The NFL has gone comp pick crazy. It's all the rage.
No longer the domain of the most forward-thinking or smartest organizations, teams are becoming increasingly obsessive about hoarding as many of the picks as possible. And now, in the dog days of free agency, with the big deals long ago signed and an abyss between now and the draft, veterans sitting on the open market are facing some bleak decisions.
Things began to change a few years ago, back in 2017, when the NFL began allowing teams to trade compensatory picks. These picks are awarded to clubs based on a complex formula factoring in the quality and quantity of unrestricted free agents they lost, compared to those they signed in any individual season. Players who were cut by another team do not apply, and, once we reach a point two weeks after the draft, free agents signed beyond that do not count against a team's equation, either.
Which explains the abyss even many veteran free agents – established starters, even – find themselves in now.
"All anyone wants to offer now is a minimum-salary benefit deal," said an agent representing one of the more prominent veterans still on the market. "It's the same thing from every team – we don't want to pay more now, and lose a comp pick."
Another agent said: "The guy who is getting squeezed is the second-tier veteran player. The teams know how cheap the draft picks are, and they can use the comp pick formula for leverage, too, and they know it's a gamble for the player to wait until after the draft when they don't count against the formula, because that need might not still be there."
A third agent said: "Comp picks have become a much bigger factor in free agency. Totally. I hear it much more now than ever before."
No one is blaming the teams. The agents get it. Leverage is leverage and the rules are the rules. Organizations like the Patriots and Ravens and Eagles have long been proponents of maintaining as many comp picks as possible and have a very good idea of how much they can afford to sign a future free agent for, after losing some prominent ones in free agency, and still come out with a pick in a future round.
And in a copycat league, it was only a matter of time before more teams took them more seriously, and with the added flexibility of those picks now able to be included in trade packages, their value is higher than ever. Right now, the Patriots project to landing two extra third-round picks in 2020, the Eagles stand to gain a third and a fourth and the Ravens will grab a third.
Had the Ravens gone all out to land someone like Tyrell Williams, who ended up joining the Raiders, for instance, that third-round pick would have been wiped out. And after losing C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith in free agency, and having other holes on the roster to fill the next few years, there is definitely something to be said for retaining that future asset.
Bottom line is the first wave of free agency is already basically wrapped up before the league year officially begins. And what used to be a third wave of free agency in June exists no longer, with teams able to declare certain releases as post-June 1 cuts for salary cap purposes. And the earning potential of that second wave is being further constricted by the rise of the comp pick, with seven rounds of the youngest, cheapest labor in the NFL only weeks from being selected.
There are certainly much more significant issues for the NFLPA to prioritize in the next round of CBA talks, but there would certainly seem to be support in the agent community for going back to the days when comp picks were not able to be traded, and altering the formula with which teams can stockpile them as well.
Perfect draft fit for Steelers?
There was a strong buzz coming out of the Michigan Pro Day about a pairing of the Steelers and Wolverines linebacker Devin Bush. Pittsburgh had a heavy contingent there, including GM Kevin Colbert and several coaches, and it was not lost on other scouts there how much of a natural fit this junior would be with the Steelers, who've struggled to replace Ryan Shazier. The question remains as to whether Bush will be available at pick 20. Had the Steelers' proposed trade with Buffalo for Antonio Brown not fallen apart, the Steelers would have been sitting pretty at pick No. 9, and may have even been able to drop back a few slots to land him.
More insider notes
- It is getting to be slim pickings on the free agent pass rush front following the Colts signing Justin Houston, and with Vinny Curry back in Philly after a brief hiatus in Tampa. The Jets and Ravens have been seeking to address that need all offseason – Baltimore lost Suggs and Smith and the Jets lost Anthony Barr back to the Vikings despite having a verbal agreement with the free agent. Nick Perry's agent informed teams about the linebacker's health and full recovery after battling injuries the past two seasons, and as a player who was cut, he doesn't count against comp picks. Veteran leader Derrick Morgan will take his time with a long offseason ahead, but will be playing somewhere in 2019. Otherwise, options are pretty limited.
- It could be quite a while before the Chiefs get full information from authorities, and the NFL, as to the future of Tyreek Hill. So much is uncertain with the receiver – whose college career at Oklahoma State was ended by a horrific domestic violence assault against his girlfriend – and while Browns GM John Dorsey is getting much-deserved accolades for his work in Cleveland, it remains to be seen how some of his many character-risk picks when GM of the Chiefs work out. Marcus Peters never made it to a second contract there, Kareem Hunt ended up with a half-season suspension (which he will serve with the Browns after signing there) and Hill is under investigation for an incident involving his 3-year old son. They are in a very difficult cap situation, having parted with Houston, Dee Ford and Eric Berry without much to show for it, and that defense was already brutal even with those standouts. Even with Patrick Mahomes' boundless potential, you can't help but wonder if K.C. takes a significant step back in 2019.
- All of the league's owners and bigwigs are assembling in Arizona this weekend for the annual spring meeting. I'm not getting the sense anything seismic will be happening in regards to rule changes, but the competition committee's support of a proposal to make pass interference reviewable is generating some chatter. Not sure the owners ultimately go for it. I thought the Competition Committee might formally recommend the idea of a dedicated replay official in each NFL stadium as part of the extended officiating crew. There was certainly some support for it among membership.