When the NFL released compensatory picks on Monday afternoon, it listed five "lost" free agents counting toward the St. Louis Rams' formula: cornerback Bradley Fletcher, center Robert Turner, receivers Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola and safety Craig Dahl. The formula also counted tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook as additions.
Conspicuous by his absence was running back Steven Jackson, who departed in free agency to the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, it seemed Jackson may have been a simple oversight on the list released by the league, but after some checking around, ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando got to the bottom of it to confirm that Jackson was actually not included in the formula.
According to Sando, although Jackson was categorized by the NFL as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, he did not count toward the formula because his contract was re-worked in its final year. The league's stance on the issue is designed to prevent teams from making tweaks to contracts in their final season which could theoretically allow teams to set themselves up for additional compensatory picks.
That's a logical stance, but one could also see how it would be unfair to the Rams in Jackson's case. Jackson's contract already had an opt-out clause in it before the final year, though it was a clause triggered by reaching performance plateaus. The only tweak the Rams made to it was to allow Jackson to opt out, even though he wasn't going to hit those marks.
At the end of the 2012 season, Jackson chose to opt out and the league declared him an unrestricted free agent. In a very technical sense, the Rams didn't "choose" to lose Jackson, though it's certain he would not have been brought back at the scheduled $7 million price tag had he decided not to opt out.
It's clear that any alteration in the final year of a contract is probably going to prevent that player from being eligible to be counted in the compensatory formula, even if the player leaves at his own discretion.
Even without counting Jackson, the Rams received three compensatory picks, one in the sixth round and two in the seventh. Really, Jackson's exclusion from the formula isn't a big deal, though it's hard to say whether it cost the Rams a chance at receiving the maximum four compensation picks. Either way, the Rams aren't hurting for selections as they now have an even dozen for May's NFL draft.