The 2021 NFL season is underway, and with six weeks down of the 18 total this year, the season is one-third of the way completed. With so much football left to play, thinking of 2022 may not be on the front of many fans mind.
There are some fans who are all about the NFL draft year round, others simply don’t worry about it until the Steelers season is over. Personally, I fall into the second category. But with the Steelers in a bye this week, it is a good opportunity to check in and see where the Steelers stand in a compensatory formula for the 2022 NFL draft.
While some may think the regular season doesn’t play much into the compensatory formula as the players have already been locked in since May, it actually does cause things to fluctuate based on player snap accounts. All qualifying Compensatory Free Agents (CFAs) were locked in on Monday, May 3 unless the player was traded. As most Steelers fans realize, when Pittsburgh traded for cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, they also took on his compensatory value. While some have stated Witherspoon will not affect the Steelers compensatory status, the experts at overthecap.com (OTC) who have been studying this for years believe otherwise. Additionally, this is what it says in the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement in Appendix V, 3a:
If a Club trades for a player who was a CFA during that League Year, whether the player was another Club’s CFA or the acquiring Club’s own CFA, the player will be considered a CFA gained by the acquiring Club and will be included in the Compensatory netting process.
For this reason, we are going to include Witherspoon in the formula just to be sure. If it does end up where he does not count, that will just be a bonus for the Steelers.
I do want to repeat that the source used for all of this information comes from overthecap.com as they are very thorough with ranking players due to their salaries and tracking snap accounts. Before we get to the exact cancellation, let’s review how values are given to players.
In order for a player to be deemed a CFA, they must fall in the top 35% of all the NFL. To start the season, overthecap.com had most salaries less than $2 million a season not landing in the top 35% and therefore not qualifying as a CFA based on estimated snaps played. Additionally, any contract signed that qualifies for the veteran salary benefit does not qualify as a CFA.
In order to determine the points each player is assigned due to their salary, it is defined as follows in the CBA in Appendix V, 2a:
All CFAs and all other League players on rosters at the conclusion of the regular season shall be ranked in ascending order by their Average Yearly Compensation, which shall be determined by dividing a player’s Gross Salary for all contract years by the contract’s Maximum Possible Term as defined in Paragraph 9 of this Appendix V... Subject to the above definition of Gross Salary, the player with the lowest Average Yearly Compensation shall be ranked first and thereby receive one point, with the second ranked player receiving two points.
Remember, other factors such as snaps played, All-Pro, and All-Conference selections factor into the equation once the 2021 season is complete. But for now, the OTC estimates for compensatory draft picks are based on the actual contracts signed and percentage of snaps played at this point in 2021. The factor of snaps played only applies if a player logs at least 25% of the snaps on the season on offense or defense depending on what position they play. As for kickers, they have a completely different formula which I won’t even bother with at this time. Whatever percentage of snaps a player has, those number of points gets added onto the salary ranking as long as it’s above 25%.
Before the Steelers acquired Ahkello Witherspoon, OTC had them projected to have a third-round and a fifth-round compensatory draft pick. The addition of Witherspoon had the calculation estimated as just a third-round draft pick when the season began. Let’s look at where the new estimates based on snaps played so far in 2021 have the Steelers (numbers are based on salary explained above and current percent of snaps played):
Bud Dupree, 1875 salary + 34 snaps = 1909 total: Fourth round
Matt Feiler, 1662 salary + 100 snaps = 1762 total: Fifth round
Mike Hilton, 1627 salary + 63 snaps = 1690 total: Sixth round
Ahkello Witherspoon, 1509 salary + 0 snaps = 1509 total: Sixth round
Joe Haeg, 1292 salary + 27 snaps = 1319 total: Seventh round
Even though both qualifying gains come in below the Steelers qualifying losses, they still simply cancel the bottom two. Therefore, the Steelers are currently projected to receive a fourth-round compensatory pick in the 2022 draft.
I will say this is pretty much the worst case scenario for the Steelers as it stands as they would only receive one pick and have it be in the fourth round. This is as low as the Steelers can go.
But all hope is not lost.
The reason Bud Dupree has fallen to the fourth round of compensatory pick is because of the number of snaps he has played in 2021. Missing three games for the Titans so far this season, Dupree is playing more than 60% of the snaps whenever he is in the lineup. Where Dupree stands now is only 14 points behind the cutoff from the third to the fourth round according to OTC. Therefore, if Dupree ends up playing more than 50% of the snaps this season, he should move back up into being a third-round selection.
As for Matt Feiler, he is solidly in the fifth round range as he already has the maximum valve of snaps played and could only decrease his number. He would have to fall below 50% of the snaps to fall out of the fifth round, or earn an All-Pro honor in order to land up into the fourth. Mike Hilton is in the same boat when it comes to the sixth round as he would have to be pushing 90% of the snaps in order to move up into the fifth and even if his snaps dropped below 25% he would still be safely in the sixth round.
So now that we understand how the Steelers losses could change, what about the players they have gained?
When it comes to Ahkello Witherspoon, it’s simply whether or not he qualifies after being acquired via trade. If he qualifies, he’s going to cancel a player. There’s nothing he can do to drop any lower as he’s only played four snaps on defense.
Where things get interesting is with tackle Joe Haeg. After six games, Haeg is holding on the bottom of the seventh round as he’s played 27.5% of the offensive snaps for the Steelers. If Haeg were to drop below the 25% mark, which is highly likely if Zach Banner moves ahead of him on the depth chart, he would move down to 1292 points which would drop him out of the seventh-round threshold which ends at 1305 points according to OTC. Once this happens, which very well could be after the Steelers next game, Haeg would fall out of the estimated area and no longer cancel another player. Therefore, the Steelers would pick up an additional fifth-round compensatory pick.
As you can see, this is still a very fluid situation. The Steelers are currently getting the least amount of compensatory value estimated with a single fourth-round pick in 2022. But if the amount of snaps played by players such as Bud Dupree and Joe Haeg change enough to affect their status, The Steelers could be looking at both a third-round and a fifth-round 2022 compensatory selection.
But as fans have come to realize, in the NFL anything can happen as these things could change between now and the end of the 2021 NFL season.