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Ravens play the long game with compensatory picks

Matt Stover, Ozzie Newsome

Former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover, left, and general manager Ozzie Newsome laugh during a news conference at which Stover announced his retirement from the NFL, in Owings Mills, Md. ,on Thursday, May 26 2011. Stover kicked for the Ravens for 13 seasons. After Baltimore decided against bringing Stover back for a 14th season, he was signed by the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 to replace an injured Adam Vinatieri and became the older player (42) to play in the Super Bowl. That proved to the final season of his 20-year career. Stover did not play last year. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)


Some teams use free agency to add expensive players and make instant upgrades to their rosters. In Baltimore they take a very different approach.

The Ravens focus on drafting well and retaining most of the good players they draft, but declining to get into bidding wars to keep their own players while also declining to spend a lot of money to attract players away from other teams. As a result, the Ravens are always among the league leaders in compensatory picks.

The NFL’s compensatory pick formula is complex and not released to the public, but the basics are that teams get compensatory picks in the following year’s draft if they lose more expensive players than they sign in free agency. The bigger the losses in free agency, the better the compensatory picks. That means the Ravens, who have already lost five free agents (receiver Torrey Smith, pass rusher Pernell McPhee, safety Darian Stewart, tight end Owen Daniels and quarterback Tyrod Taylor) and not signed any free agents away from other teams, will get a lot of compensatory picks next year.

This year’s compensatory picks haven’t been awarded yet, but the Ravens had an NFL-high four compensatory picks last year, and an NFL-high four compensatory picks the year before. The Ravens have received more compensatory picks than any other team since the NFL implemented compensatory picks in 1994 -- even though the Ravens franchise didn’t exist for the first two years after compensatory picks began. Wisely gaming the system to garner the maximum amount of compensatory picks has been a hallmark of Ozzie Newsome’s tenure as the Ravens’ G.M.

It helps that Newsome is also smart about drafting players good enough to contribute when he uses those compensatory picks. Seven of the eight compensatory picks the Ravens have had in the last two years were spent on players who are still on the roster. It’s a lot easier to build roster depth when you’re consistently getting more draft picks than other teams, and consistently using those picks on players who are good enough to make your team.

So while it may look like the Ravens got worse during the first week of free agency, that’s short-term thinking. The Ravens are thinking about the long term, and about the players they’ll draft next year thanks to the players they lost this year.