As the Kansas City Chiefs ponder which of their own free agents to re-sign — and which players from other teams to pursue — the NFL’s formula for compensating teams for free-agent losses may be under consideration.
Though the league has never made its exact formula public, teams are awarded compensatory draft picks when the number of qualifying free agents a particular team lost in the previous offseason is greater than the number it signed. Players qualify based on their average earnings per year and playing time with their new team. Players released by their former teams — such as now-former Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens — do not factor into the formula. Players who have taken restructures to void portions of existing deals — and players who sign for minimum-salary deals — are also exempt.
A total of 32 picks are awarded each year, which brings the seven-round draft to 256 picks. Third-round picks are also awarded to teams for developing minority head coach or general manager candidates — as the Chiefs will receive after assistant general manager Ryan Poles was hired by the Chicago Bears — in addition to the 32 compensatory picks. After both forms of compensation are official, the 2022 draft will have 262 total selections.
This week, OverTheCap.com — likely the expert on compensatory picks among NFL media — predicted the likelihood of each team receiving 2023 compensatory picks based on pending unrestricted free agents. Because of the team’s high number of quality players unsigned for 2022, Kansas City was rated as “very likely” to factor into the formula a year from now.
Kansas City Chiefs
As expected, the Chiefs franchise tagged Orlando Brown, Jr., but are plenty of other players that could generate a high quantity and quality of comp picks for Kansas City. They include Tyrann Mathieu, Charvarius Ward, Mike Hughes, and Daniel Sorenson from the defensive backfield, Jarran Reed and Derrick Nnadi on the defensive interior, and Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson at wide receiver. Melvin Ingram also cannot be discounted despite turning 33 for next season. The Chiefs have some holes on the roster they might want to fill with signing an external CFA or two, but even in that case they should be well suited to still be on the 2023 comp picks list. Potential: Very High
If Mathieu or Ward leave Kansas City, they will be very likely to sign contracts with enough value to merit compensation. Even on the short-term deals they would be likely to get, Ingram and Reed are also probably in line for enough average value. After coming on strong late in the season and in the playoffs, Pringle is also a possibility — although his age (and deep wide receiver boards both in free agency and the draft) could leave him overlooked.
Other players listed, however, are unlikely to see sufficient interest from other teams.
Hughes — a former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings — has a lengthy injury history and appeared to be beaten in coverage multiple times during his only Kansas City season. Robinson has tested free agency in each of the past two offseasons, but returned to the team on minimum-salary contracts after finding minimal interest elsewhere. Being a year older — and with another season of middling production — is likely will not help his case this offseason.
Sorensen — now 32 — also returned to the Chiefs at a low salary during free agency last year. While he is still only 25 years old, Nnadi is coming off of his worst season as a professional — and offers little pass-rushing upside that might make him attractive to other teams.
Although teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers have often appeared to plan their offseason around acquiring future compensatory picks, the Chiefs don’t have that luxury right now. Now that the Denver Broncos have acquired superstar quarterback Russell Wilson — and with the Los Angeles Chargers expected to trade for pass rusher Khalil Mack — the team will feel pressure to respond in free agency. If the Chiefs respond by signing multiple qualifying free agents (or by bringing back some of their own priority players), they would be unlikely to receive high compensatory selections — even if Mathieu signs for near the top-market value for safeties.
OverTheCap also projects that the Chiefs will receive a 2022 seventh-round pick as compensation for losing linebacker Damien Wilson to the Jacksonville Jaguars last offseason. If that is announced at the upcoming league meetings, Kansas City could potentially choose four times in the final round.