With the Pittsburgh Steelers in full offseason mode, the start of the league year in March and the associated free agent signing period which comes with it, along with the 2021 NFL draft, are two things which will shape the roster of the 2021 Steelers. The Steelers currently have seven draft picks this year, but they are also set to pick up two more compensatory draft picks based on the free agents they lost in 2020.
According to the projections at overthecap.com, the Steelers have a net loss of three qualifying Compensatory Free Agents (CFAs) from 2020. This means the Steelers could be in line for as many as three compensatory draft picks for 2021. But since there are only 32 picks which can be used, it is only the top 32 that will be assigned. According to OTC, the Steelers have two selections in the top 32 falling in the fourth round and the sixth round. The other CFA loss from the Steelers was also in the sixth round but fell just outside of the top 32.
To remind everyone how the compensatory formula works, teams are only eligible for a draft pick if they have lost more qualifying CFAs than they gained. For example, the Steelers lost five CFAs yet only gained two who qualified. The signing of Stefen Wisniewski was not for a high enough salary to qualify as a CFA (within the top 35% of the league), much like the loss of Artie Burns did not qualify due to his salary.
One thing which really helps with understanding the compensatory formula moving forward from 2020 is there was much more detail into the process in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed last March. Players are initially ranked by salary and exactly how they are adjusted based on their performance was spelled out much more.
After all CFAs are determined, they are listed in order from highest salary to lowest along with all the qualifying players from the rest of the league at the conclusion of the season. Each player is then assigned a number based on their rank with number one being the lowest qualifying salary going up to the highest salary being the number of total qualifying players. Additional points are awarded based on the following according to the new CBA:
(b) All players shall be assigned additional points based on honors or participation, as follows:
(1) Selected 1st Team ALL NFL by PFWA or 1st Team ALL PRO by AP: 20 points.
(2) Selected All Conference by PFWA (except if selected ALL NFL or ALL PRO above): 5 points.
(3) One point for each percent of the total offensive/defensive plays in which the player participated (excluding special teams) provided that the player participated in a minimum of 25% of the offensive/ defensive plays (excluding special teams). For example: 67% participation equals 67 points, 0% to 24.99% participation equals no points. Exception: in the case of punters and place-kickers, 1 point will be awarded for each punt attempted and 1 point for each punt inside the 20-yard line during the regular season for the punters, and 2 points for each field goal attempted and 1 point for each field goal made during the regular season for place-kickers.
The points are added to the players original rank and they are broken into percentiles within the entire league in order to determine what round designation they would fall. The top 5% would be 3rd round, 5% to 10% would be 4th round, 10% to 15% for the 5th round, 15% to 25% for the 6th round, 25% to 35% for the 7th round, with 35% and lower not qualifying as a CFA.
The with all that said, Steelers CFA net losses and their projected rounds are:
Javon Hargrave ($13 M per year, 4th round)
B.J. Finney ($4 M per year, 6th round)
Sean Davis ($4 M per year, 6th round)
Tyler Matakevich ($3.575 M per year, 6th round)
Nick Vannett ($2.85 M per year, 7th round)
The Steelers CFA net gains and their projected rounds are:
Eric Ebron ($6 M per year, 6th round)
Derek Watt ($3.25 M per year, 7th round)
By canceling equal rounds (or a lower round if there is no equal), Ebron would cancel Finney while Watt would cancel Matakevich. What remains is the Steelers being eligible for a fourth round and two sixth round selections in 2021. As mentioned before, the second sixth round selection is not in the top 32 in order to receive a pick at this point. The first sixth round pick is the 31st ranked compensatory pick according to OTC with the second being the 35th. So one pick is projected to just miss the cut while the other barely makes the list.
Notice Sean Davis is on the list as a Steelers loss despite playing 16 games for Pittsburgh in 2020. This is something new in the 2020 CBA. The old rule stated a player must remain on the team’s roster through Week 10 of the NFL season. The new CBA has no such date listed in their expanded covering of the compensatory process. The only date described in the new CBA is as follows in Appendix V, Paragraph 1, Section A:
Commencing with 2020 free agency signing period, a Compensatory Free Agent (“CFA”) shall be defined as an Unrestricted Free Agent (“UFA”) who: (i) signed with a new Club during the prior free agency signing period (with the 2020 free agency period being the first such “prior free agency signing period” under this appendix) prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the Monday following the NFL Draft for that League Year or whose rights were retained by the prior Club by sending the player the Unrestricted Free Agent tender prior to such time and date; and (ii) ranked within the top 35% of all League players in accordance with the provisions of Paragraph 2 below.
To clarify, Paragraph 2 which is referenced in the above quote simply describes where a player would fall by round and their scoring system for determining these things which was outlined earlier.
Although it isn’t completely clear, the precise wording of the new CBA would lead most to believe that once a free agent is signed with the team beyond the Monday following the NFL draft, they count in the formula even if they are released. As long as this is true, Sean Davis is still a loss for the Steelers and a gain for the Washington Football Team.
With all the information of the compensatory draft picks provided by overthecap.com as well as all regular draft picks including trades provided by prosportstransactions.com, I have calculated where the Steelers will approximately have their draft selections scheduled for the 2021 season. It should be noted there are an additional 3 third-round compensatory draft picks which of been awarded to the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints due to losing minority staff members.
NOTE: The Steelers fifth-round draft pick was traded to the Baltimore Ravens for Chris Wormley and the Steelers received their seventh-round draft pick. The Steelers sixth-round draft pick was traded to the Miami Dolphins as part of the Mikah Fitzpatrick trade and the Steelers received their seventh-round draft pick. The Steelers received Tampa Bay‘s sixth-round draft pick as part of the Jerald Hawkins trade in 2019 and the Steelers surrendered their seventh-round draft pick. Until the Super Bowl is played, the exact pick from Tampa is not set.
Pick 24 in Round 1
Pick 55 in Round 2
Pick 87 in Round 3
Pick 128 in Round 4
Pick 141 in Round 4 (comp pick)
Pick 216 (or 217) in Round 6 (from TAM)
Pick 225 in Round 6 (comp pick)
Pick 244 in Round 7 (from MIA)
Pick 253 in Round 7 (from BAL)