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James Conner unlikely to factor into Steelers’ compensatory formula for 2022

While not impossible, the likelihood of Conner entering the equation is small based on his past usage.

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

On Tuesday, former Steelers running back to James Connor signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, this deal is worth $1.75 million.

While many Steelers fans are wishing James Conner the best and I hope he can find success in Arizona, many are still thinking how ultimately the biggest way Conner’s departure affects the Steelers is if he enters into the compensatory formula for the 2022 NFL draft.

In short, the answer is no, it will not factor into the compensatory formula. But much like the formula itself, there’s much more to it than what is set in stone at this time. Therefore, the best answer is that is it unlikely.

Based purely on the contract, Conner would not land in the top 35% of all players in the NFL at this time. Although Conner’s contract is not officially on their site, when using the numbers at overthecap.com it can be projected where he would fall.

Because the compensatory process was outlined in greater detail in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, places such as OTC can give a much more thorough detail of where players could rank. In fact, OTC has even factored into the equation the projected amount of snaps each player would have this coming season into their calculations.

Before we go to far, let’s get a quick reminder of what all enters into the compensatory formula:

  • Salary (per year)
  • Percentage of snaps played (must be over 25%)
  • All-Pro or PFWA All-Conference selections

The starting point and greatest factor of everything is a player’s yearly salary. The way it works is players are ranked from the highest salary in the league to the lowest salary in the league. Starting with the lowest salary numbered all the way up to the highest, players are assigned a point value. For example, according to OTC, Patrick Mahomes starts off with the highest salary ranking with a score of 1944.

The next 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%. For example, 68% of snaps played would add 68 points. Once factoring in the projected amount of snaps played, OTC has Russell Wilson topping the list due to playing an estimated 99% of the snaps this coming season.

The last factor of postseason awards would give a player 20 bonus points for making First Team All-Pro, or five bonus points for making First Team All-Conference if they were not already First Team All-Pro. These awards are wisely not estimated at overthecap.com.

Now for where players are falling at this point, I have been using an estimate of about $2 million per season in salary in order for a player to qualify as a seventh-round compensatory selection, meaning they would have to fall in the top 35% of the entire league. While this is a good starting point, what ultimately will decide where the cutoff point will be will come down to percentage of snaps played. For example, both safety Xavier Woods and center Matt Skura are possible Compensatory Free Agents (CFAs) and have yearly contracts of $1.75 million for 2021 just like Conner. Woods is currently projected as a seventh-round CFA because he is projected to play 79% of the snaps in 2022. As for Skura, he falls outside of the cutoff as he is projected to have 74% of the snaps this season. As you can see, it is a very fine line with some players when it comes down to qualifying as a CFA or not.

Another player who falls in between these two who may factor into the compensatory formula is wide receiver Justin Hardee. His salary of $2.25 million is estimated to fall outside of qualifying because OTC does not believe he will reach 25% of the required snaps. Hardee has been primarily a special teams player in his four seasons in the NFL with New Orleans and did not see any snaps on offense while logging a few snaps on defense despite being listed as a wide receiver. How Hardee is deployed with the Jets this season and if he reaches the 25% of snaps threshold will ultimately determine if he lands in the top 35% of the league.

Bringing it back to James Conner, with his current reported salary for 2021, he would need to log over 75% of the Cardinals offensive snaps this season in order to come close. If Conner were to log 85% of the snaps, he would have a much better chance of qualifying as a CFA. Throughout his career, James Conner’s most snaps played were in 2018 at 64%, so reaching the required levels are not likely. Of course, he could also be selected either All-Pro or All-Conference, but even in 2018 when Conner made the Pro Bowl he was not selected to either of these teams.

It’s hard to say if the Cardinals based Conner’s contract off of the compensatory formula. Currently, they are set to have a net loss of three players and if Conner qualifies it could cost them one of their projected seventh-round selections if it fell in the top 32 picks.

Someone might say, “Well even if Conner sneaks in, he probably won’t qualify in the top 32 selections to give the Steelers a pick.” While this is likely true, it would not be Conner who would give the Steelers another selection. Currently the addition of Joe Haeg as a seventh-round CFA cancels the Steelers lowest loss which is currently Mike Hilton as a sixth-round selection. If Conner were to qualify, the addition of Haeg would cancel Conner instead of Hilton and could give to Steelers an additional pick.

This brings up even another point as to whether or not Joe Haeg will qualify for the compensatory formula. Currently OTC has him estimated to play 36% of the snaps for the Steelers. If he doesn’t cross the 25% threshold, he would be on the cusp of falling below the cut off point. Plus, OTC has simply applied a 30% of snaps played to every draft selection, so their positions could change from where they are estimated at this time and change everything.

As you can clearly see with all these explanations, the 2021 season is ultimately going to determine where some of these CFAs fall on the list. For now, it’s all estimations. While Bud Dupree is currently ranked as the highest compensatory free agent eligible to give a team a pick, he’s only ranked ahead of Kenny Golladay because Dupree is estimated to play 78% of the defensive snaps this year while Golladay is estimated at 59%. Based on this, Dupree is only two points ahead as Golliday‘s contract was larger.

So while the estimation of compensatory draft picks for 2022 is not a perfect science, it does help give an indication. The Steelers should be in line for at least two compensatory picks at this time for 2022, but this could change. While the provision of releasing a player during the season was done away with under the new CBA, the major thing which will cause these estimates to fluctuate is the number of snaps played by each player.