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NFL may allow trading of compensatory draft picks. What does that mean?

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According to Adam Schefter, the NFL will allow teams to trade compensatory picks starting in 2016.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time ever, NFL teams will be able to trade their compensatory draft picks, according to Adam Schefter. NFL.com reported that Competition Committee recommended that teams be able to trade such picks, starting in the 2016 draft.

Since 1994, the NFL has distributed a total of 32 compensatory picks to teams that did not sign and retain as many players as they lost to free agency in the off season. Teams cannot receive more than four compensatory picks in any given draft. Compensatory picks usually are third-round or later, and teams that have been awarded such picks use them at the end of the round.

What is the point of compensatory picks? When teams develop talent and then lose athletes in free agency, compensatory picks are designed to give them a chance to replenish their supply of players. When players lost to free agency, the former teams get higher-round picks if the player has a highly lucrative contract and has been a strong contributor to his new team. The exact system the NFL uses to determine these picks is unknown.

In the AFC North, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome has been heralded as the Wizard of Compensatory Picks. One of his superpowers is acquiring extra picks for his team. Since 1994, the team has had 44 compensatory picks, more than any other NFL team. The Ravens compensatory picks have included offensive lineman John Urschel, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, and right tackle Rick Wagner.

Newsome seems to have an understanding of the NFL's method in assigning them, but he keeps that information close to the vest. In 2014 he said via SI.com, "Not to go into a whole lot of detail because I don't care to have 31 other clubs understand how we go about getting compensatory picks."

Another AFC North team is noteworthy when it comes to compensatory picks. The Cleveland Browns have only had six compensatory picks since 1994, the fewest in the NFL.

Where do the Steelers land in terms of compensatory picks? They have had 30 compensatory picks since 1995 and have acquired several big-name players through such picks. Wide receiver Hines Ward was acquired at the end of the third round of the 1998 draft. Cornerback William Gay was a compensatory pick in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, as was tackle Kelvin Beachum at the end of the seventh round in 2012. Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers in 2014 and linebacker Vince Williams in 2013 were both compensatory picks.

If compensatory picks are tradable in the 2016 NFL draft, there should be more wheeling and dealing on draft weekend. Under general manager Kevin Colbert, the Steelers have rarely traded up on draft day. The team occasionally trades down, but more frequently trades picks for players and players for picks. With as many as thirty-two compensatory picks available for trade in the draft, the rule change would make draft day more dynamic and exciting, even for the Steelers, a team that generally avoids complicated scheming.

In the 2016 draft, the Detroit Lions are projected to have a third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins, according to Nick Korte of Over the Cap. Other teams that could see a third-round pick are the New England Patriots (for the loss of Darrelle Revis), the Seattle Seahawks (for the loss of Byron Maxwell), and the Denver Broncos for Julius Thomas. Baltimore is projected to have two compensatory picks in the fourth round, while San Francisco, Denver, and Green Bay are projected to have one fourth-round compensatory pick each.

The significance of the rule change will be evident during draft weekend. Teams like the Denver Broncos or Baltimore Ravens could bundle their third and fourth round picks and trade them to teams for higher-round picks or multiple picks in lower rounds. Giving teams the freedom to unload their compensatory picks during the draft adds a layer of complexity and excitement to the process. Even if the Steelers attempt to stay above the fray, they will likely experience fall out from the new rule change as division rivals and teams across the league have more bargaining chips.