NFL Compensatory Picks 2015: Rules, Formula Explanation and Latest Projections

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2015

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces Notre Dame outside tackle Zack Martin as the Dallas Cowboys' first round pick and 16th overall during the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

At some point during the NFL owners meetings this week, the league will announce the full list of compensatory picks for the 2015 draft.  

While none of the selections are anything higher than third-round choices, compensatory picks have become valuable sources around the league. Recent seasons have seen a number of valuable contributors come from compensatory picks, and teams often use them to merely fill out their roster.

The option of having cheaper talent gives teams more leeway in paying their own stars; compensatory picks by their very nature are extremely cheap. All of the qualifications of value aside, understanding the process by which the NFL makes its determinations is difficult. With that in mind, let's take a look at what we do know about the process and what to expect when the NFL makes its announcement.

Rules/Formula for Compensatory Picks

JASON DECROW/Associated Press
  • Compensatory Picks Are Based on Players Lost/Gained in Free Agency: In most cases, a team needs to have lost more players who qualify for compensatory status than gained over the last league year. The NFL determines which players qualify for said status. 
  • A Team Cannot Have More Than Four Compensatory Picks: This is for obvious, competitive-balance reasons.
  • All Free Agents Are Not Considered Equal: The NFL makes its determination on what round compensatory players correlate to via a combination of factors: "salary, playing time and postseason honors," per a 2012 press release. The exact formula, again, is not public; however, it's a pretty good bet that the more money a player makes, the higher his compensatory value. In essence: Look for the Detroit Lions to land squarely in the third round next year after losing Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins.
  • There Are 32 Selections That Can Be Awarded: Theoretically, there is one for every team.
  • The Compensatory Picks Are Tacked on to Rounds 3-7: They are then ordered based on a private selections process.


Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com has done an excellent job in recent years of coming close to replicating the NFL's formula. By Korte's own admission, it's an imperfect science—as is everything when pertinent information is nonpublic—but it's the best thing we have for previewing potential selections.

Sitting atop the compensatory projections is the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, who should land a third-round pick for cornerback Aqib Talib. The Broncos gave Talib a six-year, $57 million contract last offseason and watched on as he earned a Pro Bowl berth. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals are also projected at the third-round level after losing Branden Albert and Michael Johnson, respectively.

Of course, Cincinnati gets a best-of-all-worlds solution. Johnson was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after only one season and subsequently re-signed with the Bengals. Paul Dehner Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer and Albert Breer of the NFL Network noted the irony on Twitter:

Paul Dehner Jr. @pauldehnerjr

Funny aspect: Bengals will get a third round compensatory pick this year for losing MJ, even as he's back on team.

Other free agents who should net compensatory picks for their old teams include Donte Whitner, Golden Tate and Michael Oher. Oher joins Johnson among players who were jettisoned by their new teams after only one season.

As for teams, the Baltimore Ravens continue to take advantage of the compensatory process by nabbing a maximum of four selections. The Ravens have a league-high 41 compensatory selections since the process started, eight more than any other team, per MMQB.com's Peter King. This will likely be the third straight season in which they've had the maximum number of selections.

Notable Compensatory Free Agents
TeamRoundFree Agent
NE3Aqib Talib
KC3Branden Albert
CIN3Michael Johnson
SF4Donte Whitner
BAL4Arthur Jones
SEA4Golden Tate
DEN4Zane Beadles
SEA5Brandon Browner
BAL5Michael Oher

“Relying on compensatory picks is a bad strategy,” former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner told King, “unless you prove you can draft pretty well in rounds four through seven. Ozzie surely has proven that. But there are some teams out there that struggle to pick well in rounds one and two. Baltimore’s proven the worth of it because when they lose guys, they have players ready to step in—and some of these, obviously, come from compensatory picks.”

The Seattle Seahawks, the Chiefs and the Broncos are also expected to receive four picks, per Korte's projections. 

Rules via NFL press release.

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.


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