Compensatory picks help the rich get richer

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The original idea behind compensatory picks was to help maintain parity in the NFL: The league has never wanted wealthy teams in big markets to be able to buy up all the top talent and leave the small-market teams struggling, so the compensatory pick formula gives additional picks to teams that have lost high-priced free agents to other teams.

But in the years since the NFL started awarding compensatory picks, they’ve actually helped the best teams stay on top. That’s never been more true than this year, when the two Super Bowl participants, the Patriots and Rams, were the only teams that received two third-round compensatory picks. Compensatory picks will help the best teams get better.

The NFL, with its salary cap and revenue sharing, doesn’t have the same issues with big-market teams out-bidding small-market teams that have been problems in other sports leagues. So compensatory picks don’t go to the have-nots as compensation for losing key players to the haves.

Instead, compensatory picks go to the teams that were already good, and had such an abundance of good players that some of them signed high-priced contracts elsewhere. Teams like the Patriots and Rams.

Also benefiting the best teams is the fact that their success gives job security to their decision makers, and a front office that is secure in its job is willing to play the long game and wait out free agency this year to get compensatory picks next year. On bad teams, the G.M. knows he’s on thin ice and might lose his job without a winning season, so he needs to sign free agents who can help this year, not wait for compensatory picks next year. It’s no coincidence that the Ravens, who had the league’s longest-tenured G.M. in Ozzie Newsome, are also the team that has acquired the most compensatory picks. Newsome knew he had job security, which made him feel comfortable building for the future with compensatory picks, which in turn perpetuated his job security.

So while compensatory picks were implemented for the sake of parity in theory, in practice they’ve had the opposite effect: Compensatory picks help the top teams stay on top.

50 responses to “Compensatory picks help the rich get richer

  1. To be clear, it’s not as if the Patriots or Rams didn’t have options with the players they lost. They easily could have traded those players a year earlier for draft picks. The process allows for teams like the Patriots to hold onto their players until the end of their contracts rather than decide a year earlier. If you draft well, especially in middle rounds, you get rewarded. You also have to decide which player to keep as your core.

    The real reason it never pays to sign stars in free agency is that you overpay, based on past production and this gives you less cap room for depth players. Those third round and fourth round picks are the ones that win you championships.

    You know who was a compensatory 6th round draft pick? Tom Brady

  2. Let’s simplify it – it rewards smart teams (and it can be a small market or large market) who know that the best 53-man roster will always be competitive year in and year out, as compared to the team that tries to build the best starting 22 by foolishly throwing money at name players.

  3. Also, teams will over pay for an average player on winning teams especially with Super Bowl experience. They want their leadership on their teams.

    So in some cases these big money contracts aren’t even going to the best players. They’re going to marginal players because of their pedigree. See Amendola, Danny.

  4. Smart teams that know the rules and act on reason do better than poorly run teams that act on emotion. Thank you for the summary in all areas of business and life.

  5. Interesting perspective. Could another take be that successful teams / GM’s draft well so they are perpetually adding quality players allowing those teams to let more expensive players go?

  6. Rewards smart teams which also happen over time to be the best teams. You’ve got the equation backwards.

  7. This all comes down to smart drafting & cap management & player development.

    Also, how many times is a high draft choice a bust on one team, another team picks him up and finds a niche for him and he becomes a decent contributor. Proper assessment of the players strengths etc. Also some teams go for depth rather than a handful of overpaid divas.

  8. It’s not that cut and dried. For example, the Rams get a 3rd round pick for losing Sammy Watkins however they traded a first round pick to replace him with Brandin Cooks. The Patriots got a 3rd round pick for losing Nate Solder but spent a 3rd round pick on Trent Brown to replace him. It’s all part of the team building process and these comp picks can’t view viewed in a vacuum.

  9. Hmmmm, maybe there’s nothing wrong with the system…maybe it’s just that Good teams have Smart management that do MANY things better than other teams.

    This just sounds like an excuse made up by a jealous, small-minded fan of a losing team to rationalize why his team is never successful.

    Note: It’s also extremely unfair to the teams that lose games that they don’t score as many points as the teams that beat them! Unbelievably unfair !!! Those meanies on the good teams should be forced to donate 3 of their points per game to the losing side to make things fair to the losing teams.

  10. If you, like me, enjoy watching the process of team building, that’s how smart teams separate from the mediocre teams. For me football is not about supporting local team fanatically, it’s an intellectual game so I want to see smart teams excel at building a winning roster.

  11. I call bs on this.

    Rams were given a pick for Watkins. Whom they traded for in his contract year. Shipped a guy they were gonna cut any way.

    The system just stinks.

    You reward teams for refusing to lock up players. Or even better reward teams for a one year rental.

  12. The easiest way to reward teams who drafted s good player is when it’s time to re-sign the players they draft is to allow them to match any offer another team makes but charge them a lower number on their cap hit. For instance: a player you drafted is offered $$20 mil elsewhere, you can match that offer but your cap hit be 75% of what the offer is. So in this case it would be $15 mil instead of the $20. This way you are rewarding the team that drafted the player as they should be rewarded. Teams that draft well are coaching these guys into great players for four years only to see them leave. Doesn’t seem fair.

  13. Your argument here isn’t with the Pats and Rams it’s with smart franchises who plan for the future. Ones who don’t over pay for free agent talent even when it’s one of their own.

    Would solder have been a good value for the pats this year (considering his monster Deal that he got from NYG) compared to Trent Brown who played better and was a fraction of the cost? No he wouldn’t have been and wasn’t resigned at those dollars because the pats didn’t panic and had plan B already in mind.

  14. If it were that simple then the Chiefs, Saints, Chargers etc would be getting them too. They reward teams that are confident in their roster building.

  15. My views exactly, the original idea was to maintain some semblance of parity, but that OBVIOUSLY AINT HAPPENING! A few teams have this process down perfectly, every year based on planned movement they receive these 3-4 additional picks which make a difference, 2 extra 3s for the champs and the runner up. Some teams are so good at it that they can count on additional picks year in year out . Some have said its good roster management? Maybe, but given as it is , parity never happens. Also, there are many ” smartly” managed teams, it s not an exclusive club of 3-4 teams.cultures and philosophies differ!

  16. Thin ice? Gimme a break. A great draft makes a GM, not a big signing. Look at Seattle in 2011, 2012. Unbelievable drafts.

    Pick the right guys. Forget the big splash.

  17. First off, you’ve got to understand that if one of those two teams were different, your comments section would look a LOT different as well. Just saying. I mean, honestly, do you think we’d all react the same way if he didn’t name the Patriots as one of the teams? Look past that and see the purpose of the article. It’s not to bash the Pats or complain that they’re cheating or something. It’s about the actual compensatory process.

    Florio’s point here, guys, is NOT that teams like the Rams and Pats are cheating the system or not being smart. His point is that the compensatory system started as a way to (duh) compensate teams for losing free agents, but has since become a way to exploit free agency. I never understood why, conceptually, teams should be rewarded for losing a player, as if they did not have a chance to sign him and gain whatever competitive advantage that they thought they lost.

    The reasoning just doesn’t sit right with me. I’m not mad at teams for exploiting this, let me make that clear, what I do not get is the justification for WHY it exists. If you want a player, sign him. If not, then you lose him. Losing him and then complaining that you lost some sort of advantage on the field is silly. The guy’s not on your team anymore, you don’t deserve a reward for that. If one of my employees at work leaves my workplace to go somewhere else for better pay, that company is not legally obligated to send me a check for a portion of his/her salary to cover a replacement. I don’t get preferred access to a fresh group of college grads in my field to hire. It’s my responsibility to retain my employees. If I can’t, then I lose them.

  18. Personally I think the OP is a BS point of view. The NFL ALREADY creates an unfair advantage in the way the draft is set up. The good teams are drafting at the end of every round. For example the Cardinals get their players 31 picks ahead of the Pats….in EVERY round. THAT my friends, is a competitive advantage…and a big one.

    AK wrote a very reasoned opinion of the situation, but he misses the central point of the draft process. It is ALREADY very unfair to the best teams. The compensation process was put in to (duh) compensate teams who have developed and coached up over a period of 4-5 years. The reward, if you happened to hit the jackpot and lose players who are very good, is a pick around 100. Most comp picks are 150 and LOWER. It’s not like the league is gifting these teams the keys to the elite players in the draft.

    BTW- comp picks are not given just to good teams. The fact that the Rams and Pats each got 2 this year is an anomaly. Bad teams lose good player too. I’ve often thought that the fairest way to conduct a draft would be to use a serpentine formula. Bad teams would still be able to draft the top players in the draft in the first round, but in the 2nd the order would be reversed. So the best teams would draft first in the 2nd, 4th, and 6th rounds. If THAT were the case then I’d be OK with eliminating the comp picks.

  19. The rules are the same for everybody. So if some teams manage it well year after year and others don’t.

    Shame on the ones that don’t. THEY need to improve.

    It is what it is, deal with it, or take up a new sport.

  20. Systems that try to enforce equality of results always fail because of the human element. There will never be fairness in the NFL so long as Brady and Belichick are on the same team, they will always be better because of who they are and the work they put in. America used to understand these sorts of things, celebrate them even.

  21. It really is the Pats world, and we just live in it. Teams also continue to make lopsided trades with them, and they have the advantage of vets willing to take pay cuts just to get a ring.

    I’m sure it’s fun being a Pats fan, but to me, it seems like rooting for the house in blackjack.

    It used to feel the same way with the Cowboys. This, too, shall pass. Other teams have to step up their game.

  22. In order to get a comp pick a team must lose someone of value. It is not a case of the rich getting richer but the rich having players that other teams want and they cant retain them due to the cap.

    Rams only signed players last year that were cut from other teams (Suh and Ramik Wilson) and made trades for players while losing Watkins, Trumaine and special teams ace cody davis.

  23. At a glance it looks like a system where the rich get richer, but the reality is teams that are well managed get to the top and stay on top. It rewards teams who hire good GM’s and personnel people. Bad GM’s get themselves in situations where their jobs are on the line. Bad GM’s pay through the nose for expensive free agents. I like systems that reward good management so that owners are encourages to hire competent people. You always hear about the draft being a crap shoot and all that garbage, but those are just excuses put out there by GM’s who spend their day talking to the media instead of watching film. There’s always a certain amount of luck involved, but teams that stay on top for a decade or more just know what they’re doing. It’s also why Belichick’s coordinators don’t win when they leave the nest. It’s Bill Belichick the GM that keeps the Pats on top, not Bill Belichick the coach. Actually B.B. the coach is pretty good too, but he can’t win without the “right” players. It’s his definition of the “right players” that gives him the advantage. He’s obviously winning with guys nobody else is paying attention to, or throwing big dollars at. He’ll get a better player in the 3rd round than most teams will get in the first round.

  24. If a team isn’t developing or rewarding their own roster players accordingly, then of course they will never be able to stay on top. Good management practices on these well run organizations allows them to stay on top, it is like this article pretends top teams don’t have to deal with harder schedules every season, when they always do.

    Staying on top in the NFL isn’t easy, getting others to want to overpay for your very talent is also a sign of great management. Getting rewarded for that actually makes sense.

  25. If the Rams re-sign Saffold they are looking at compensatory picks again next year. Suh, Joyner and Fowler Jnr all gonna give them high picks and they don’t have the salary cap space to spend freely on FAs.

  26. The Patriots received their compensatory picks for the loss of Danny Amendola, Johnson Bademosi, Malcolm Butler, Cameron Fleming, Dion Lewis and Nate Solder.

    When signed by the Patriots, Amendola was not a superstar and just coming into his own. The Patriots made him great and got him a big contract from Miami.

    Bademosi was a special teamer that the Patriots got for a sixth rounder from the Lions. He was unremarkable in his time with the Patriots but cashed in on their success with a big contract with the Texans.

    Malcolm Butler was a no-name, undrafted low-level college player that signed with the Patriots as a rookie free agent in 2014. He was never extraordinary, but did his job in super bowl 49 and parlayed that into a starting role and an eventual big contract from the Titans.

    Cam Fleming was a 2014 4th round pick of the Patriots. He was a serviceable part-time starter and used that to sign a low-level deal with the Cowboys as a part-time starter.

    Dion Lewis, who was once traded from the Eagles to the Browns for linebacker Emmanuel Acho, (remember him? didn’t think so) was picked up by the patriots in late 2014 and was given an opportunity. Aside from being injured often, he managed to be successful in their system and turned that into a big deal with the Titans.

    Nate Solder was drafted by the Patriots in the 1st round of the 2011 draft. He made an immediate impact and had many years of success in New England. He left last year for a big payday with the Giants, but his absence was hardly a factor in the Patriots success.

    The compensatory formula was designed not to reward incompetent teams who can’t manage their own personnel, but teams who lose valued free agents for financial purposes. That is exactly what has happened to the Patriots due to their own success and hard work, coaching and developing players into “stars”.

  27. It really doesnt matter…The draft is a crapshoot, and its all about a players drive to succeed. With good coaching, it can happen, but theyre a lot of busts in the NFL because no matter a players talent, they either dont have the drive or work habits to succeed or the money they get, just takes over their lives

  28. mitchaz says:
    February 23, 2019 at 7:44 am
    Plus, the system screws veteran players in free agency because those signings deter teams from accruing compensatory picks.
    Please provide some examples. Maybe it impacts some marginal players, but not much more. Even guys like Danny Amendola get overpaid.

  29. This is just dumb

    Those teams lost good players. The fact that they were able to succeed without them speaks to the fact that their personnel people are good at what they do. As a dolphins fan my team is mired in eternal misery but I dont bare ill will to the teams that get it right

  30. I think the formula rewards teams that are good at drafting players. Those can develop top quality talent and then let them walk to be replaced by draft picks shows who can and can’t draft well. That’s it.

  31. Even with the parity philosophy the rich still get richer. What does it say? The smart ones get richer even with obstacle thrown their way. Survival of the fittest.

  32. Maybe it needs to go away. The smart teams just wait til the deadline and sign a few guys who have been dangling a while and by then are desperate, which lowers their pay once teams have all the leverage.

  33. The Ravens have reached the bottom after winning Super Bowl in 2012. They immediately started losing talent because of the salary cap and because teams are willing to pay more for good (but not necessarily great) players in a Super Bowl winning team. To make things worse, they had to re-sign Joe Flacco, who was going to become a free agent and who proclaimed himself the best QB in the NFL. Therefore, even though the Ravens received the most compensatory picks, it has not helped them stay on top. In fact, about 3 years ago, they were among the worst team in the league.

    Similar things have happened to other Super Bowl winning teams, such as New Orleans, Green Bay, Seattle, and NY. All but Seattle has had losing records in at least one season since winning the Super Bowl. The only team that has repeated as SB champ recently is New England. They have made very good decisions on whom to keep and whom to let go. It also helps them because they have a QB who is not only great but who is willing to accept a small paycheck to help the team win.

  34. Most of the teams are so poorly run it wouldn’t matter. Look at Cleveland how many good draft picks they have had and squandered. So many teams are run the same way. Most teams if they do get good fall apart with a year or two. The only exception are the Patriots.

  35. It’s working. Leave it be. Next thing you know they will want Superbowl changes because Peyton Manning never got to touch the football.

  36. Nothing is stopping teams from mirroring how BB does it.

    Instead, loser nfl fans just yell out “cheaters!” over and over as they don’t hold their owners accountable and get ready to slip into their straighjackets after watching BB master the teambuilding process for 20 years instead.

    This isn’t that complicated. Just draft well and don’t be a moron, basically.

  37. balt88 says:
    February 23, 2019 at 7:13 pm
    Compensatory picks are like a reward for your GM not doing his job properly.

    1 1 Rate This


    Umm, you have it backwards. If the player is coming into his prime and a crap GM like Ozzie Newsome didn’t budget properly for a guy like Osmele and numerous others, then yes.

    If you are BB and you walk from Solder, Amendola, etc, then no, it’s genius in action.

  38. most of the comments think these comp picks are about how well you draft. Has nothing to do with drafting at all. Its how many players you lose to how many players you sign.You can sign fa players to 1 and 2 year contracts and make bank on comp picks like the rams and pats just did. The pats haven’t exactly been praised for being great drafters the last 15 years.Just being great at knowing when to let players walk(not counting all the live football stuff)

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