It can be a very confusing process.
One of the biggest mysteries for NFL fans and media is how the league determines compensatory draft picks each year. The information used to be very secretive, but it became much more accessible in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Even so, it can be confusing to where most fans just wait for others to report on where the team stands and if they are in line for draft picks in the coming season.
Lucky for you, the information is right here.
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, an Unrestricted Free Agent singing with a new team 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 and don’t even land on the list. Although the exact number depends on the rest of the NFL, if someone doesn’t sign for more than $2.5 million in a season it is highly unlikely they would qualify as a CFA. Once a team has more qualifying 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.
While there are other factors that will ultimately determine any compensatory draft picks teams could receive in 2024, it begins with the contract the player signed. Looking at the yearly average, players are designated into rounds for compensation.
Additionally, Street Free Agents, players who were released by their previous team and did not have their contract expire, do not qualify as CFAs. Using a current example, Bud Dupree would not count as a CFA wherever he lands for 2023 because he was released by the Tennessee Titans.
Remember, other factors such as snaps played, All-Pro, and All-Conference selections factor into the equation once the 2023 season is complete. At first glance, if you don’t truly understand how the compensatory formula works, you could believe that if the Steelers lost a player who received a significant contract and was valued as a fourth-round compensatory pick than the Steelers would be in line to gain this for 2024. After all, isn’t that contract higher than any other ones the Steelers have gained?
While I see how some could fall into the trap, they need to remember that the round a player qualifies in only comes into play after it has been determined that the team has a net loss. Let’s look at the Steelers 2023 offseason as an example. All estimates for compensatory draft picks come courtesy of overthecap.com and are based on the contracts signed and an estimated percentage of snaps played in the upcoming season.
As it stands now, the Steelers have gained five players who were unrestricted free agents who qualify as CFAs. As for the losses, there are only three players who qualify. I will also list the players who received a contract more than the league minimum but are still not expected to qualify as a CFA. I will also list the projected rounds where the players would fall simply for reference.
Isaac Seumalo ($8 million/year): Fifth round
Patrick Peterson ($7 million/year): Fifth round
Cole Holcomb ($6 million/year): Sixth round
Nate Herbig ($4 million/year): Seventh round
Elandon Roberts ($3.5 million/year): Seventh round
Keanu Neal ($2.13 million/year)
Cam Sutton ($11 million/year): Fourth round
Devin Bush ($3.5 million/year): Seventh round
Robert Spillane ($3.5 million/year): Seventh round
Terrell Edmunds ($2 million/year)
Note: Players gained or lost such as Le’Raven Clark, Breiden Fehoko, and Malik Reed who are on league minimum, one-year deals cannot be CFAs.
Since the Steelers have gained five players already in the compensatory formula, they would have to lose six total players in order to have a net loss. If that would become the case, the cancellation procedure would kick in to determine which round that selection would be. But for the Steelers, they are very unlikely to reach that point in the 2023 offseason. So even though Cam Sutton has the highest round value of any of the players, it doesn’t matter because the Steelers don’t have a net loss.
Under the previous CBA, a player would no longer count in the compensatory formula if they weren’t on the roster beyond Week 10 of the season. Some Steelers fans may remember L.J. Fort was released by the Eagles in 2019 which almost cost the Steelers a compensatory draft pick. Instead, the Steelers ended up releasing Donte Moncrief and were able to keep their third-round draft selection for the loss of Le’Veon Bell.
But since the new CBA, the cutoff date for CFAs is the Monday after the NFL draft. For this reason, any players signed or released by a team will not change their CFA status with each team. The only way the status will be changed, other than the factors of snaps played and postseason awards, is if a player is traded. This happened to the Steelers in 2021 as they acquired Ahkello Witherspoon’s CFA status and cost them another potential compensatory pick.
So as the 2023 NFL free agency period winds down, the Steelers are not likely going to get a compensatory pick for the 2024 NFL draft. Even though the Steelers are out of the running, hopefully you have a better idea of the compensatory process going forward.