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Courtney Upshaw departure gives the Baltimore Ravens their compensatory pick back

The Kings of Compensatory picks will be forgoing quantity for quality in 2017...

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The Baltimore Ravens usually sit out the initial phase of free agency, content to observe and limit themselves to mostly cut free agents, a strategy which has garnered them the most compensatory picks by a large margin. The team has only signed 4 unrestricted free agents over the past four offseasons who were not cut, so it was a surprise when they locked up one right at the get-go in tight end Ben Watson, and then followed that up a few days later with the signing of former pro bowl safety Eric Weddle to a multi-year deal.

The Ravens possessed a weak free agent class in 2016, having franchised Justin Tucker and resigned Morgan Cox and Shareece Wright from an already mediocre class. While offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was one of the crown jewels of the class, the rest of the Ravens free agent flotsam and jetsam was made up of barely above minimum salary players: Chris Givens, Courtney Upshaw, and if they could find teams, players like Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen, and Chris Canty.

When Schaub surprisingly signed with the Falcons early in free agency to return to Atlanta, there was still some hope that either Givens, Upshaw, or both would qualify. When Givens didn't get a big enough cap hit on his one year deal with the Eagles, that seemed to seal Upshaw's fate in Baltimore. Upshaw would surely get enough money in free agency to qualify, one would think. But the Ravens would be unlikely to forgo the projected 3rd round (See more below on the 3rd round status**) to resign Upshaw. With interest from the Jets, Patriots, and others, most where expecting him to get a multi-year deal in the $2 to $3 million AAV range, which would be plenty to qualify for a compensatory pick.

When it came out that Upshaw had only signed for one year with Atlanta, the worrying began. Would he qualify? Surely he wouldn't sign for less than $1 million before incentives. Now, the terms are in, and he qualifies based on the projected cut-off....just barely.

With just $1.15 million in non incentive money (signing bonus plus base salary), Upshaw makes it over the projected cut-off, per overthecap, the only source for compensatory pick projections.

Projected APY Cutoffs By Round
Round Adjusted APY
3rd/4th $9,000,000
4th/5th $6,500,000
5th/6th $5,000,000
6th/7th $3,400,000
7th/Qual $961,489
As long as the projection isn't too far off, the Ravens should be getting a 3rd round compensatory pick for Osemele. The picks for Schaub, Upshaw, and Givens would not have made the 32 pick limit for compensatory picks either way, so no big loss there. But an extra third round pick, in the first year they are trade-able is definitely an asset for Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens front office.

** 3rd round compensatory pick for KO

Two things to note. I have been hearing this narrative that the Ravens may get a 4th round pick and not a 3rd round pick for Osemele, and while this is not impossible, it is extremely unlikely. I am not sure where the Ravens writers are getting this from, but based on the history of compensatory picks, there is no reason it should not be a 3rd.  Last year the cutoff for a 3rd round pick was $9,211,010. Per the chart above, the cutoff this year is projected to be $9 million. Not only should Osemele clear the cutoff easily, but the next highest free agent signee, CB Sean Smith should too at $9.5 million.

These projections are based on what percentile the player leaving falls in. To get a 3rd rounder for Osemele, he must fall in the top 5% of all NFL players, which he does at $11.2 million AAV. Check out the explanation on Over the Cap's site for a complete breakdown of how it works.

There is no limit on how many picks per round can be awarded, although the most 3rd round picks since 2013 has been 4. As teams get better and preserving these picks, we have been seeing an increase in the premium picks in round 3 through 5. The picks in those rounds have risen each year- 10 in 2013, 16 in 2014 and 2015, 19 in 2016, and a projected 22 in 2017.

Another misconception with compensatory picks is that we would get a 4th or 5th round pick if Upshaw doesn't qualify, because Osemele is getting paid much more money than the guy who cancels him out. This is untrue. There is such thing as a "net value" compensatory pick, but these only are awarded at the end of the 7th round, and only after all the other 7th round compensatory picks are awarded. Per OTC:
The formula will occasionally award one "net value" compensatory pick for a team if that team loses and gains an equal number of CFAs, but the value of the CFAs lost is considerably greater than the value of CFAs gained.  Adam once observed that the difference needs to be at least 50%, and this is the difference that OTC’s program will currently use unless additional information suggests otherwise.  Net value compensatory picks are always 7th round picks, and they are always placed in order immediately after the regular 7th round compensatory picks.
Since these days teams have wised up to the compensatory process, there is more than 32 picks awarded already before you get to "net value" picks. Therefore this is a moot point, since it wouldn't be applicable anyways.