Much was written yesterday after the compensatory picks were announced at the NFL's league meetings in Orlando, FL. The Baltimore Ravens received the maximum of four compensatory picks: a third rounder, two fourth rounders, and a fifth rounder.
This was the best possible outcome for the Ravens in a deep draft in which they lacked the mid-round firepower due to the wise trade for Eugene Monroe.
One oft-cited statistic is that the Ravens are the NFL's compensatory pick leader with 41 since 1994 (the first year of Free Agency). You'll note that the Ravens did not come into existence until 1996 so the NFL had a two year head start.
How did the Ravens become so good at this? And why does it matter?
Well first, hopefully the latter part is self-evident. Draft picks are extremely valuable. They are the building blocks of any team, especially the good ones and have the potential to turn even the worst teams around seemingly overnight.
One example that gets mentioned, even within The Castle in Owings Mills, is the mid-2000s San Diego Chargers.
Daniel Jeremiah, current NFL.com draft analyst, worked as a Ravens scout from 2003 until 2006. He recalls that the Ravens always used the 2004 and 2005 Chargers drafts as an example of how a team can turn itself around rapidly.
Going into 2004, the Chargers were the NFL's worst team, picking No. 1 overall.
Let's just look at who they drafted, especially with the mid-rounders where compensatory picks would go:
- Darren Sproles (4.130)
That's three future Pro Bowl players in two consecutive drafts.
Draft picks are valuable and we need look no further than 2010 Ravens fourth round pick Dennis Pitta to be reminded of that.
So, how then did the Ravens become the NFL's preeminent collector of these picks?
The way compensatory picks work is that you have to have lost more players than you've gained through unrestricted free agency. In other words, you need to be signing players that were released from their teams or UFAs who cost less than the ones you lost do. Often, this does not happen on the eve of free agency but well into training camp. The only way to operate this way is to have the one virtue that Newsome is perhaps best known for — patience.
But if you want an example that always stands out to me as a clear cut case, we need to look no further than the 2012 off-season. Coming off the devastating loss in the AFC Championship, it was clear to everyone the Ravens still needed help at receiver.
Going into free agency, the difference between the patient teams and the impatient ones would rear its head. As Bill Barnwell of Grantland articulated very well, Laurent Robinson, a WR3 with the productive passing attack of the Tony Romo-led Cowboys was coming off a fluky 11 touchdown season.
Having produced nothing in four years with the Rams, any team in the NFL could have had him for free in 2011, which is how Dallas got him for nothing. Instead of considering the entirety of his career, in 2012, former Jaguars GM Gene Smith gave Robinson a $32 million dollar deal, with $14 million guaranteed at the height of his maximum value.
Robinson would go on to be cut within exactly one year.
Newsome, meanwhile, waited.
Two months later, in May, well after the draft and early free agency period, the Ravens would sign Jacoby Jones to a much friendlier two-year $7 million deal. Jacoby Jones would go on to be arguably the second most valuable player of the Super Bowl run, famously catching the Mile High Miracle at Denver. Better yet, Jones would cost the Ravens nothing against compensatory picks, having been released from the Texans. Baltimore would have four such picks in 2013.
It's one thing to preach patience and another thing to follow through with it and turn it into an economic advantage in both value and draft picks. The truth is all 32 teams are well-aware of what Newsome is doing. But not all of them either have the luxury of waiting or the discipline to follow through. This is where having a trusting owner like Art Modell and Steve Bisciotti prove so important. They give Newsome the leeway to take the long view and run the ship in the way he sees fit, which as we've found out is a pretty successful way.
The NFL draft is often a hit or miss proposition, especially in the later rounds. The more "shots on goal" you get with surplus draft picks, the better chance of unearthing the next Pro Bowl talent from the second and third day of the draft.
The collection of compensatory picks is a closely-guarded strategy the Ravens have proven to be very good at and for good reason. It gives them extra shots on goal every year to add players without ignoring their holes in free agency.