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February 20, 2018

This is the year for the Eagles to play the 'compensatory pick game'

Eagles NFL
022018PatrickRobinson Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

The loss of Patrick Robinson and other free agents this offseason could net the Eagles a handful of compensatory picks in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Every year, the NFL awards 32 compensatory picks to teams that lost more players than they gained the previous year in free agency. In this year's free agency period, the Philadelphia Eagles are in a good position to load up on compensatory picks for the 2019 NFL Draft.

If you are unfamiliar with the basic rules in which teams are awarded those 32 compensatory picks each year, they are:

  1. Each player signed cancels out one player lost. In other words, just because the Eagles lost Bennie Logan last year, that does not mean they will be awarded a compensatory pick. Since the Eagles signed more players than they lost, they won't get jack squat for losing Bennie.
  2. The round of the pick awarded is primarily determined by the annual value of the contract signed. In other words, if the Eagles had gotten a pick for Logan, it would have been in a higher round than, say, *Nolan Carroll, who didn't sign as lucrative of a contract. Signed players cancel out lost players with equal contracts, then lower contracts, before canceling out higher contracts.
  3. The maximum number of compensatory awards awarded to any one team is four.

I'll also note here that it used to be a rule that you could not trade compensatory picks. Now you can, which make them more valuable.

There are four types of players who do not qualify for compensatory picks:

  1. Lost players that are cut or not tendered as RFAs (restricted free agents) and ERFAs (exclusive rights free agents) do not qualify.
  2. Lost players that were picked up during the season the year before do not qualify.
  3. Signed players that are released before midseason do not qualify.
  4. Players earning low minimum salaries do not qualify. 

There are about a hundred other unwritten rules about compensatory picks than what is noted above, which we'll skip in the interest of (a) not having your eyes glaze over (if they haven't already), and (b) preserving the possibility of me ever dating again.

Many believe that compensatory picks are stupid. They believe that teams with little room under the salary cap who cannot afford to retain their own players should not be rewarded with extra draft picks for losing players in free agency. Instead, they believe that an eighth round should be added to the draft instead of handing out 32 freebie picks. 

I have come to agree, but whatever. They do exist, and the Eagles are in a position this offseason to take advantage of their existence. 

So, why are the Eagles in a prime position to gain compensatory picks this offseason?

Three reasons:

  1. When the 2018 NFL league year begins on March 14, the Eagles are projected to be roughly $10 million over the salary cap. They will have make several cuts to the roster just to be under the salary cap at that time. In other words, the Eagles simply don't have money to spend in free agency this year.
  2. Even if they did have money to spend, the Eagles don't have much in the way of teams needs. Could they use more depth here or there at certain positions? Sure. However, this roster is loaded with quality talent across the board, and there's very little in the way of glaring needs like they had as recently as last offseason when their starting corners were Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, to name one example.
  3. They have a number of contributing role players who are likely going to be paid like starters in free agency. While those players helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl, the Eagles are still in a position to weather those potential losses.

Who are the players lost who could earn the Eagles compensatory picks?

I see three players as prime, slam dunk compensatory pick bait:

TE Trey Burton: Burton was a good special teamer and role player in the Eagles' offense, but with Zach Ertz in front of him, Burton is going to find playing time hard to come by in Philly. It's a near certainty that he's going to play elsewhere in 2018, and with a weak tight end class in free agency, he may get paid like a starter.

The Eagles will have to fill the void left by Burton (and likely Brent Celek). Their tight end corps are unquestionably going to take a hit, but it's not as if those losses will be devastating to the offense's production.

CB Patrick Robinson: Signed as a Band-Aid three weeks after the start of free agency began last offseason, Robinson had a career year as the Eagles' slot corner. He was perhaps the steal of free agency a year ago. Now that his stock has risen, Robinson is poised to cash in on the open market this offseason. In free agency, corners get paid. It will be interesting to see what Robinson gets.

Robinson would be a tough loss, but for the first time in ages, the Eagles have good depth at corner. The starting duo of Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby will be returning, while Sidney Jones will (presumably) be healthy and ready to go in 2018, while Rasul Douglas showed some promising signs as a rookie.

DT Beau Allen: The Eagles tried to sign Allen to a contract extension early last offseason, according to Zach Berman of the Inquirer, until Allen tore a pectoral muscle, and that was the end of that.

I believe Allen can start in this league, and think some teams out there will agree. It also helps Allen's value that he has played well in multiple defensive schemes. While Allen won't break the bank by any means, I do think he'll receive an offer that will more than qualify for a compensatory pick.

Anyone else?

RB Darren Sproles: Sproles will turn 35 in June, and he's coming off an ACL tear. His value won't be high, but maybe enough to earn a comp pick if he chooses to play one last season?

K Caleb Sturgis: Power Sturge was a solid kicker for the Eagles in his time in Philly. Clearly, he has made way for Jake Elliott. The Eagles were smart not to release Sturgis during the season (a) so as not to help out another kicker-starved team, and (b) to preserve the possibility of picking up a comp pick by losing him in free agency this offseason.

And then the 'rather have the player than the comp pick' bucket

LB Nigel Bradham: I think the Eagles will try to re-sign Bradham, as he is more important to the defense than Mychal Kendricks, and will also likely cost less. The Eagles won't have interest in losing him in favor of earning a comp pick.

RB LeGarrette Blount: I'd imagine that the Eagles would certainly take him back again at the $1.25 million price tag he played for in 2017. Logic would dictate that he'd cost more than that. Then again, logic would dictate that a guy who scored 18 TDs in 2016 would've gotten more than $1.25 million in 2017, too. So who knows. I think the Eagles will wait until after the draft to decide on if they bring Blount back. If they select a running back reasonably early, I would lean against it. If not, I think they'd quickly move to re-sign him, if he hasn't already landed elsewhere.

S Corey Graham: The "wait until after the draft" point made about Blount above would also apply to Graham, in my view, and even if he earned you a comp pick, you're looking at something after the seventh round here.

Conclusion

Again, to earn comp picks for the players noted above, the Eagles would also have to refrain from signing free agents away from other teams, which shouldn't be a problem seeing as they have no money to do so anyway. What they can do to fill those holes is sign bargain bin players to veteran minimum deals, or wait for teams around the league to release players, as they wouldn't count toward the comp pick formula.

The Eagles currently have eight picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. If they play the "compensatory pick game," they could be projected to have as many as 12 picks in 2019 after 2018 free agency shakes out. 


*Nolan Carroll actually wouldn't have qualified for a comp pick at all, since he was released prior to midseason last year, which is one of the many, many, many dumb unwritten rules about comp picks we chose not to lay out in full. I only noted him because the Eagles didn't have any other examples of players lost in free agency who would've counted toward the comp pick formula. I just figured I'd note that here to ruin the day of the one hotshot "well actually" fan who would've otherwise been proud of himself for pointing that out. Also, I'm a small, petty man.

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