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Broncos hope mysterious math of compensatory picks adds up to four

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was once an annual rite of late winter.

Mike Shanahan would hope things would work out for the Denver Broncos in the uncertain, often murky world of compensatory draft picks. And almost every year he and the Broncos would be disappointed when the final tally was made.

This time around the Broncos hope to increase their draft capital by four picks when compensatory picks are officially announced at the league meetings later this month. They are usually awarded on the first full Monday of the annual gathering and this year that is March 23rd.

Long-time personnel executives around the league say that while teams try to figure out what may happen, they're not often certain of what the total will be and what rounds those picks will be placed.

"How that breaks down I'm not positive," Broncos general manager John Elway said. "You never know until you get them."

Compensatory picks are placed at the end of rounds in the draft and are based on the team's losses in free agency compared to the players the team signed.

So, this year's total would be based on players the Broncos signed in free agency before the 2014 season compared to the players the Broncos lost in free agency. While the Broncos were one of the most active teams in free agency, signing front-line players like T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Emmanuel Sanders -- all four of those players played in the Pro Bowl -- Ware doesn't count in the total for compensatory picks because the Dallas Cowboys released him before free agency began.

Players who are released before the start of the new league year don't count as additions in free agency for their new teams, or losses for their former teams, in the compensatory pick math. That's why quarterback Peyton Manning didn't count in the calculations following the 2012 season since he had been released by the Indianapolis Colts before the Broncos signed him.

The Broncos' losses in free agency before this past season included Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Mike Adams, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Wesley Woodyard and Jeremy Mincey. All of those players were starters for their new teams. The Broncos losses also included Robert Ayers, Knowshon Moreno (finished season on injured reserve) and Shaun Phillips, players who had significant playing time at some point during the season.

Ayers played in 12 games for the Giants in '14, with one start, while Phillips played in 16 games for the Titans and Colts combined with one start. Moreno's year ended early in the season because of injuries. Still, all together, the Broncos' losses in free agency in '14 will far exceed their gains.

It's why Elway said this week he expects four additional picks to come the Broncos way for this year's draft, which would give the team 10 and be a departure from the usual way things have gone. In the last eight drafts the Broncos have had just one compensatory pick -- in 2011 when they selected Jeremy Beal in the seventh round. Since the 2004 draft they have had just five compensatory picks overall -- 2004 (Brandon Miree), 2005 (Domonique Foxworth, Maurice Clarett), 2006 (Domenik Hixon) and Beal in '11.

In team history they have only had more than one compensatory pick in two drafts -- 1999 and 2005.

Asked this week if one of this year's compensatory picks could be as high as a fourth rounder, Elway said "It's hard to say, I don't even want to think about it."