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NFL Free Agency: Why Cowboys are on track for up to four comp draft picks in 2021

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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 2021.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In 2020 free agency so far, the Cowboys have made more headlines with the players they’ve allowed to leave Dallas than with the players the Cowboys are bringing in. 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 Jason Witten 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 one-year rental Robert Quinn leave for Chicago and a five-year, $70M deal, the Cowboys would have gotten a third-round pick for Quinn?

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

The Cowboys have lost six compensatory free agents so far, and have signed just one in Gerald McCoy, so technically they would be in line for the maximum four comp picks right now - and as long as they sign four fewer comp free agents than they lose, it will remain that way.

Here’s an overview of the compensatory free agents gained and lost so far (courtesy of OverTheCap.com)

Keep in mind that every compensatory free agent signed cancels out a compensatory free agent lost. In the table above, newly-signed Gerald McCoy cancels out Oakland-bound Maliek Collins, but that still leaves the Cowboys with five net losses. So right now, the Cowboys would stand to receive four comp picks (the maximum), two of which would be in the third round and one each in the fifth and sixth rounds.

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

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. Players like Kerry Hyder, Christian Covington, Tavon Austin, and others could potentially further drive up that number, depending on the value of the contract they sign with another team.

You’d rather the Cowboys sign free agents now than sit around idly waiting for draft picks next year?

No problem, the team can have its cake and eat it too - if they go about free agency in a smart way. Because not every free agent signed automatically qualifies as a compensatory free agent.

Players that were released don’t count. Restricted free agents that aren’t tendered by their teams don’t count. Free agents signed after mid May don’t count. And of course, a player acquired in a trade doesn’t count either, and the Cowboys have two fifths and a seventh this year (and more late-round picks next year) which they should use for exactly that purpose.

In any case, there’s a good chance the Cowboys could net a nice haul of comp picks in the 2021 NFL draft.