Compensatory picks are one of the least understood aspects of the NFL. Perhaps that’s because the league doesn’t release their formula for disbursing the picks to the public, or because fans don’t pay as much attention to the middle or late rounds of the draft that compensatory picks are applicable to. Whatever the reason, compensatory picks can play a severely underrated role in not only the drafting process, but also free agency and few general managers seems to value them more than Ted Thompson.
The league recognized rules for dispersing compensatory picks are as follows:
1. Lost players that are cut or not tendered as RFAs and ERFAs do not qualify.
2. Lost players that were picked up during the season the year before do not qualify.
3. Signed players that are released before midseason do not qualify.
4. Players earning low minimum salaries do not qualify.
5. Each player signed cancels out one player lost.
6. The round of the pick awarded is primarily determined by the annual value of the contract signed relative to the player’s position. Signed players cancel out lost players with equal contracts, then lower contracts, before canceling out higher contracts.
While the official formula for compensatory picks that are to be rewarded isn’t released, in the age of the internet and spread sheets there are very few unsolved mysteries left in the world, that Malaysian flight notwithstanding. To my surprise it was actually a Philly fan who has dedicated years to sifting through compensatory picks and then reverse engineering what went into it in terms of contracts lost to free agency against free agent contracts signed to come up with what still isn’t a hard science, but rather a very solid projection as to the picks that a team will be awarded. Last season he projected 24 picks correctly, while being off by just 1 round with 5 other picks. The remaining 3 picks that he missed on were 7th rounders that he awarded to the wrong team which was chalked up to ‘gray area’ from which he has learned from and since modified his formula to account for.
The NFCN Compensatory Pick Landscape
Greg Jennings, while disposable, has continued to prove his worth to the Packers by possibly earning them a 3rd round compensatory draft pick.
The projected compensatory picks for the NFCN include a 3rd and 6th round pick to the Packers for losing Greg Jennings ($9.5m) and Erik Walden (4m, thanks Irsay!), and a 4th round pick to the Lions for losing Gosder Cherilus ($6.9m, damnit Irsay!), Avril ($6.5m), S. Hill ($3.8m), and Durant ($1.2m) but signing Quin ($4.7m), Bush ($4m), and J. Jones ($3.2m). The rest of the projected comp picks and their explanations can be found here.
So why did I bother to regurgitate all of this information instead of just linking the article and letting you read from the source? For a couple of reasons, most notably that most of you would be too lazy to read the wall of text that the information was originally presented in, but also because it gives insight into the true purpose of this article which is exposing the genius behind Ted Thompson’s master plan. Before that happens, however, I have to bore you some more with more background information and facts regarding the draft.
What it Means for the Draft
I truly believe that either this draft or the next one will be the deepest draft in NFL history. This draft will be the deepest one to date due to the record number of underclassmen coming out. Last year, there were 73 underclassmen that declared for the draft, which was record breaking. This year there are 104 underclassmen that declared, and I expect that number to jump even higher next season. Why is that number continuing to grow? Under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) players don’t get to see their first big pay day until they are through with their rookie deal. This means it no longer make sense for underclassmen to stick around and try to build up their draft stock to be a top 5 or 10 pick. The money that they would make if they were to earn such an accolade post new CBA would be negligible compared to the money that they will see in their second contract so they are declaring early and maximizing their worth in free agency by being younger when their rookie deals are up.
You may think that the draft may just continue to get deeper and deeper if this is true, but what makes this year’s and next year’s drafts unique is that the number of underclassman to declare has yet to peak so the number of juniors and seniors to enter the draft pool hasn’t diminished to the point that it will in the future. With 31 more underclassmen declaring for this year’s draft compared to last year’s, there is an entire round worth of picks that would have been drafted last year that will go undrafted this year. This means that later picks, including compensatory picks, are becoming more valuable due to there being a larger talent pool. Some other consequences of this happening may include it being harder and much more costly to trade down in the coming years while being cheaper and easier to trade up.
Ted Thompson: Comp Pick Super-Genius
Now that I have established how compensatory picks work and why their value is at an all time high, I can begin to
Walden may or may not have been what drove Irsay to not want to be sober.
explain why Ted Thompson is a genius. Last season he decided to let Jennings and Walden walk. The reasons for him doing so are pretty evident as the Packers have great WR depth and Walden was terrible. Jennings got a big contract and Walden ended up with a contract that is much bigger than he should have gotten. I’m going to credit whatever drugs Irsay was on at the time for them giving him $4 million a season. While they lost those 2 players, Ted decided to not spend on any big FAs. This is what earned the Packers 2 extra picks in what promises to be the deepest draft to date.
Moving forward to this off season, Ted has decided to make some moves, but has done so extremely shrewdly. The signing of Julius Peppers came as a shock to everyone as Ted rarely, if ever, signs outside ‘big name’ free agents. The fact of the matter is that the defensive line needed addressing and Ted went out and signed a player that hasn’t missed games or recorded less than 7 sacks since 2007. I don’t think Peppers is the second coming of Reggie White, but I expect him to be productive and improve the Packers pass rush. Thompson further solidified the defensive line by signing Letroy Guion who was cut from the Vikings after never fully coming back from a chest injury in 2013. Letroy is a big run stuffer and the Packers likely see him as a much younger version of Ryan Pickett, who they will likely move on from.
Ted did much more than just address the defensive line with these free agent acquisitions, although I would have been happy if that’s all that he accomplished. He also set himself up so that beyond taking a safety in the first three rounds he will be free to be able to revert back to picking the best player available when he’s on the clock, which is something that he hasn’t been able to do for the past three years due to the need to upgrade the pass rush and defensive line. That’s important given the amount of talent that this draft promises to possess.
Looking Back and Looking Forward
So the past two off seasons Ted has set himself up with two additional draft picks in what will likely be among the deepest drafts in NFL history, addressed the defensive line, and allowed himself to draft almost purely based on best player available with the exception of grabbing a safety in the first 3 rounds, all while setting himself up with even more compensatory draft picks next season. Because Peppers and Guion were cut by their former teams due to cap issues and not being able to stay healthy respectively, Ted signed the pair of free agents without them counting against their compensatory picks next off season. With the Bucs making Evan Dietrich-Smith the 11th highest paid center and the Raiders giving James Jones $3.67 million per season, I expect them to end up with another 5th and 6th round compensatory picks, pending Thompson signing additional free agents, which I don’t expect him to do. The only off season moves that I expect to hear about from the Packers camp are the extensions of Jordy Nelson and possibly Randall Cobb.
Credit to www.jonsouthworth.com for creation and use of this image.
Ozzy Newsome has been running a similar gambit and has set himself up with 4 projected compensatory picks for this year’s draft. Ozzy saw a lot of critism for allowing so many veterans to leave from the super bowl team but now he is in probably the best position of all 32 teams for a draft that is likely to make or break franchises for the next 3 to 4 years. Him valuing compensatory picks explains why he was so eager to sign Steve Smith after he was cut rather than James Jones who would have cost him a compensatory pick next season because he played out his contract for the Packers.
Many call him stubborn. Some call him arrogant and it’s easy to see why some fans get frustrated with Thompson’s approach but he has kept the Packers good enough for long enough to assume that he has a master plan. It took a lot for me to see it, but I hope I have explained what I perceive to be the ends that Ted has been working for since last off season for the rest of the world to see and understand. Ted’s ability to take criticism while addressing present needs of the team and setting them up for the future is what puts Ted in the same conversation as a guy like Ozzy, who is definitely among the elite GMs. And THAT is why Ted Thompson is a genius and better than your GM.
*Credit to u/gridirongamer for the photoshop of Peppers.