The Rich Get Richer with 2019 NFL Compensatory Draft Pick Allocations

By Chris Malumphy

The NFL's compensatory draft pick system should be heavily modified, or abolished. The recent compensatory pick awards for the upcoming draft show why. The system harms players, fans and teams alike to the detriment of the game.

Fifteen teams were awarded a total of 32 compensatory picks for the 2019 NFL Draft. Compensatory draft picks are awarded to teams that lose more, or better, free agents than they sign the prior season.

The New England Patriots, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals received four compensatory picks. Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals received three. The Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons get two. The Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers receive one each.

Teams that did not receive a compensatory pick were the: Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.

According to the Draft Value Chart, the 32 picks awarded for 2019 represent 1041.2 points of draft value. Because compensatory picks come at the end of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th rounds, individual compensatory picks have a wide range of draft values according to the chart. Third round compensatory picks often have a valuation of over 100 points while the last compensatory picks at the conclusion of the 7th round (think Mr. Irrelevant) have a value of less than one. Also note that each traditional pick (non compensatory) in rounds four and later loses value as compensatory picks are added before it. Thus, in a draft without compensatory picks the first selection in the 4th round (typically the 97th pick overall) would have a value of 112 points. However, if seven compensatory picks are awarded in the 3rd round, as there will be in 2019, that first selection in the 4th round is pushed back from the 97th pick in the draft to the 104th with a value of just 86, a drop of over 23%.

The compensatory draft pick system is harmful to professional football in a variety of ways. It hurts players because it reduces bidding for their services by awarding the player's current team with a draft pick if it decides to withdraw from the bidding, or limits its bid, and ultimately loses the player to another team. This helps keep salaries down and adds to the under utilization of available salary cap amounts with teams frequently being tens of millions, and sometimes over a hundred million, dollars under the cap. This system also helps rush older players out of the league for being "too expensive" when they might still be capable of playing at a higher level than younger and cheaper alternatives.

The compensatory draft pick system hurts fans by adding to the general roster turnover. If teams were not compensated for losing more/better free agents than they sign, they would be more likely to actively work to keep current players, many of whom are fan favorites, on their roster rather than lose their talents without being compensated. And they might also pursue other free agents more vigorously since there would no longer be anything to gain from not doing so.

The compensatory draft system also hurts overall competitiveness to the detriment of not only the fans and players, but to many teams as well. Note how frequently good teams are able to stockpile compensatory draft picks, while poor teams, already suffering from a lack of talent, cannot. Seven of the 15 teams awarded compensatory picks for 2019 were in the playoffs this past season. Of the 17 teams not receiving compensatory picks, only five were in the playoffs last season, 12 were not.

Playoff teams awarded compensatory picks included the: Patriots (4), Rams (3), Eagles (2), Chiefs (1), Colts (1), Cowboys (1) and Ravens (1). The five playoff teams who did not receive a compensatory draft pick are the: Bears, Chargers, Saints, Seahawks and Texans. Overall, playoff teams received 13 (40%) of the 32 compensatory draft picks. The draft value of the compensatory picks awarded to playoff teams totaled 653.15 points which was 62.7% of the 1041.2 total compensatory draft value awarded. How can weak teams improve if strong teams can jump in front of them in the draft by jettisoning players they no longer want? And in the event that a weak team loses a free agent that might qualify them for a compensatory pick, the system discourages them from actively pursuing more or better free agents by offsetting any signings by denying the allocation of the compensatory pick.

The compensatory system not only helps strong teams get stronger, but the most recent Super Bowl participants will benefit most of all in 2019. Combined, the Patriots and Rams received 7 (21%) of the compensatory draft picks and 431.65 points (41%) of the draft value awarded. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is well known for using the compensatory draft system to the Patriots' advantage. Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams may be taking lessons from the master.

Not only is it important to remember that all subsequent traditional draft picks are pushed back and become less valuable when compensatory draft picks are meted out, it should also be noted that a change made in 2017, after the compensatory draft system had already been in place for two decades, helped the system became even more lopsided in favor of strong teams. Beginning that year teams were permitted to trade compensatory draft picks for the first time. Now teams can take even greater advantage of those picks by trading them to move up in the draft or to obtain additional picks in subsequent years when the team's needs might be greater.

When the players association next sits down with the NFL to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement, they should be sure to ensure that the CBA no longer rewards teams for failing to sign their own free agents. It will make the system better and fairer for the players, the fans and even the teams.

2019 Compensatory Draft - Value by Team with Record
Patriots11-5-0 (0.688)4219.0021.0333497112.00
Rams13-3-0 (0.813)3212.6520.4233598108.00
Redskins7-9-0 (0.438)4149.7514.3833396116.00
Panthers7-9-0 (0.438)1100.009.60337100100.00
Ravens10-6-0 (0.625)192.008.8433910292.00
Falcons7-9-0 (0.438)261.105.8743513737.50
Eagles9-7-0 (0.563)246.204.4443613837.00
Colts10-6-0 (0.625)138.503.7043313538.50
Cowboys10-6-0 (0.625)138.003.6543413638.00
Giants5-11-0 (0.313)124.002.3153317124.00
Bengals6-10-0 (0.375)323.602.276382108.40
Cardinals3-13-0 (0.188)411.651.126352079.60
Vikings8-7-1 (0.531)310.350.996372098.80
49ers4-12-0 (0.250)17.600.736402127.60
Chiefs12-4-0 (0.750)16.800.656422146.80