How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week.
If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.
The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up.
Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.
Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned.
The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.
OverTheCap.com's Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else.
That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value).
Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)
1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.
2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.
3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out.
That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out.
With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.
Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter.
The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.
Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.