With the initial frenzy from the start of free agency coming to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in a position to where they could gain a compensatory draft pick in 2020. Ever since last summer when it appeared Le’Veon Bell would not be returning to the Steelers in a long-term deal, Steeler fans have been patiently awaiting a third round compensatory pick as compensation. But do the numbers show the Steelers are still in line to get such a pick?
There is an actual formula used in calculating compensatory value using factors such as yearly salary, playing time, and postseason accomplishments. Unfortunately, the NFL does not release the exact formula, so the only way to precisely calculate players compensatory value is based on estimates from previous years.
As stated in a 2017 article from overthecap.com, “The formula used to award compensatory draft picks, developed by the NFL Management Council, has never been publicly revealed. However, in the years since 1994 outside observers have been able to determine much of how the formula works, and have created projections in an effort to demystify how compensatory picks work, a process that has confused many an NFL fan.”
How it Works
While the formula to calculate compensatory value is unknown, the process of awarding picks is clearly defined. Once the players compensatory value is calculated, they are given a “round designation” which determines their value. This is done for every free-agent player and affects both the team who gained the player and the team who lost the player. Free agents who sign for (or close to) the league minimum do not qualify in the compensatory process and are designated “non-qualifying unrestricted free agents.” Players who were released by a team also do not qualify as a compensatory player, such as newly signed Steeler Mark Barron Who was released by the Los Angeles Rams. Since the Rams cannot benefit from Barron’s loss, the Steelers are not penalized by signing him.
At the conclusion of the season, a team’s qualifying players both gained and lost since the beginning of the league year through the second Tuesday after the NFL draft are sorted according to what round they were designated. Players signed after the eligible time period do not factor into compensatory selections. To determine the round, the average yearly salary for the entire contract which the player signed is the starting point. This number will then be multiplied by an unknown factor based on playing time. If applicable, the number will be multiplied again by another factor based on postseason awards such as Defensive Player of the Year, All Pro, etc. Once these factors have been applied, the final number will determine the round designation.
First and foremost, a team is only eligible for a compensatory draft pick if they have lost a greater number of qualifying players then they have gained, regardless of the round designation. If a team loses a third round free-agent and signs a seventh round free agent, they still are not eligible for a compensatory draft pick. There must be more players lost than players gained who qualify.
When a greater number of players have been lost in free agency than what a team gained, the next step is to determine which round the team can receive any compensatory picks. If a team gains and loses a player with the same round designation, they are canceled out. For example, in 2017 the Steelers lost Steve McClendon with a sixth round designation, but gained Ladarius Green as a six round designation. Those two players cancel each other out where they no longer factor into any compensatory picks.
If a player gained does not have a player lost with an equal round designation, the next player in the next lowest round will be who is canceled out. For example, if Steve McClendon would have been valued as a fifth round compensatory value, Ladarius Green would not have canceled him out. Instead, Green would have canceled out a seventh round loss in the same year such as Will Johnson.
Any player departures who were not canceled out by a player gain would then award the team a compensatory pick for the round they were designated. Only 32 picks are awarded, so all seventh round selections may not make the cut. This situation occurred for the Steelers in 2017 when both Will Johnson and Valentino (Antwon) Blake were eligible for a seventh round selection but we’re not high enough on the list before the number of total picks had run out.
Looking at 2020
So far for the 2019 league year, the Steelers have had three players who will qualify under departures (Bell, James, and Fort) and two players who they have signed as qualifying free agents (Nelson and Moncrief). As stated earlier, Mark Barron does not count due to him being released by his previous team. If there are no additional qualifying gains or losses, the Steelers would be in line for one compensatory draft pick.
To estimate the round of the Steelers would receive the pick, multiple sources (such as overthecap.com) have been used in order to attempt designating a round for each player. Please remember these round designations could change based on the multiplication factors which will be determined after the 2019 season. But as of right now, the following round designations have been approximated for the Steelers free agents:
Le’Veon Bell (3)
Jesse James (5)
L.J. Fort (7)
Steven Nelson (4)
Donte Moncrief (?)
With the financials of Moncrief’s salary still undisclosed, his round designation cannot be determined. Personally, I believe it will be most likely a sixth rounder (EDIT: as predicted, Moncrief’s 2-year contract for $9 million should equate to a sixth round designation). Regardless, unless it goes all the way up to the third round, it will not cancel out Le’Veon Bell. So the following cancellations would be as follows:
Nelson (4) cancels James (5)
Moncrief (6?) cancels Fort (7)
Under this scenario, the Steelers would receive a third round compensatory pick for Le’Veon Bell.
The most obvious change to the situation would be if the Steelers signed another qualifying free agent without losing any. Even if the new player had a seventh round designation, they would still cancel out Le’Veon Bell due to the total number of players lost versus the total number of players gained.
Another important factor would be Le’Veon Bell continuing to qualify as a third round player. If Bell suffers an injury early in the season and ends up not playing many snaps for the Jets, the multiplication factor could knock him down to a fourth round selection. If so, the Steelers would not even receive a fourth round pick because Steven Nelson’s fourth round designation would cancel Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers will then be left with the fifth round pick from Jesse James instead.
Subsequently, if Steven Nelson‘s snaps played along with him receiving any awards for the season would cause him to have a larger multiplying factor, he could move up to a third round designation which would then cancel Bell. Oh, what a problem it would be for the Steelers to have their newly signed cornerback become an All Pro player which made them lose the value of a compensatory picks. How could the Steelers ever handle such a situation? Obviously, if Nelson is having such a successful season, compensatory draft position should be the last thing Steelers Nation should worry about.
It is estimated that the Steelers are currently set up to receive one compensatory draft pick in the third round of the 2020 draft. If the Steelers sign another qualifying free agent without also losing one as well, they will lose any compensatory draft picks. If the multiplying factors of playing time and postseason awards cause any players to change their round designation, it could significantly change which players cancel out in, affecting the pick the Steelers would receive.