipate, as I made a last minute hedge in suggesting that his contract could nudge out that of Jeff Heath’s (in reality, Jason Witten’s) to give the Eagles the last comp pick awarded over the rival Cowboys. In truth, both teams got their 6th rounders, due to the two bigger misses I made.

These (and other) misses stem from the fact that I had the number of leaguewide players that the compensatory formula considers too high. This remains the most stubbornly difficult number to project. I had it at 2,158 players, and thought that it might be as low as 2,094 due to the unique existence of the Reserve/COVID-19 list. However, in aligning the program to get the round cutoffs correct, I’ve determined that the NFL Management Council had it somewhere between 1,934 and 1,954. That proved costly for the Steelers and especially the Patriots.

For Pittsburgh, I had thought that all of the contracts of Sean Davis, BJ Finney, and Tyler Matakevich would be valued as 6th rounders. But at least two of them had to be valued as 7th rounders instead. Because the signing of Derek Watt would cancel out the top 7th rounder, this shifted the 6th rounder for Pittsburgh that I thought would make the 32 pick limit into a 7th for the departure of Nick Vannett that was well below that limit.

The rest of this article below this bolded paragraph is now no longer accurate. It explains what I thought was a major miss in my projection, but was instead an error by the NFL Management Council, as explained here.

New England, on the other hand, suffered my most significant miss, as I thought they would receive an additional 4th rounder for the departure of Jamie Collins, but instead got nothing, not even a later pick. This results from a confluence of a miss on my part on a valuation of a contract, and some really rotten luck against the Patriots coming out of the compensatory formula.

The miss was that I did not think Damiere Byrd would be eligible to qualify for the compensatory formula, but ultimately did. The reason why was because he signed a 1 year contract for a base of $1.6 million, and such a contract would seem to allow a team to use an “Excluded UFA” provision under Appendix V, Paragraph 11 of the CBA. However, what I did not know is that Byrd’s contract included incentives to allow him to earn up to $2.5 million. These incentives must have not allowed the Patriots to use the Excluded UFA provision, a good lesson for me to learn for future contracts. Byrd earned $300,000 of these incentives, which under the compensatory formula boosted his APY to $1.9 million, and combined with high snap counts (89.1%) allowed his contract to qualify as a CFA.

However, being wrong on Byrd’s contract alone doesn’t fully explain why the Patriots lost a chance at a 4th rounder for signing Byrd to a 7th round valued contract. And here’s where the bad luck comes into play. Even with Byrd’s contract qualifying, I thought the Patriots would have had backup with at least one similarly valued contract from CFAs that had departed–namely, Elandon Roberts and Nate Ebner, who had both signed for $2 million APY elsewhere–that would take the bullet for canceling out Byrd’s contract instead.

But that proved to not be the case. Here is a sneak preview of a page that will be published very soon, a page that will add transparency to how the compensatory formula ranks players’ contracts. This is a screenshot of where the cutoff for qualifying to become a CFA must have approximately laid:

The cutoff had to be somewhere between #677 (Devin Funchess) and #685 (Roberts). This is because Indianapolis was credited in the official release as being eligible for a comp pick but was not awarded one due to their pick(s) being below the 32 pick limit. But that comp pick had to be for Funchess’s departure, because Joe Haeg’s contract also did not qualify–if it did, he would have been listed under Tampa Bay as a CFA signed, which he was not.

Had that cutoff either been about a dozen picks higher (thus disqualifying Byrd’s contract), or about a half dozen lower (thus qualifying Roberts’s contract), or if Byrd had played a few less snaps with a less depleted WR corps in New England, or if Roberts had played a few more snaps for the Dolphins, the compensatory formula would have had an alternative to canceling out the 4th round value of Collins’s contract with the 7th round valued contract of Byrd. But no one, not even Bill Belichick, could have humanly forseen, let alone done anything, about all of such things at the same time.