The football season is finally over. Now every single NFL team can turn their full attention toward the offseason. The NFL Combine, free agency, and the NFL Draft will churn over rosters in the hopes of being in the same position as the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos were on Sunday.. But one new wrinkle in NFL rules will alter the approach, at least to a minor degree, of general managers this offseason for the first time.
During NFL owners meetings in Irving, Texas last December, the league voted to allow compensatory draft picks to be traded beginning in 2017. For the sake of review, the NFL awards extra picks in the NFL draft, beyond the 32 slots in each of the draft's seven rounds, to franchises that have lost more free agents than they have signed (teams are compensated for losing both quantity and quality). Compensatory picks are slotted after the original 32 picks are done in a given round, and they are only awarded from rounds 3-7.
Remind me how this works
As a quick example, you might remember two offseasons ago, the Kansas City Chiefs allowed several veterans to leave in free agency, a group that included Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah, Geoff Schwartz, Dexter McCluster and Tyson Jackson. General manager John Dorsey also seemed disinterested in signing replacements for those losses, with Vance Walker and Joe Mays as the main free agent signings that year. The reward, if you want to refer to it as such, was four extra picks in the draft: Steven Nelson, D.J. Alexander, James O'Shaughnessy, Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
Once again, the Chiefs have a significant number of free agents ready to hit the market, and for a GM like Dorsey, I believe the ability to trade compensation picks in 2017 is going to mean quite a bit. Again, for the sake of review, the following are just some of the players available in free agency: Eric Berry, Sean Smith, Derrick Johnson, Jaye Howard, Tamba Hali, Donald Stephenson, Jeff Allen, Husain Abdullah, Chase Daniel, Mike DeVito, Tyvon Branch. Let's summarize: that is an insane amount. The Chiefs will retain some of this lot, but the loss will be felt in the market. No doubt about that.
Three points for clarification
- If Dorsey wants to make a big free agent splash, he's not going to refrain from signing a player because he could lose a mid-round compensation pick in the NFL Draft a year from now. This shouldn't need to be said, but internet commenters will likely say I'm saying Dorsey should sit on his hands for an extra sixth rounder, and that's not true. Just being clear.
- Not every FA lost equals a comp pick for the team that loses him. I'm not going to explain the rules, because I'm already several hundred words in and you can read it yourself here.
- To answer the inevitable question, the NFL announces comp picks in late March. (Last year, it was March 23.)
So what does this mean?
Dorsey already seemed to enjoy creating a draft bounty for himself (a la the aforementioned offseason). Dorsey can also sign the big FA if he wants (Jeremy Maclin, Sean Smith). But given his Green Bay pedigree and short history with the Chiefs, Dorsey seems warm to a draft-and-develop philosophy as he trusts his coaching staff to do what they do. And if compensatory picks were already important to Dorsey, then the ability to trade them makes them even more so.
Important side note: even with the potential free agent losses, the Chiefs are probably the deepest they have been in years. There are promising players all over the roster, and fewer holes than at any point since the Dorsey-Reid regime began. This is vital, because the Chiefs are one of a few teams who do not necessarily need several picks in terms of quantity. The ability to trade them, then, gives them options for better quality.
What could this allow Dorsey to do?
Here are some examples:
- With two "extra" fifth round picks last year (see aforementioned comp picks), Dorsey flipped his original fifth round pick to the New Orleans Saints for Ben Grubbs.
- Last year, the Denver Broncos sat where the Chiefs sit this year at No. 28 overall. They liked Mizzou pass rusher Shane Ray and traded up to No. 23 to the Detroit Lions. The cost to move up five slots in the first round: two fifth round selections.
- Moving up significant amounts in the second round is typically a mid-round and late-round pick. The Texans, targeting ILB Bernardrick McKinney in the 2nd and seeing a potential run on linebackers, moved up 8 spots in a trade with the Browns. The cost was a 4th and 6th round pick.
- For some other loaded teams, like the Seattle Seahawks, they traded an extra 4th, 5th and 6th to Washington along with their 3rd round choice to move up from the bottom of the third round to grab Tyler Lockett.
It's this final move, the Tyler Lockett trade, that excites me most about the ability to trade compensatory picks for Dorsey. For a team that already has a solid 53, the ability to package picks to get the guy you really want is important to grab impact guys for teams picking lower in the draft. That the Seahawks could jump from No. 95 to No. 69 is a serious move, and Lockett showed exactly why he's so dangerous during his rookie season.
Every general manager will enjoy the added flexibility of being able to trade any or all draft assets, but it will be especially interesting to see how Dorsey approaches the free agency market this year. He could add significant quantity this year for the ability to add serious quality in 2017.