Compensatory draft picks have always been somewhat of a mysterious concept to fans. We spend months anticipating draft choices and then, less than two months before the draft, some thirty or so additional picks are distributed to various teams.
The basic idea is that teams who lose star players to free agency (in theory, these will be the small-market teams that superstars abandon in search of a bigger spotlight) should be compensated with draft picks. How exactly the picks are distributed has always been somewhat of a secret.
This is the press release announcing the picks for this year. In total, 32 picks were distributed to 16 different teams, with only two of those picks landing in the NFC East: 7th-round selections to both the Giants and the Eagles.
For Cowboys fans, it was a foregone conclusion that 2013 would not yield anything in terms of compensatory draft selections. 2014, however, was our target, with some fans speculating a potential compensatory third-round pick. How are things looking on that front? Let's take a look.
Although the details are unclear, the NFL does divulge the criteria used to determine compensatory pick distribution. From the above press release (with my added emphasis):
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 lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.
Two clubs this year (Indianapolis and the New York Giants) will each receive a compensatory pick even though they did not suffer a net loss of compensatory free agents last year. Under the formula, the compensatory free agents lost by these clubs were ranked higher than the ones they signed (by a specified point differential based upon salary and performance).
This first paragraph denotes three criteria, salary, playing time, and postseason honors, while the second paragraph substitutes the very vague 'performance.' It seems safe to assume that performance is used specifically to indicate playing time and postseason honors, and not a separate criterion for the circumstances set forth in that second paragraph.
What does this mean for the Dallas Cowboys? We expect to lose Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins to free agency, both former first-round picks. Victor Butler seems to be on his way out, but has so far not found a new home. Kevin Ogletree and John Phillips have already signed elsewhere. Anthony Spencer was expected to be the big fish lost, but he has been retained for the time being as a franchisee, and, even in the event of a trade, he will not become a free agent loss and therefore will not impact compensatory picks for 2014.
Dan Connor and Marcus Spears were both cuts, so their new jobs will not impact comp picks.
So, what are we looking at here? The big issue is that our 'big names' have so far not been signed to new deals. This means that, as far as salary is concerned, the Cowboys shouldn't be expecting many points. As for playing time and postseason honors, how well do you think the former Cowboys will perform in their new homes? Ogletree and Phillips likely won't be headed to the Pro Bowl, and it seems safe to assume the same for Felix, Jenkins and Butler. How much they play will be based largely on where they end up.
In any event, this doesn't appear to be a winning offseason for the Cowboys in the compensatory draft pick game. Even with only Ernie Sims so far to constitute a pickup (which would ensure the Cowboys at least get something, it seems highly unlikely that the Cowboys will receive anywhere close to 3rd-round consideration next year, barring stellar performances (or stellar contract figures) from players who have to date been less than stars.
What does it take to get a third round pick, anyway? Three teams received them this year: Houston, Kansas City and Tennessee.
Houston lost Mario Williams; Kansas City lost Brandon Carr and Kyle Orton (yes, we did essentially give them a third-round pick by signing their players); Tennessee lost Cortland Finnegan and Jason Jones.
Do you see any former Cowboys getting $50M deals in the coming weeks? Me, neither.