Going into the 2020 NFL free agent period, Steelers’ fans were well aware there were going to be some tough losses. If players were going to move on to another team, the best thing for the Steelers would be for those players to sign huge contracts in order to help the Steelers out in the NFL’s compensatory formula.
As it stands right now, the Steelers would be eligible for multiple draft picks in 2021. Of course, the Steelers could still sign some free agents which would change everything. Before diving into where the Steeler stand and what would need to happen in order to keep any compensatory draft picks, let’s review a couple misconceptions about the NFL’s compensatory formula.
Misconception #1: Gaining or losing a player changes the round of the selection
This particular misconception was floating around last fall when the Eagles released linebacker L.J. Fort and changed the Steelers compensatory formula. Some people felt the third-round pick the Steelers were lined up to receive for Le’Veon Bell would drop to a fifth or sixth rounder. This is not how the formula works. The Steelers would have received no compensatory draft pick had they not released Donte Moncrief.
Signing or losing a player in this process does not change the round of selections a teams would get, it changes the number of selections they are eligible for. The formula works on determining how many players were lost versus how many players were gained. For every player lost, players gained canceled them out. A team must have a net loss in order to receive a compensatory pick. If they have a net loss of three players, they are eligible for three picks. The round designation does not come into play until the net loss is determined.
Misconception #2: Players released by the Steelers can help the formula if they sign elsewhere
This is just a quick reminder that any of the players the Steelers released this week would not count towards the compensatory formula. The Steelers would not benefit at all if Mark Barron signed with another team. It is much like last season with the Steelers were not penalized by signing Mark Baron because he was released by the Rams. The compensatory formula only works with players who left as an unrestricted free agent.
Misconception #3: Picking up a free agent this summer or during the season would hurt the Steelers
Although releasing a player in the summer or during the season affects the compensatory formula, there is a deadline where signing a player hurts a team in regards to getting comp picks. The date is generally the second Tuesday after the NFL draft. The same principle applies if a player who was a part of the compensatory formula was cut during the season and signed with another team. For example, when the Philadelphia Eagles released L.J. Fort he no longer counted as a loss for the Steelers even though he then signed with the Ravens.
Now that we understand some of the things that could shape this process over the next couple of months, let’s see where the Steelers stand. Currently, the Steelers have a net loss of four and only one gain. The Steelers losses are:
Javon Hargrave ($13 M per year, 4th round)
Sean Davis ($5 M per year, 6th round)
Tyler Matakevich ($4.5 M per year, 6th round)
B.J. Finney ($4 M per year, 6th round)
The Steelers net gain is:
Derek Watt ($3.25 M per year, 6th or 7th round)
The rounds associated with each player is simply an estimation at this time. In Hargrave’s case, he is right at the cusp between a third-round or fourth-round selection. The experts at overthecap.com (OTC) have Hargrave with a fourth-round designation so this is where we will go. Similarly, OTC has Watt at a seventh-round designation but he’s right on the edge of beign a sixth.
With the Steelers having a net loss, the round their player gained is designated will cancel another player from the same round. If there is no player in that round, they cancel a player from the next lowest round until a player is canceled. If there are no players at an equal or lesser round of the player gained, then the bottom player on the list is canceled.
With all that said, the Steelers are currently in line for a fourth-round pick along with two sixth-round picks.
With having a net loss of three players, the Steelers can sign two free agents and still be eligible for a selection in 2021. Additionally, players such as Artie Burns, Nick Vannett, or Jordan Dangerfield could count as a net loss if they sign with other teams for a yearly amount enough to qualify for the formula.
This is only the beginning when it comes to the compensatory process. Remember, other factors throughout the 2020 season, such as playing time or postseason awards, will enter into the formula as well. But it is fun to see where the Steelers are for the time being.