One question I'm frequently asked is whether NFL teams know the formula that is used to determine the compensatory draft picks — and in this instance, by "formula," I mean all of the rules for qualification, the rules for determining players' values, the rules for determining the rounds for every pick and any special rules that would affect the comp picks.
Some people assume that the teams have been given the rules or even the entire formula and that it remains a secret only to those of us in the general public. However, although some teams probably have much of the formula figured out, it's obvious that many teams do not know how the NFL determines the comp picks. Every year, we see examples of teams hoping to get certain comp picks that they don't end up getting and examples of teams expressing surprise or confusion after the comp picks are awarded.
This year, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he expected his team to receive three comp picks. An article on the Falcons' Web site quoted Dimitroff as saying, "That was one of the reasons that we were able to decide on doing that Tony Gonzalez trade, because we knew that we were going to be set up to possibly guard our three compensatory draft picks with some of the free agents we lost. As it stands right now, I’m thinking we possibly will get three compensatory picks, given the play of Domonique Foxworth, Michael Boley and Keith Brooking. Those are the three that I think are going to factor in strongly into our compensatory acquisitions.” In addition, The Atlanta Journal Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter reported that Dimitroff said that Mike Peterson would not count as a player signed by the Falcons. When the comp picks were announced, however, the Falcons received only two of them, and Peterson did count in the formula.
On the Jacksonville Jaguars' Web site, senior editor Vic Ketchman reported that Jaguars GM Gene Smith was "hopeful of receiving two" comp picks this year. The Jaguars, who lost three qualifying players and signed two, received only one comp pick.
And in an article on the Cincinnati Bengals' Web site, team president Mike Brown acknowledged that his team went years without knowing how to get comp picks. "Over the whole history of compensatory choices, we went many years without any and being slow to figure things out," Brown said. "We finally did and in recent years we’ve been the recipient of them."
We could find many more examples from previous seasons, but clearly, whatever information the NFL teams have been given regarding comp picks is not sufficient for all of them to know how many picks they'll be getting — or even if they'll be getting any — let alone the placement of those picks.
For teams to know what comp picks will be awarded, they have to try to project them based on whatever information they have. As Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson found out, though, that is no easy task. Thompson was quoted in an article at ESPNMilwaukee.com as saying that he and former GM Ron Wolf became so frustrated when they tried to project the comp picks that they gave up on it.
“A long time ago, I decided I wasn’t going to try to predict,” Thompson said. “Ron and I used to try to figure it out, and it would wind up making him really mad and me sort of mad. Some people think they have cracked the code, and that’s OK, (but) I don’t have time for that. Somebody will tell us.”