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NFL Compensatory picks: Formula unknown, but past picks suggest Steelers could take in a few in 2014

The NFL keeps the exact formula for determining its compensatory picks awarded for teams that lost players to free agency a secret, but judging on the recent past, the Steelers could bring in a few additional picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

The formula the NFL uses to determine compensatory picks - draft picks slotted at the end of each round starting from the third and extending to the seventh is both complicated and hidden.

The basic gist of it is teams are rewarded compensatory picks in the draft after the season they lose a player to free agency. The level of that pick depends on several factors, including salary, playing time and postseason honors of the player leaving, and the value of any player the team signs in free agency.

While it's not purely apples-to-apples, if Team A signs one player to a one-year deal for $1 million, and loses a player who signs the same contract elsewhere, they wouldn't likely receive compensation.

The player has to have entered the free agent market due to an expired contract, not a release.

To provide some context, the Steelers were awarded three 7th round picks in 2012 because they lost tight end Matt Spaeth, defensive end Nick Eason and linebacker Keyaron Fox.

That same year, Oakland received the 95th overall pick (end of the third round) because they lost cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in 2011.

The system is largely based on net losses in free agency, preventing a team from letting one free agent go and getting a pick in return despite having signed another player to a huge deal. But even teams that sign more than they lose can get compensatory picks, depending on the value of those signed and those departing.

Not every departing player merits a compensatory pick, either.

With the cap position the Steelers are in, they can expect to say goodbye to several players, most notably, wide receiver Mike Wallace, nose tackle Casey Hampton and running back Rashard Mendenhall. Odds are outstanding they'll receive among the highest compensatory picks for Wallace, who's expected to sign a big free agent deal this offseason.

Depending on Mendenhall's contract, which is expected to be offered by a team that doesn't reside within the city limits of Pittsburgh, they may get another mid-round pick. Depending on how much Hampton would sign elsewhere for - and 0-technique nose tackles are expensive, regardless of age - the Steelers could net another pick.

They also could lose out on cornerback Keenan Lewis, who enters unrestricted free agency if the Steelers cannot sign him to a deal before March 12.

The Steelers are expected to make a competitive offer for Lewis, a third-round pick in the 2009 draft.

Other notable unrestricted free agents are left tackle Max Starks, linebacker Larry Foote and right guard Ramon Foster. While Starks was the only Steelers offensive lineman to not miss a snap in 2012, given his injury history, his next contract, if there is one, won't be for much. Neither will Foote's. Foster could sign a reasonable contract, and could merit a selection. To frame the general area of pick Foster may return upon his departure (which is expected), former Ravens OG Ben Grubbs signed a five-year, $36 million deal with New Orleans last year, and Baltimore will likely get a fourth-round pick. Foster won't sign for that much, but will still be enough to make it likely he'll return a pick.

The Steelers did not receive any compensatory picks in 2011, and, at best, will receive a seventh round pick in exchange for losing CB William Gay to Arizona last year. The other players they lost (Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Chris Kemoeatu and Bryant McFadden) did not sign anywhere else.

It's too difficult to determine a guess on which players will leave, let alone what the compensation will be in 2014, but just considering the Minnesota Vikings received the 128th overall pick for losing WR Sidney Rice, who signed a five-year, $41 million deal with Seattle in 2011, they can expect a pick somewhere in the third or fourth round.

Wallace rejected a larger contract offer from the Steelers, suggesting he intends to sign for more than that.

All told, adding possibly as high as an additional third round pick can help a team longer on salary than it is on depth.