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The Steelers are in line to get a 3rd round compensatory pick in 2020, but it could be just a 7th

Now that the timeframe of free agent signings counting toward the compensatory formula is concluded, where do the Steelers currently stand?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

With the conclusion of the period for which free agent signings are calculated in the compensatory formula, the Pittsburgh Steelers are now in a position where they should gain a compensatory draft pick in 2020. It is estimated the Steelers will receive a third round pick, but with such an unknown and delicate equation the same players could draw only a seventh round pick with just the slightest fluctuation in variables. It would be reasonable to believe if Le’Veon Bell’s value fell from a third round to a fourth round that the Steelers would receive a fourth round pick instead. But, unfortunately, the cancellation process does not appear to fall in the Steelers favor.

While the formula to calculate compensatory value isn’t made public by the NFL, 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 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 Mark Barron since he was released by the Los Angeles Rams. Since the Rams cannot benefit from Barron’s loss, the Steelers are not penalized by signing him.

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 are not eligible for a typical compensatory draft pick. The only exception is the NFL could award a compensatory pick if a team has a significant net loss compared to players gained (meaning if they lost multiple third round designated players but signed several seventh round players).

When a greater number of players have been lost in free agency than gained, the cancellation process begins. 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 canceled out. For example, if a team signs a player with a fourth round designation, that player would cancel any other fourth round departure. If there is not one, they would cancel the next player down the list in either the fifth, sixth, or seventh round. Any player departures who were not canceled out by a player gain would award the team a compensatory pick for the round they were designated.

So for the 2019 league year, the Steelers had three players who 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.

The estimation of the round designation begins with the average yearly salary the player would make over the life of their new contract. These round designations can change at the conclusion of the 2019 season based on the multiplication factors determined by playing time and award recognition. As of right now, the following round designations have been approximated for the Steelers free agents:


Le’Veon Bell (3)

Jesse James (6)

L.J. Fort (7)


Steven Nelson (4)

Donte Moncrief (6)

Starting at the top of the arrival list, the following cancellations would be as follows:

Nelson (4) cancels James (6)

Moncrief (6) cancels Fort (7)

Bell (3) is left

Even though Moncrief and James are believed to have the same round designation, James would first be canceled by the higher designation of Nelson. If this is the way everything plays out, the Steelers would receive a third proud compensatory pick for Le’Veon Bell.

But what happens if Bell falls from a third round to a fourth round designation? If Bell suffers an injury early in the season and ends up not playing many snaps, the multiplication factor could affect his standing. Bell’s annual salary from his new contract is $13.125 million and the estimated cutoff for a third round designation is around $11 million. If Bell’s value drops below the third round threshold, the cancellation would be the following:

Nelson (4) cancels Bell (4)

Moncrief (6) cancels James (6)

Fort (7) is left

So the Steelers would not 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 seventh round pick from L.J. Fort.

It is also important to point out that Steven Nelson’s fourth round designation from his yearly salary of $8.5 million is barely above the estimated threshold of $8 million. If Bell holds steady at a third round designation, it really doesn’t affect anything if Nelson drops to a fifth. Either way, he would cancel Jesse James. If both Bell and Nelson were to drop a round, then the Steelers would get the fourth round pick for Bell.

As you can see, it is still a fluctuating process to determine a compensatory pick even though the signing period has concluded. If everything holds true to where it presently stands, the Steelers will be drafting a player in the third round of the 2020 draft after trading their regularly assigned pick in order to draft Devin Bush.

But there is still a long way to go.