2021 NFL Draft: Compensatory pick projections for every team

An increasing number of NFL teams are crafting their free agency strategy around their ability to create compensatory picks by shrewdly sifting through departures and acquisitions. Adding draft capital allows teams additional chances to find a diamond in the rough. Consider as one example Darius Slayton, selected by the New York Giants with a fifth-round compensatory pick in 2019; Slayton went on to finish fifth amongst rookies in receiving yards and tied for first with eight touchdowns.

So, how do compensatory picks work?

Teams are awarded compensatory draft picks between Rounds 3 and 7 based upon a league formula that takes into account the following criteria for players who left the team to sign elsewhere as free agents: average salary per year (APY), snap count and postseason awards. While there is an expected level of compensation for a player based on the amount he has signed for, his playing time (or lack thereof) in the upcoming season could alter the expectation. To qualify for compensatory picks, teams must end up with more qualifying free agents lost than gained in a particular year.

The number of compensatory picks allotted each year is limited to the number of teams in the league (32), per the collective bargaining agreement. However, compensatory picks are not divided up equally among the teams, and no team can receive more than four compensatory picks in a single year.

There were alterations to the methodology of determining compensatory value/picks with this year's collective bargaining agreement. It's likely that we will see most, if not all, of the compensatory picks land between Rounds 3 and 6 because of these changes.

The compensatory picks for the 2021 NFL Draft won't be determined by the NFL Management Council's formula until after the 2020 season is over, but in this post I'll attempt to project which teams will be receiving compensatory picks next year and the round in which those picks could fall.

Keep in mind: Players need to have been signed as unrestricted free agents before April 27 and rank high enough among their peers to qualify for the compensatory-pick formula. They also cannot have been released by their previous team. Only those notable players who are projected to be eligible for the compensatory-pick formula are included among the key additions and losses listed below.

TEAM PROJECTED TO RECEIVE FOUR PICKS

DALLAS COWBOYS

Projected compensatory picks: One apiece in Rounds 3, 4, 5 and 6.
Key free-agent losses:Byron Jones (Dolphins), Robert Quinn (Bears), Randall Cobb (Texans), Maliek Collins (Raiders).
Key free-agent additions:Gerald McCoy (Panthers), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Bears), Greg Zuerlein (Rams).
Comp-pick analysis: Dallas lost seven total qualifying free agents and gained three, with the additions of McCoy and Clinton-Dix canceling out the losses of Collins and Jason Witten. Dallas will be without a couple of late-round picks next season thanks to trades they've made, but they will add plenty of ammunition, thanks to the four compensatory picks that should be coming their way.

TEAMS PROJECTED TO RECEIVE THREE PICKS

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Projected compensatory picks: Two in Round 4, one in Round 6.
Key free-agent losses:Blake Martinez (Giants), Bryan Bulaga (Chargers), Kyler Fackrell (Giants).
Key free-agent addition:Devin Funchess (Colts).
Comp-pick analysis: After a hiatus of three years, the Packers are finally back in the comp-pick game, adding three compensatory picks to go with their 2021 haul. The only question here is whether or not the compensatory pick for losing Bulaga will be a fourth- or a fifth-rounder. Martinez should net a fourth and Fackrell should bring a sixth.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Projected compensatory picks: One in Round 3, two in Round 4.
Key free-agent losses:Tom Brady (Buccaneers), Kyle Van Noy (Dolphins), Jamie Collins (Lions).
Key free-agent additions: None.
Comp-pick analysis: The formula is very straightforward here, with the Patriots losing five qualifiers and collecting two free agents with very modest contracts to cancel out the lower-end free agents. The contracts for Brady and Van Noy will clearly garner a third-round pick and a fourth-rounder, respectively, while Collins is likely to bring in a fourth.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Projected compensatory picks: One in Round 5, two in Round 6.
Key free-agent losses:Austin Hooper (Browns), Vic Beasley (Titans), De'Vondre Campbell (Cardinals).
Key free-agent addition:Dante Fowler Jr. (Rams).
Comp-pick analysis: Atlanta lost five free agents and signed one, but unfortunately for them, the addition of Fowler canceled out the loss of Hooper, leaving them with lesser-valued picks. One of their free-agent losses, Adrian Clayborn, is unlikely to qualify as one of the top 32 free agent losses according to the league's compensatory formula, so the Falcons' compensatory-pick total should be pretty locked in.

TEAMS PROJECTED TO RECEIVE TWO PICKS

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Projected compensatory picks: One apiece in Rounds 3 and 6.
Key free-agent losses:Teddy Bridgewater (Panthers), Vonn Bell (Bengals), A.J. Klein (Bills).
Key free-agent addition:Emmanuel Sanders (49ers).
Comp-pick analysis: The Saints played this entire thing like a Jackson-square jam. Bridgewater was signed for just one season at $7.25 million to be Drew Brees' backup in 2019, and he ended up starting five games and winning all five starts. He played himself into a nice contract with the Panthers and earned the Saints a third-round pick. The addition of Sanders will cancel out the loss of Bell, but the loss of Klein should bring in a sixth-rounder.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Projected compensatory picks: One apiece in Rounds 3 and 4.
Key free-agent losses:Dante Fowler Jr. (Falcons), Cory Littleton (Raiders), Greg Zuerlein (Cowboys).
Key free-agent addition:A'Shawn Robinson (Lions).
Comp-pick analysis: For the second year in a row, the Rams will add the highest compensatory pick (a third-rounder), thanks to Fowler's departure to the Falcons, but this season, they also should grab a fourth-round pick for Littleton, who went from undrafted free agent to coveted linebacker acquisition by the Las Vegas Raiders.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Projected compensatory picks: One apiece in Rounds 3 and 6.
Key free-agent losses:Trae Waynes (Bengals), Stephen Weatherly (Panthers), Mackensie Alexander (Bengals).
Key free-agent addition:Michael Pierce (Ravens).
Comp-pick analysis: For the fourth year in a row, the Vikings have lost more free agents than they've gained and will receive compensatory picks for their losses. Keep in mind that last year, the Vikings added wideout Bisi Johnson from Colorado State with a seventh-round compensatory pick, and he ended the season ranked third among wideouts in receiving yards for Minnesota. They should add a third and a sixth to their 2021 draft capital, giving them a total of 12 selections next year after they made a record 15 picks in 2020.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Projected compensatory picks: One apiece in Rounds 4 and 6.
Key free-agent losses:Javon Hargrave (Eagles), Sean Davis (Redskins).
Key free-agent addition:Eric Ebron (Colts).
Comp-pick analysis: Pittsburgh signed five and lost just two, but they are unlikely to land three comp picks. They will certainly receive a fourth-round pick for the loss of Hargrave, while the lower contract terms offered to departing free agents Davis and B.J. Finney mean they are right on the border of grabbing a sixth-rounder to boot.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Projected compensatory picks: One apiece in Rounds 4 and 5.
Key free-agent losses:Kendall Fuller (Redskins), Emmanuel Ogbah (Dolphins).
Key free-agent additions: None.
Comp-pick analysis: The defending champs were very quiet in the free-agent market this season, but they lost two qualifying free agents who should bring back compensatory picks in the fourth and fifth round. For a deeper dive showing an increase of comp pick value, consider the Chiefs dealt safety Eric Murray to the Browns for Ogbah last season and will receive a fifth for him this year after he signed his contract with the Dolphins, while Murray's contract with the Texans made him a sixth-round designation.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Projected compensatory picks: Two in Round 6.
Key free-agent losses:Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Lions), Jordan Howard (Dolphins), Ronald Darby (Redskins).
Key free-agent addition:Javon Hargrave (Steelers).
Comp-pick analysis: Of all the compensatory-pick situations, this could be one of the more fluid ones. As it sits now, Howard and Darby are expected to bring picks in the sixth round; however, Darby is only signed for one year, and with just $1 million guaranteed. There is still an outside chance that Darby might not be around long enough to factor into this formula, since he's also set to make per-game bonuses.

CHICAGO BEARS

Projected compensatory picks: Two in Round 6.
Key free-agent losses:Nick Kwiatkoski (Raiders), Nick Williams (Lions), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Cowboys).
Key free-agent addition:Robert Quinn (Cowboys).
Comp-pick analysis: The Bears lost five and gained one, but it's unlikely they get more than two sixth-round picks, with the lower salary slots of lost free agents unlikely to qualify them for compensatory picks.

TEAMS PROJECTED TO RECEIVE ONE PICK

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Projected compensatory pick: Round 3.
Key free-agent losses:Philip Rivers (Colts), Melvin Gordon (Broncos).
Key free-agent additions: Brian Bulaga (Packers), Chris Harris Jr. (Broncos).
Comp-pick analysis: This is a very easy one to figure, with the Chargers losing four qualifying free agents and adding three. Rivers' big one-year contract was nowhere near being canceled out by the deals of Bulaga or Harris, and the Chargers are locked and loaded for a third-round comp selection.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Projected compensatory pick:Round 3.
Key free-agent losses:Jack Conklin (Browns), Marcus Mariota (Raiders).
Key free-agent addition:Vic Beasley (Falcons).
Comp-pick analysis: The Titans weren't very active in free agency, adding just Beasley as a qualifying free agent. Conklin signed a nice meaty contract with the Cleveland Browns that will net Tennessee a third-round selection next season; Tennessee replaced Conklin with Georgia's Isaiah Wilson in the first round of this year's draft.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Projected compensatory pick: Round 5.
Key free-agent losses:Emmanuel Sanders (Saints).
Key free-agent additions: None.
Comp-pick analysis: Aside from the departure of Sanders, there really weren't any significant additions or subtractions from the roster via free agency -- certainly not any other qualifying moves.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Projected compensatory pick: Round 6.
Key free-agent losses:Carl Nassib (Raiders), Breshad Perriman (Jets).
Key free-agent addition:Tom Brady (Patriots).
Comp-pick analysis: Brady's big contract will cancel out the top free-agent departure (Nassib), leaving just a sixth-round compensatory pick likely to be awarded for the loss of Perriman.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Projected compensatory pick: Round 6.
Key free-agent losses:Michael Pierce (Vikings), Seth Roberts (Panthers).
Key free-agent addition:Derek Wolfe (Broncos).
Comp-pick analysis: The Ravens see their signing of Wolfe canceled out by the loss of Seth Roberts, leaving Pierce's departure as the trigger for a fifth-round comp selection.

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Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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