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 another free agent. Before diving into where the Steelers stand and what would need to happen in order to keep any compensatory draft picks, click HERE for a previous article which listed several misconceptions about the NFL’s compensatory formula.
After diving in to do more research with the updates to the compensatory formula in the new CBA, and with the assistance of Steel City Insider’s Ian Whetstone, I’ve compiled a couple things which will change in the compensatory process which could affect the Steelers this season:
The first item is the percentage of free agent contracts which determine if a player is a qualifying compensatory free agent. Previously set at 50%, the new CBA has only the top 35% of free agents qualifying for the compensatory process. What this means is a player would have to sign a contract for at least $2.5 million per season in order to qualify as a compensatory free agent according to the estimates at overthecap.com. This number will be important to remember going forward.
Another change with the new CBA is the time period for which signing free agents allows them to qualify as a compensatory free agent. Previously the second Tuesday after the NFL draft, the new date has been moved forward to the Monday immediately following the draft. For 2020, this date looks to be April 27.
Now let’s see where the Steelers stand. Currently, the Steelers have a loss of six players and a gain three, with only two having enough of a salary to qualify. 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)
Nick Vannett ($2.85 M per year, 7th round)
Artie Burns (Salary unknown)
The Steelers net gains are:
Eric Ebron ($6 M per year, 6th round)
Derek Watt ($3.25 M per year, 7th round)
Stefen Wisniewski ($1.425 M per year, non-qualifying)
The rounds associated with each player is simply an estimation at this time. In Hargrave’s case, he is right on 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. Hargrave’s valu will ultimately depend if his salary falls in the top 5% of all free agents which would place him in the third round. Another way which would help is his total number of snaps played in 2020 and any awards such as All-Pro or All-Conference.
Similarly, OTC has Watt at a seventh-round designation but he’s now far from being a sixth. Much like Javon Hargrave, playing a large number of snaps or earning any awards could move him into the sixth round.
One nice factor for the Steelers when it comes to canceling players is the contract of Stefen Wisniewski. Being $1 million under the projected cut off to qualify for a seventh-round designation, Wisniewski joins the Steelers for no compensatory penalty.
A player which could change the cancellation process in a negative way for the Steelers is Sean Davis. Signing a one-year deal in Washington, Davis’ contract reportedly has several performance bonuses which could make it possible he would not earn the full $5 million. Obviously, a lower salary would cause his round designation to drop. Also, having bonuses of this nature does not guarantee the Redskins will keep Davis the entire season.
One unknown which remains in this process is the value of the one-year salary of cornerback Artie Burns. In order to qualify, Burns would have to have a salary over $2.5 million for 2020. For now, we’ll assume Burns’ salary does not qualify until the financials are released which would indicate otherwise.
Going by the numbers as they currently stand, the Steelers have a net loss of three players and would be in line for three compensatory draft picks. The round every 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.
Starting at the top, Eric Ebron would cancel Sean Davis and Derek Watt would cancel the seventh-round designation of Nick Vannett. Looking at what is remaining, the Steelers are currently in line for a fourth-round pick and TWO sixth-round picks.
Having a net loss of three players, the Steelers can sign two more qualifying free agents and still be eligible for a selection in 2021. As for any more potential free-agent losses, the only player available from the Steelers would be L.T. Walton who would not be likely to earn the $2.5 million salary per season to qualify. Additionally, if Artie Burns’ salary is more than 2.5 million, he would possibly give the Steelers yet another compensatory draft pick. But remember, only 32 compensatory draft picks are awarded every year, and teams are eligible for no more than four compensatory selections each season.
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.