Any day now the NFL is set to announce the 2022 compensatory (comp) draft picks. Based on free agents lost in the 2021 offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers are projected to land a pick, most likely in the fourth round. The timing of the announcement could be so soon it could possibly even be made before this article is published.
Even though the Steelers are projected to get a fourth round comp pick, it’s not necessarily exactly the way things will work out. These picks are based on estimates with the best source being overthecap.com (OTC). But for the 2021 draft, OTC had projected the Steelers would get two picks, when they only ended up with one. With this in mind, exactly how it plays out for 2022 has yet to be determined.
With free agency on the horizon, and only one week away, often Steelers fans are looking to see where some of their free agents sign with other teams. If the deal is lucrative enough, it is hopeful it will pay off for the Steelers in the following draft. But for 2022 free agency, which leads to 2023 compensatory picks, this should not be a concern of either the Steelers, or the fan base.
With the Steelers currently sitting with just under $29 million in salary cap space, and with a number of positions in need of an upgrade for 2022, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to be buyers, not sellers, during free agency in 2022.
In the past, if the Steelers had lost a player such as JuJu Smith-Schuster or Joe Haden, fans would be looking for them to cash in on a big payday in order to help out of the compensatory formula. But this year, those losses may not be important at all as the Steelers should be looking for as many gains of their own as they can manage.
As a quick reminder of how the compensatory formula works, a team is only eligible for a draft pick if they have lost more compensatory free agents (CFAs) than what they gained. In order for a player to count as a CFA, they must have a somewhat significant salary as they will need to land in the top 35% of the league. For this reason, league minimum deals will not qualify. That exact number depends on the rest of the NFL, but if someone doesn’t sign for more than $2 million in a season it is highly unlikely they could qualify as a CFA. Once a team has more losses than gains, then the amount of their salary, along with playing time and postseason awards, will factor into how high the draft pick could be. But none of that matters if the team doesn’t lose more CFAs than they gain.
The Steelers have a lot of holes they need to fill for 2022. While they had to uncharacteristically look at the draft to fill these holes last season, based on the reduced salary cap, that’s not typically how they do business. The Steelers like to fill the holes in free agency in order to have more freedom in the draft to really prepare for the future. If the Steelers can implement this philosophy once again in 2022, they should be bringing in multiple players. The fact they have some money to do so makes this possibility even greater.
The Steelers need to hit free agency next week with the mentality they are going to be adding more players than what they lose. If they signed some of their own players from 2021, that’s great. But the Steelers need to also be adding free agents from other teams and improving at a number of positions. By doing so, their compensatory formula should not be something which they worry about during this process.
When the time period for players qualifying as a CFA expires the week after the draft, I will likely be looking into this issue again. My hope for 2022 is it will be my last compensatory free agent article because the Steelers will know they are out of the running. With more salary cap space than they have had going in the free agency in a long time, I hope the Steelers utilize their assets in order to gain more qualifying players than what they would lose. While it is possible the Steelers could sign a number of players who don’t qualify as CFAs, seeing them spend the money on quality players to improve their team would be more beneficial than getting a draft pick a year from now.