With the NFL owners meetings convening in Orlando this week, much of the discussion will center on potential rule changes and points of emphasis for the 2014 season. For fans of the NFL draft, the biggest news coming out of central Florida will be the compensation selections which are also expected to be announced.
In addition to the chance to finalize the draft order, teams can also pick up valuable selections anywhere from the end of round three to Mr. Irrelevant at the close of round seven.
Before we do our best to try to project what the St. Louis Rams will receive, let's attempt to explain a few things pertinent to the discussion of compensation picks.
The NFL does not disclose the exact formula it uses to divvy up the picks. All picks are awarded based on the previous year's free-agent market so in this case, the Rams' extra picks will be based on players like Danny Amendola and Jared Cook rather than the many free agents they've lost this year.
What we do know about the formula is that it's based on a balance of what a team gained and lost the previous season. Picks aren't just handed out because a team signed less free agents than it lost. How those players performed, how much they played and how much money they made is more important than sheer attrition. So if you lose four backups and sign one starter, it could theoretically even out and gain you nothing depending on how those backups perform and the differential in money.
Only unrestricted free agents who had that designation based on the natural course of their contract expiring are eligible to be factored into the formula. Restricted or exclusive rights free agents who do not receive tenders from their team are ineligible to be counted. Likewise for veterans who are released before the start of the new league year. What's more unclear is how players who come to some sort of opt-out agreement are counted. Using an example for the Rams, running back Steven Jackson technically opted out of his contract and chose to leave but the Rams enabled that despite Jackson not meeting the requirements to automatically trigger the voidable year. Still, Jackson was categorized as an unrestricted free agent and played 398 snaps in 2013, which should qualify him for this exercise.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement only allows for a total of 32 compensatory picks to be handed out. That's not per round but total so as to limit the draft to no more than the equivalent of a full eight rounds.
Compensatory picks cannot be traded.
Here's the breakdown of free agents lost and gained with regular season snap counts from 2013 included:
2013 free agents lost: Amendola (542 snaps), Jackson (398 snaps), offensive lineman Robert Turner (379 snaps), receiver Brandon Gibson (245 snaps), cornerback Bradley Fletcher (881 snaps), safety Craig Dahl (84 snaps), receiver Steve Smith (0 snaps, signed with Tampa Bay and retired soon after). (Note: Turner and Gibson finished the season on injured reserve)
2013 free agents gained: Offensive tackle Jake Long (818 snaps), tight end Jared Cook (691 snaps).
Projection: The Rams obviously lost more free agents than they signed in 2013 but Long and Cook were not only clearly the highest-paid going in either direction but the most productive and reliable in terms of play time. Fletcher played the most snaps while the rest of the list struggled with injuries which limited their opportunities. Dahl was mostly a special teams player for the 49ers. Few of the free agents the Rams lost should factor in a significant way aside from Fletcher and, perhaps, Amendola.
Without knowing the full details of how the picks will be handed out, this is simply an educated guess, but while I do expect the Rams to receive some sort of compensation, I wouldn't expect it to be much. The guess here is the Rams will receive one, maybe two, late-round selections likely in the seventh round with a sixth-round choice as the probable best case scenario. The team already holds nine picks in this year's draft and could gain more by trading down but either way, they'll have no shortage of chances to make picks come May.