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NFL Free Agency: Why Cowboys Are On Track For Up To Four Comp Draft Picks In 2018

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The Cowboys have already lost four compensatory free agents so far, and more could follow, which could lead to a comp pick bonanza in 2018.

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In 2017 free agency so far, the Cowboys have made much more headlines with the players they've allowed to leave Dallas than with the players the Cowboys are bringing in or bringing back. As a result, a part of the free agency discussion in Dallas has revolved around the potential for the Cowboys to receive some compensatory draft picks next year for the free agents they'll lose this year, and this focus on comp picks has drawn some derisive sneers here and there.

But think about it this way: if the Cowboys had traded away DE Jack Crawford for a sixth-round pick instead of letting him go for free, wouldn't you have jumped at that opportunity? What if, instead of letting Terrance Williams leave to another team as a free agent, the Cowboys would have gotten a third-round pick for Williams? Wouldn't you have started an impromptu victory dance if that had happened?

That, in a nutshell, is what compensatory draft picks are all about.

If you want to read up on the mechanics of how the comp picks work, read this article from a few weeks ago. What's important for us today is that the annual value of a contract signed by the free agents determines which draft round a compensatory draft pick is awarded for. Going off this year's estimate by OverTheCap.com, this could be the annual contract value required or each round:

  • 3rd-round pick: $9.0 million or more
  • 4th-round pick: $7.0 million
  • 5th-round pick: $5.0 million
  • 6th-round pick: $3.0 million
  • 7th-round pick: $1.5 million

The Cowboys have lost four compensatory free agents so far, and have not signed any yet, so technically they would be in line for four comp picks right now - and as long as they sign four fewer comp free agents than they lose, it will remain that way.

[Table updated with the most recent Cowboys' signings]

Dallas Cowboys Comp Pick Tracker
Qualifying Free Agents Lost: 9
Qualifying Free Agents Gained: 2
Name Rd. Annual Value Name Rd. Annual Value
Ronald Leary 4th $8,750,000 - - - -
Barry Church 4th/5th $6,500,000 - - - -
Brandon Carr 5th $5,750,000 - - - -
Terrell McClain 5th
$5,25,000 - - - -
Morris Claiborne 5th/6th $5,000,000 - - - -
J.J. Wilcox 6th $4,250,000 - - - -
Jack Crawford 6th $3,433,333 Nolan Carroll $3,333,333
Lance Dunbar 7th $3,000,000 Stephen Paea $2,000,000
Mark Sanchez 7th $2,000,000 Byron Bell
$2,000,000
Non-Compensatory free agents
Terrance Williams $4,125,000
Jonathan Cooper $2,000,000
Brice Butler $1,100,000

Darren McFadden $980,000
Ryan Davis - - $1,100,00 Damontre Moore - - $825,000
Kellen Moore $775,000
David Irving $615,000

But (and there's always a 'but') if the Cowboys were to go out and sign four compensatory free agents, all those extra comp picks would go up in smoke.

Last year, the Cowboys did just that when they signed DT Cedric Thornton, RB Alfred Morris, DE Benson Mayowa, and OL Joe Looney in the first weeks of free agency.  And there's a good chance they'll bring in a handful of free agents again this year, but those potential signings might not automatically reduce the Cowboys' comp pick total.

For one thing, the Cowboys may well lose more compensatory free agents than listed in the table above. Brandon Carr, Terrance Williams, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox, could all depart, and all would be comp-pick eligible. Even down-roster guys like Gavin Escobar, Mark Sanchez, or even Jonathan Cooper might fetch a contract big enough to qualify as compensatory free agents.

Also, not every free agent signed automatically qualifies as a compensatory free agent. Players that are released (QB Josh McCown) don't count. Restricted free agents that aren't tendered by their teams (Benson Mayowa last year) don't count. Free agents signed after May 9 (Justin Durant last year) don't count. Also of interest for the Cowboys, free agents with ten or more accrued seasons (DeMarcus Ware) may not valued any higher than a fifth-round pick in the cancellation chart, regardless of what contract they sign.

But back to the business of prematurely counting comp picks:

There's a good chance Terrance Williams could sign a contract worth a fourth-round comp pick, and Brandon Carr might also net a fourth with the right type of contract, though the Cowboys may decide to re-sign him if the right type of contract is not forthcoming for Carr.

In any case, there's a good chance the Cowboys could net up to four comp picks in the 2018 NFL draft, and those picks will probably be in the fourth and fifth rounds of the draft, a slightly better haul than the four comp picks they got in the 2016 draft.

In 2015, the Cowboys had lost seven compensatory free agents and signed just three, also giving them four comp picks in the next draft. Here's how that played out:

2016 Dallas Cowboys Comp Picks
2015 free agents lost: 7 2015 free agents gained: 3 2016 Comp picks: 4
Name Rd. Annual Value Name Rd. Annual Value Name
DeMarco Murray 4 $8,000,000 Greg Hardy
$8,994,100
Jermey Parnell 4 $6,400,000 Dak Prescott
Bruce Carter 6 $4,250,000 Kavon Frazier
Henry Melton 6 $3,750,000 Darius Jackson
Justin Durant 6 $3,600,000 Rico Gathers
Dwayne Harris 6 $3,500,000 Andrew Gachkar $2,600,000
George Selvie 7 $1,200,000 Darren McFadden $1,500,000

In 2015, the Greg Hardy signing canceled out DeMarco Murray's departure, just as Dwayne Harris and George Selvie were canceled out by Andrew Gachkar and Darren McFadden. That left the Cowboys with four comp picks that netted them Dak Prescott, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson, and Rico Gathers.

Not everybody will get excited at the prospect of extra day three picks, but if one of those picks nets the Cowboys another player of Prescott's caliber, a little excitement might be in order.