This offseason presents Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan with a number of interesting challenges. It also will start to display some of his philosophies for building the team over the long haul. One thing I am interested to see is the extent to which he attempts to gain compensatory Draft picks.
Compensatory picks are bonus picks awarded by the NFL to teams that lose more in free agency than they gain. The always terrific site Over the Cap has a great comprehensive breakdown you can read here. I will avoid getting into the real nitty gritty for now. You can click over if you want that. Here are the basics they outline.
As the NFL explains, compensatory picks are awarded to teams that lose more or better compensatory free agents than they acquire. The number of picks a team can receive equals the net loss of compensatory free agents, up to a maximum of four. Compensatory free agents are determined by a secret formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. Not every free agent lost or signed is covered by the formula.
Although the formula has never been revealed, by studying the compensatory picks that have been awarded since they began in 1994, I’ve determined that the primary factor in the value of the picks awarded is the average annual value of the contract the player signed with his new team, with an adjustment for playing time and a smaller adjustment for postseason honors.
In other words, you get a pick for each net player you lose. If you lose two free agents and sign one new one, you will get one Draft pick. If you lose three and sign zero, you set yourself up to gain three picks. Lose two and sign two, and you're probably out of luck. The pick you get will likely depend on how big the contract your guy signed with the other team. If you lose a guy with a bigger salary, you will likely get a higher pick. Lose a guy who doesn't have a big salary, and you lose out. There are other factors that come into play that you can read in the article, but those are the basics.
Another key point to note is that a team can get a maximum of four compensatory picks each year. Even if you lose five players and sign zero, you cannot get more picks.
Does this mean teams that want compensatory picks need to stay out of free agency completely? No, and this is where Maccagnan's strategy will be telling. Players who are cut do not factor into the compensatory pick formula. If the Jets cut Antonio Cromartie, and he signs somewhere else he does not count as a player lost for the Jets. He also doesn't count as a player signed by the new team. There is also a deadline where players stop counting. It used to be June 1. Last year it was May 12. Players signed after that date also do not count against the formula.
Teams that can deftly maneuver through the formula can make out nicely.
One painful example would be the New England Patriots two years ago. The Pats let their number one cornerback Aqib Talib sign with the Broncos. To replace him, they signed Darrelle Revis. Letting Talib go got the Pats a third round compensatory pick because Denver gave him a big enough contract. Revis didn't count against the Pats, though, because he had been released by Tampa Bay. New England essentially got a bonus third round pick at the price of upgrading from Talib to Revis at cornerback.
While I am not sure there are many instances where you can say John Idzik deftly maneuvered during his short stint as general manager of the Jets, one exception is the broad outline of his approach to free agency in 2013, his first offseason. The Jets were stuck against the cap. They did not have the money to add big money impact free agents. They had to stick with cheap options. At the same time, they had a number of starters hit free agency and go to other teams. The Jets lost six free agents to be exact and signed only Mike Goodson and Antwan Barnes as qualifying free agents. That left them with a net loss of four. Four is the maximum number of compensatory picks a team can get. To fill out his roster, Idzik stuck with cheap veteran free agents like Willie Colon (cut by the Steelers), Kellen Winslow (signed after the June deadline), and Dawan Landry (cut by the Jaguars). The Jets got the maximum four compensatory picks as a result. As we know, Idzik was not exactly the league's most brilliant drafter, but he did use one of those compensatory picks on Quincy Enunwa. Enunwa had value for the Jets in 2015 and will be a cheap value guy for the next few years. The strategy paid off.
Will Maccagnan make an attempt to maneuver his roster dealings to try and maximize the number of picks he gets? It seems unlikely the Jets will be able to keep Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison. Let's say the Jets let Harrison go in free agency. Over the Cap projects him to get a contract around $5 or $6 million. A rough estimate would make him worth somewhere in the neighborhood of a fourth or fifth round compensatory pick. Now view it in this perspective. Harrison was one of Mike Tannenbaum's last gifts to the team as a cheap undrafted free agent. (Wait, did I just praise Mike Tannenbaum AND John Idzik in the same article?) If Maccagnan can target his free agent spending to keep that compensatory pick, the Jets would have taken an undrafted signing and cashed it in for a midround pick with three years of cheap, top end production as interest. That's pretty shrewd stuff.
Chris Ivory could be a similar concept. He is projected to get around $4 million. That is in the fifth round range. If the Jets let him go and target a replacement effectively, that trade becomes a fourth for three quality years and a fifth.
These are things to consider. Of course there are still going to be instances where spending on qualifying free agents will make sense. It also might end up being best to keep Harrison and/or Ivory.
A lot of smart teams at least factor in the cost and benefits of compensatory picks. Will the Jets be one of them under Maccagnan?