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Raiders Look to get Good Free Agent Compensation

Everyone who follows the NFL knows the draft is seven rounds. But when the last player in the last round has been taken, there have been enough players for eight rounds of 32 players each. The reason there are these extra 32 players hidden in the draft are the compensatory picks. Awarded every year since 1994, the league gives extra picks at the ends of round 3-7 to certain teams based on a formula that is not released. The basic requirements to be eligible have been released, though. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t evidence out there to suggest which picks the Raiders could receive.

As this press release from the NFL last season explains, “Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks. The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four.”

The release later states, “Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council.”

Not every free agent is counted though. In fact, in that same release, the NFL acknowledges this fact by stating, “Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula”, and it goes on to show which free agents were counted by the league.

For example, last season the Cincinnati Bengals had the highest compensatory pick, the 33rd pick in the third round, 97th overall. They were the only team to be awarded a third round pick last season. Compensatory picks are based upon net losses in the previous season’s free agency period, so if we look at what Cincinnati lost, we can see that in 2010, Carolina lost Julius Peppers and Chris Harris to the Bears, Jake Delhomme to the Browns, and AJ Feeley to the Rams. However, on the press release it lists the players whom the NFL have taken into consideration. In this case, the NFL has only taken into consideration the losses of Julius Peppers and AJ Feeley. The other players did not factor into the formula, but it’s unclear why.

I looked back at 4-5 years worth of compensatory picks. Sometimes a great many free agents are allowed – ones that you wouldn’t expect – and sometimes only a few are. This makes it difficult to speculate which free agents will or will not be part of the formula. For example, in the Raiders’ case, in 2011 free agency, the Raiders lost Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller – who will both certainly be part of the equation – and signed Kevin Boss – who also will be considered, I’m sure. From there it gets a bit unclear. They lost Robert Gallery, who signed a three year $15 million contract with Seattle. They lost Bruce Gradkowski to the Bengals who gave him a two year contract for $3.5 million to be their backup QB. In addition to signing Asomugha, the Eagles also signed former Raider WR Johnnie Lee Higgins to a one year contract.

If every player the Raiders lost is counted, they had five losses: Asomugha, Miller, Gallery, Gradkowski and Higgins, who were signed by other teams, and one gain in Boss. That would make them eligible for the top amount of compensatory picks the league would ever award, which is four. However, I have serious doubts that the Raiders would be awarded anything for the loss of Higgins. I’m not convinced that Gradkowski will count, either, given that he didn’t start at all this year. The league does look at the net gain and loss, though, as well – meaning that simply because the Raiders signed Boss doesn’t mean they can’t get good compensatory picks. They look at the quality of players signed vs lost.

So, it seems likely the Raiders will get either two or three compensatory picks. I do not expect them to get four. I think they are in line to possibly get the first compensatory pick this year, though, the 32 pick of the seventh round, 96th overall (it’s the 32nd pick because the Raiders forfeited their third round pick for Pryor, therefore that pick disappears from the draft, moving everyone up a spot).

My research showed it’s rare for a team to have both 3rd and 4th round picks – there are usually only a handful of each that are awarded. What is much more likely is that the Raiders get a 3rd followed by a 5th and finally what I’m guessing is a 7th. This is all guesswork, based on patterns on what is awarded to teams. The actual formula is proprietary to the NFL and not released. But my best guess is that the Raiders are awarded a 3rd, 5th, and 7th for players lost.

These extra draft picks will certainly be needed, too. The Raiders have some glaring needs – like CB and LB – and some positions that have definite need of an upgrade – like DT and WR. They also need a backup RB and backup QB (although I would expect the QB position, at the least, to be filled in free agency).

Currently, the Raiders only hold two picks in the draft due to prior deals made. Here, you can see how the Raiders have reached this situation.

1st round: Traded to Bengals for Carson Palmer

2nd round: Traded to Patriots for 2011 3rd and 4th round picks

3rd round: Exercised in 2011 supplemental draft (Terrelle Pryor)

4th round: Traded to Redskins for Jason Campbell

5th round: Still own pick

6th round: Still own pick

7th round: Traded to Seahawks for Aaron Curry

So, if my guesses are correct, the Raiders’ draft will look like this, barring any further trades:

One 3rd round, two 5th rounds, one 6th round, one 7th round pick. Nothing amazing, but certainly better off than they were prior to the Compensatory picks.

It’s fortuitous that the Raiders are in line for Compensatory picks this year, too. Historically speaking they are one of the lowest awarded teams. Compensatory picks, by nature, reward teams that draft well and can replace their veterans with backups that are reaching their prime and/or teams that are frugal and let their high dollar free agents go. The Raiders are neither of these, historically.
The Raiders under Al Davis were frequent players in free agency and were loath to let their best talent walk away. Therefore it’s unsurprising to see that they rank in the lower levels in terms of numbers of Compensatory picks awarded since 1994. A couple of the teams there, Houston and the renewed Browns, haven’t been around all that time so are understandably lower. The Jets are the lowest team to be present since 1994 with only 5 Compensatory picks in all that time.

With only 13 Compensatory picks awarded to the franchise since 1994, you can see why this particular year is quite a step in a different direction from prior years.

That 13 pick number is also a bit deceptive because, in assigning Compensatory picks, if not all 32 picks are assigned based on free agency net losses, the remaining picks up to 32 are assigned to the teams at the top of the draft. So, the Raiders have had some late 7th round picks assigned to them simply because they were so bad, they were at the top of the draft and not all the compensatory picks were given out. I expect the Raiders to have many more Compensatory picks under McKenzie’s guidance than they did under Davis.

What picks the Raiders will be assigned is just a guess, though, since none of us has access to the actual formula. I have theorized a 3rd, 5th, and 7th based on the historical data.

Former TFDS head writer, Levi Damien, has made a case that he believes it will be a 3rd, 4th, and 5th at his new gig writing for SilverandBlackPride.com. His research included looking at contracts and comparing with past years, which could quite possibly be more accurate.

The picks are awarded at the NFL annual meeting which will be held March 26-28 this year, and the Compensatory selections should be announced around then. They were announced May 25th last year.

Here are some links showing prior years’ compensatory picks and the free agents that were considered by the league.

2011 Compensatory Picks

2010 Compensatory Picks
2009 Compensatory Picks

Take a look and determine what you think. You can follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews and let me know your thoughts.