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For the ninth consecutive year and 10th overall, I’ve attempted to project all of the compensatory draft picks that the NFL will award. In my past seven projections, I’ve averaged 24.4 out of 32 exactly correct (going to the correct team in the correct round) and have been off by only one round on an average of four more. Last year, I got 26 correct and was off by one round on three more. Unless the NFL has unexpectedly changed the formula, I'm expecting similar results this year. My recent projections also have been successful at projecting much of the exact order of the comp picks, regardless of round, and I'm hoping to have that trend continue as well.
As the NFL explains, compensatory picks are awarded to teams that lose more or better compensatory free agents than they acquire. The number of picks a team can receive equals the net loss of compensatory free agents, up to a maximum of four. Compensatory free agents are determined by a secret formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. Not every free agent lost or signed is covered by the formula.
Although the formula has never been revealed, by studying the compensatory picks that have been awarded since they began in 1994, I’ve determined that the primary factor in the value of the picks awarded is the average annual value of the contract the player signed with his new team, with an adjustment for playing time and a smaller adjustment for postseason honors. It should be noted that the contract value used in the equation does not include some parts of the contract, and that the contract information reported in the media is often incorrect.
Each qualifying player has a value based on his contract, playing time and postseason honors, and that value corresponds to a round in the draft. In the compensatory equation, each qualifying player that a team signs cancels out a qualifying player that the team lost whose value is the highest in the same round. If there are no lost players remaining in that round, the signed player cancels out the lost player whose value is the next-highest. A signed player will cancel out a lost player whose value falls in a higher round only if there are no remaining lost players. After all of a team's qualifying signed players have canceled out a lost player, the team can receive a comp pick for each qualifying player who remains. For example, consider a team that loses one qualifying player whose value falls in the third round and another qualifying player whose value falls in the sixth round but signs a qualifying player whose value falls in the third round. That team would receive a sixth-round comp pick because the signed player would cancel out the loss of the higher-valued player. If the signed player’s value were equal to a fourth-round pick or lower, however, the team would receive a third-round comp pick, because the signed player would cancel out the loss of the lower-valued player.
It is possible for a team to get a compensatory pick even if it doesn’t suffer a net loss of qualifying free agents. That type of comp pick comes at the end of the seventh round, after the normal comp picks and before the non-compensatory picks that are added if fewer than 32 comp picks are awarded. There have been 14 of these “net value” type of comp picks awarded, and in each case, the combined value of the free agents lost was significantly higher than the combined value of the free agents added. In all 14 cases, those teams lost the same number of qualifying free agents as they signed. No team has been awarded a comp pick after signing more qualifying free agents than it lost, no matter how significant the difference in combined value. This year, I’m projecting that Oakland will receive a net-value comp after losing Jake Grove and signing Khalif Barnes, whose value is less than one-sixth of Grove's value. According to my projections, none of the other teams that lost and signed the same number of qualifying players suffered a loss in value that was significant enough to warrant a net-value comp pick. Arizona came the closest, followed by Baltimore and Buffalo, but they all fell short of the projected loss in value that is necessary to receive a net-value comp pick.
For the third consecutive year, I’ve used a mathematical formula to weight the three factors that determine a player’s value in the comp equation (his contract, his playing time and his postseason awards, if any). Using this formula, I’ve been able to reconstruct almost precisely the order of the comp picks that were awarded in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. In two of those years, I have been able to reconstruct the exact order, and in other year, the only difference was that the order of two consecutive picks was switched because of a minuscule difference in values. I don’t know if I have the factors weighted correctly, but given that my projected order of a number of comp picks has frequently matched the order of the actual comp picks, I think I’m probably pretty close.
As always, please note that my comp pick formula is merely an attempt to project the results of the actual (secret) formula. I don’t pretend to know the actual formula, but I think previous results indicate that the formula I use is a pretty good simulation.
In order to qualify for the comp equation, a player must have been a true Unrestricted Free Agent whose contract had expired or was voided after the previous season (i.e., he cannot have been released by his old team); he must sign during the UFA signing period (which ended July 27 last year); if he signs after June 1, he must have been tendered a June 1 qualifying offer by his old team; his compensatory value or contract value must be above a specific minimum amount; and he cannot have been permanently released by his new team before a certain point in the season (which seems to be after Week 10) or, possibly, before getting a certain amount of playing time, unless he was claimed off waivers by another team.
The most difficult part about projecting the comp picks is determining all of the cutoff points – the minimum value needed to qualify and the value ranges for each round of the draft. The comp picks awarded in previous years suggest that the cutoff points increase each year by a small percentage – approximately the same percentage by which the leaguewide salary cap increases. From 2008 to 2009, the cap went up 9.65 percent, so I used a 9.65 percent increase when estimating the cutoff points for this year’s comp picks. In some cases, I used the percentage increases since 2007, 2006 or even 2005 to compare the values of this year's players to the values of qualifying players from previous years whose draft round value is known.
Last year, the lowest-paid player who is known to have qualified for the NFL’s comp equation was Aaron Glenn, who signed for a one-year deal for $870,000 and played a little less than 20 percent of the snaps in 2008. The highest-paid player who is known to have not qualified was Pierson Prioleau, who signed a one-year deal for $830,000 and also played a little less than 20 percent of the snaps. This year, there are eight players I consider "on the bubble" for qualifying. Floyd Womack, Jason Wright, Brett Romberg and John Owens each signed for at least $950,000 and should qualify, based on Glenn qualifying last year. Joe Berger, Mark Jones, Hunter Smith and Larry Izzo each signed for between $875,000 and $909,000 and are not projected to qualify, based more on Marcus Wilkins ($816,667) not qualifying for the 2008 comp picks than for Prioleau not qualifying in 2009.
There were two unusual cases this year, one involving Laveranues Coles and one involving Bobby Engram.
Coles renegotiated his contract on Feb. 25, 2009, giving up a $6 million guaranteed salary in exchange for allowing his 2009 season to void. Two days later, his contract voided, and he became an Unrestricted Free Agent. Plenty of players have qualified for the comp equation after becoming UFAs because their contract voided, even if the voidable year was put in the contract through renegotiation. However, Coles' situation is a little less clear because of the timing involved. Normally, a player "earns" a void in his contract by doing something more than simply waiting two days, so it's possible that the NFL will not consider Coles eligible for the comp picks equation. Players who have had contract years simply deleted — not converted to voidable years — by renegotiation have never qualified for the equation, and Coles' situation is close to that. However, because a voidable year has never disqualified a player from the equation, I am projecting that Coles will qualify.
Engram's situation is a little less complicated. He was released by Kansas City on Monday, Nov. 9, which was the last day of Week 9 and the start of Week 10. Previous cases of players being released during the season seem to indicate that players who are released by Week 10 and not claimed off waivers will not qualify for the comp picks equation. For that reason, I am projecting that Engram will not qualify, but because he released close to the deadline, it is possible that he will qualify.
Last year, regardless of playing time or postseason honors, the third-round comp players had signed for at least $6.5 million per season, the fourth-round comp players had signed for $4.8 million to $6 million, all but one of the fifth-round comp players had signed for $4 million to $5 million, the sixth-round comp players had signed for $2.7 million to $3.9 million, and the seventh-round comp players had signed for less than $2.65 million per season. Note that there are huge gaps between some rounds, and that there is an overlap between the fourth and fifth rounds because of the adjustments for playing time. You’ll find the contract values for each round of this year’s projected picks in the list a few paragraphs below this one.
I mentioned that all but one of last year's fifth-round comp players had signed for $4 million to $5 million. Because of a rule that had never been revealed until after last year's comp picks were awarded, the Pittsburgh Steelers got only a fifth-round comp pick for Alan Faneca, even though he signed for $7.8 million per season, played more than 98 percent of the Jets' offensive snaps and made the Pro Bowl. A rule stipulates that a team cannot receive more than a fifth-round comp pick for a player with 10 or more seasons of NFL experience. After the rule was revealed, I found several times in previous seasons when it had been invoked. What still is not known, however, is whether the rule applies to the player's value in the equation or whether it applies only for the placement of a comp pick. In other words, does it affect which player a 10-year veteran cancels out by being signed or lost, or does it come into play only when a team is due to receive a comp pick for a player with 10 or more seasons of experience? This year, there are no qualifying players with at least 10 years of experience whose value in the formula is higher than a fifth-round pick, so that question will remain unanswered for at least another year.
As I alluded to earlier, the NFL adds non-compensatory picks if fewer than 32 comp picks are awarded. The non-compensatory picks are given, in order, to the teams that would be drafting if there were an eighth round, until the maximum of 32 has been reached. If there are 29 comps, for example, the NFL would give additional picks to the teams that would have the first three picks in the eighth round, if there were one. This year, I’m projecting that 27 true comp picks will be awarded, including Oakland’s comp pick for a net-value loss, which I mentioned earlier. Therefore, I’m projecting that St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Washington will receive non-compensatory picks to fill out the maximum number of picks. If the NFL’s equation results in more than three non-compensatory picks being added, the next five teams in line to receive one would be Cleveland, Oakland, Seattle, Buffalo and Chicago, in that order.
Here are the projected picks for 2010, along with the compensatory player, their contract value that was used in the equation, their games played and their games started (I’ve also noted the eight picks that fall near a cutoff point and could end up in a different round, along with two other picks that could be affected by the cutoff points) —
Tennessee (Albert Haynesworth, $11.37 million per season, 12 GP/12 GS)
Cincinnati (T.J. Houshmandzadeh, $8 million, 16/16) — possibly a fourth- or fifth-round pick for Stacy Andrews
Atlanta (Dominique Foxworth, $6.8 million, 16/16) — possibly a fourth-round pick
Pittsburgh (Bryant McFadden, $4.75 million, 16/16)
Atlanta (Michael Boley, $4.8 million, 11/11)
Pittsburgh (Nate Washington, $4.47 million, 16/15) — possibly a sixth-round pick
Minnesota (Matt Birk, $4 million, 16/16) — possibly a fifth-round pick
Green Bay (Colin Cole, $4.28 million, 16/15) – possibly a fifth-round pick
Carolina (Geoff Hangartner, $3.15 million, 16/16)
Jacksonville (Mike Peterson, $3 million, 16/16)
Carolina (Frank Omiyale, $2.64 million, 16/12) — possibly a seventh-round pick
Miami (Renaldo Hill, $2.5 million, 15/15) — possibly a seventh-round pick
New England (Jabar Gaffney, $2.5 million, 16/7) — possibly a sixth-round pick
Tennessee (Chris Carr, $2.5 million, 16/4) — possibly a sixth-round pick
Indianapolis (Darrell Reid, $2.27 million, 16/0)
Tennessee (Eric King, $2.125 million, 4/1)
Tennessee (Daniel Loper, $2 million, 8/5)
Pittsburgh (Byron Leftwich, $2 million, 3/3)
Philadelphia (Sean Considine, $1.45 million, 11/6)
Philadelphia (L.J. Smith, $1.5 million, 12/0)
San Diego (Mike Goff, $1.35 million, 8/7) — possibly a fifth- or sixth-round pick for Igor Olshansky
San Francisco (Donald Strickland, $1.11 million, 9/2)
New England (Lonie Paxton, $1.03 million, 16/0)
New England (Heath Evans, $1.05 million, 6/5)
Seattle (Floyd Womack, $950,000, 13/9)
New England (LaMont Jordan, $1.01 million, 9/0)
Oakland (net-value comp pick; lost $5.7 million, 12/10; signed $1 million, 6/2)
St. Louis (non-compensatory pick)
Detroit (non-compensatory pick)
Tampa Bay (non-compensatory pick)
Kansas City (non-compensatory pick)
Washington (non-compensatory pick)
As noted, the values of eight comp picks fell near the cutoff points between rounds, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the comp picks for Foxworth is in the fourth round, if the comp picks for Washington is in the sixth round, if the comp picks for Birk and/or Cole are in the fifth round, if the comp picks for Omiyale and/or Hill are in the seventh round or if the comp picks for Gaffney and/or Carr are in the sixth round. Of course, other projected picks could be off by one round (or more) if the NFL happened to change the formula or increase the cutoff points by significantly more or less than I projected.
In addition to those eight picks, two of the other comp picks could be affected by the cutoff points between rounds, if a player who was canceled out has a value in a round different from where I projected their value to be.
For Cincinnati, Laveranues Coles' value as a player signed is projected to be in the fourth round, but there is a chance that his value could be just enough to fall in the third round. If so, his signing will cancel out the loss of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and the Bengals will receive a comp pick for the loss of Stacy Andrews, most likely in the fourth round but possibly in the fifth. In addition, if Coles is disqualified from the equation because his contract was renegotiated to void the 2009 season, the Bengals will receive comp picks for both Houshmandzadeh and Andrews.
For San Diego, Igor Olshanky's value as a player lost is on the borderline of the fifth and sixth rounds, and Kevin Burnett's value as a player signed is on the borderline of the sixth and seventh rounds. My projections put both of them in the sixth round, leaving the Chargers with a seventh-round comp pick for Mike Goff. However, if the values of Olshansky or Burnett – or both – do not fall in the sixth round, the Chargers will receive a comp pick for Olshansky instead of one for Goff. The placement of that pick will depend on whether Olshansky's value falls in the fifth round or the sixth round.
Here are the qualifying players lost and signed (in order of value) for the 16 teams that I’m projecting will receive comp picks, with the projected compensatory players in bold —
Lost: Dominique Foxworth, Michael Boley, Keith Brooking, Grady Jackson
Signed: Mike Peterson, Brett Romberg
Lost: Geoff Hangartner, Frank Omiyale
Lost: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Stacy Andrews, Ryan Fitzpatrick
Signed: Laveranues Coles, J.T. O’Sullivan
Lost: Colin Cole
Lost: Darrell Reid
Lost: Mike Peterson, Gerald Sensabaugh, Khalif Barnes
Signed: Tra Thomas, Sean Considine
Lost: Andre Goodman, Renaldo Hill
Signed: Jake Grove
Lost: Matt Birk, Darren Sharper
Signed: Karl Paymah
Lost: Jabar Gaffney, Lonie Paxton, Heath Evans, LaMont Jordan
Lost: Jake Grove
Signed: Khalif Barnes
Lost: Brian Dawkins, Tra Thomas, Correll Buckhalter, Sean Considine, L.J. Smith
Signed: Stacy Andrews, Sean Jones, Leonard Weaver
Lost: Bryant McFadden, Nate Washington, Byron Leftwich
Lost: Igor Olshansky, Mike Goff
Signed: Kevin Burnett
Lost: Bryant Johnson, Ronald Fields, J.T. O’Sullivan, Donald Strickland
Signed: Brandon Jones, Moran Norris, Demetric Evans
Lost: Rocky Bernard, Maurice Morris, Leonard Weaver, Floyd Womack
Signed: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Colin Cole, John Owens
Lost: Albert Haynesworth, Brandon Jones, Chris Simms, Chris Carr, Eric King, Daniel Loper
Signed: Nate Washington, Jovan Haye
Anyone else who was lost or signed by one of those teams last offseason is not projected to qualify for the equation, for one reason or another. Remember, players have to meet certain criteria in order to qualify for the equation (see the eighth paragraph of these projections for a summary of the criteria), so a lot of players will not count in the equation. Most of the time, it’s either because the player had been released by his previous team and therefore was not a true UFA or because the player didn’t sign for enough money to qualify.
If I’m wrong about the values of certain players or whether some players will or will not qualify for the equation, that will affect the comp picks. Here’s what would happen in certain instances –
If Laveranues Coles does not qualify, Cincinnati will receive a comp pick for Stacy Andrews in either the fourth or fifth round, most likely the fourth, in addition to the third-round comp pick for T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
If Kevin Burnett's value falls in the seventh round instead of the sixth round, San Diego will receive a comp pick for Igor Olshansky instead of a comp pick for Mike Goff. The comp pick for Olshansky will be in either the fifth or sixth round, between Pittsburgh's comp pick for Nate Washington and Minnesota's comp pick for Matt Birk. Or, if Olshansky's value falls in the fifth round, San Diego will receive a fifth-round comp pick for him, regardless of whether Burnett's value falls in the sixth round or seventh round.
If Bobby Engram qualifies, Seattle will receive a seventh-round comp pick for him immediately before its comp pick for Floyd Womack.
If John Owens does not qualify, Seattle will receive a seventh-round comp pick for Leonard Weaver, between Tennessee's comp picks for Eric King and Daniel Loper.
If Floyd Womack does not qualify, Seattle will not receive a comp pick for him.
If Joe Berger qualifies, Miami will not receive a comp pick for Renaldo Hill.
If Jason Wright does not qualify, Arizona will receive a comp pick for Antonio Smith in either the third round or fourth round, most likely in the third, after Cincinnati's comp pick for T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
If Brett Romberg does not qualify, Atlanta will receive a seventh-round comp pick for Grady Jackson, before Indianapolis' comp pick for Darrell Reid.
If Hunter Smith qualifies, Indianapolis will receive a seventh-round comp pick for him, after New England's comp pick for LaMont Jordan.
If Mark Jones qualifies, Carolina will receive a seventh-round comp pick for him after New England's comp pick for LaMont Jordan (and Indianapolis' comp pick for Hunter Smith, if there is one), and Tennessee will not receive a seventh-round comp pick for Daniel Loper.
If Larry Izzo qualifies, it will not affect the comp picks, because New England already will have received the maximum of four comp picks, but his name will appear on New England's list of qualifying players lost.
If Arizona, Baltimore and/or Buffalo receive net-value comp picks, they would come after Oakland's net-value pick in the seventh round.
Any combination of these additional comp picks and/or fewer comp picks being awarded could increase or reduce the number of non-compensatory picks added to the end of the draft. As I mentioned earlier, the next five teams in line for non-compensatory picks are Cleveland, Oakland, Seattle, Buffalo and Chicago.
Under no circumstances will more than 32 picks be awarded, so if I have made numerous significant mistakes and there are more true comp picks than I have projected, one or more of the lowest-valued picks in my projection or in my summary of possible other scenarios might not be awarded, if they’re not one of the 32 highest-valued comp picks. Only the 32 highest-valued comp picks will be awarded.
The NFL typically awards the compensatory picks on the second day of the Annual Meeting, which will be March 22 this year (the meeting will be March 21-24 in Orlando, Fla.). After the comp picks are announced, I’ll review what the NFL did and where my projections were incorrect, although I’ve already presented some other possibilities.
Note: For a look at why any of the 16 other teams are not projected to receive comp picks, click on the team's name to see my preliminary summary for that team — Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, New Orleans, N.Y. Giants, N.Y. Jets, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington. You also can click here to see the list of every UFA lost or signed who had the potential of qualifying.