The NFL free agency period officially begins Wednesday afternoon at 4 pm New York time, and there has already been a lot of movement around the league. That movement has brought a lot of discussion regarding comp picks that a team might receive, so this piece is here in order to address many of those questions for the fans who wish to learn more about the comp pick system. Much of this article is cut and pasted from the Q&A on the subject I did last year during free agency, but I have gone through and changed the names of players to update it for relevancy since the best way to learn the workings of a system is through examples.
What are comp picks and where do they come from?
In the draft there are 256 selections. Each team is initially allocated seven selections in the draft, and those 224 selections comprise the core of the draft. The remaining 32 picks are compensatory picks (“comp picks” for short) that are held by the league and allocated to the teams who suffered the largest net loss of players in the offseason the year prior. The picks are allocated based on a secret formula that the league has never made public, but which many followers of the NFL have reverse engineered to the point where they are able to predict with near certainty which teams will be awarded a pick and in which rounds.
In short, the teams which suffer the largest net losses in free agency this season of players who are considered in comp pick calculations this year will be awarded up to four picks from the league’s allotment of 32 comp picks in the 2020 draft.
How are comp picks distributed?
The way the comp picks are distributed based on a formula. The maximum number of comp picks a team may receive is equal to the net difference between free agents signed and free agents lost, up to a maximum of four. At this point in time, the Seattle Seahawks are set to lose five free agents (Justin Coleman, J.R. Sweezy, Shamar Stephen, Brett Hundley and Mike Davis) and signed none. That means the team is eligible for up to four comp picks at the moment, but that is obviously subject to change in the coming days and weeks.
Do non-tendered RFAs count?
No. Restricted free agents who are non-tendered become unrestricted free agents. This is exactly what fans saw happen in 2018 when the team non-tendered both Mike Davis and Thomas Rawls. Rawls went on to sign with the New York Jets, but because he had been a RFA who was non-tendered, did not factor in comp pick calculations. Thus, if the Hawks decide not to extend a tender offer to fullback Tre Madden (I do not expect them to do so), then he will become an unrestricted free agent, but would not generate a comp pick for the Seahawks no matter how large a contract he might sign with another team.
Do players who are cut count?
No. Players who are cut from the roster do not count in the comp pick calculations. That means players like edge rusher Justin Houston, cut recently by the Kansas City Chiefs, could be signed by a team without affecting anything related to comp picks.
Do players who had an option year not picked up count?
Yes. If a player has a team option in his contract and that option is not picked up and his contract expires, then his contract is considered to have expired completed. Thus, players like Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall or wide receiver Pierre Garcon of the San Francisco 49ers do count in comp pick tabulations.
What do things look like as of right now?
Probably the leading expert on this matter outside of an employee of the NFL or a front office somewhere across the league is Nick Korte (@nickkorte on Twitter), of OverTheCap.com. Korte has followed and analyzed the comp pick system for years, and is the leading expert on the matter in my opinion. Over The Cap maintains an almost real time comp pick tracker on its website which can be viewed at https://overthecap.com/draft/.
For those who don’t want to be bothered with clicking over to their website right now, this is the current projection for comp picks looks like.
The way to read that table is to find the team you’re looking for on the left hand side, and then the number next to it is the round of a pick that he projects for that team based on the free agent signed in the third column. The fourth column is the APY of the contract for which the player signed, which is how the round and order of the picks are determined.
So, as of this writing, Korte projects the Seahawks to receive four comp picks, with those picks coming for the following players lost:
- Justin Coleman: 4th round selection projected
- Shamar Stephen: 6th round selection projected
- Mike Davis: 6th round selection projected
- Brett Hundley: 7th round selection projected
This obviously does not include J.R. Sweezy because of the fact that the terms of his agreement with the Arizona Cardinals have not yet come out. Assuming the Sweezy contract is somewhere in the $6M-$7M range, that would put the comp pick for him in the 5th round range. If that is indeed the case, it would bump the 7th for Hundley out of the picture and slide in between the picks projected for Coleman and Stephen.
If there are any other questions about comp picks, feel free to ask away in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to update this article with the answers when I have a chance.