For teams that like instant gratification, big free agent signings are the most exciting part of the offseason. But for teams willing to sacrifice in the present to build for the future, compensatory picks are a big piece of the puzzle.
Compensatory picks are awarded to the teams that lose more players than they sign in free agency. They’re a way of evening things out so that the teams that don’t spend a lot can recover from the big spenders poaching their top players.
This year, the Rams and Patriots have lost some big-money free agents. Which means they stand to benefit with a couple of third-round compensatory picks a year from now. The Rams have lost cornerback Trumaine Johnson and receiver Sammy Watkins, while the Patriots have lost offensive tackle Nate Solder and cornerback Malcolm Butler. Neither the Rams nor the Patriots have signed any big-money players to cancel those deals out, so each team might end up with a third-round compensatory pick.
The highest compensatory pick next year will go to Washington, based on the loss of Kirk Cousins to Minnesota — but only if Washington doesn’t spend a lot of money in free agency to cancel out that contract in the compensatory pick formula.
If you want to excite the fan base, it’s a lot easier to sell tickets on a big-name free agent than on a mid-round pick a year from now. But smart teams compile compensatory picks, and the Rams and Patriots are smart teams.