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2021 presents a perfect opportunity to optimize 2023 comp picks

Taking the long view

Detroit Lions v Oakland Raiders Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

This offseason is really the first where Ron Rivera is in complete control of the front office operations. Last year, he began the house cleaning, but he retained some key staff while he got his feet beneath him in DC. With Kyle Smith gone, Martin Mayhew installed as GM, and a couple of former GMs - Marty Hurney and Chris Polian - added to the brain trust, this will be an opportunity for Ron and his team to set the tenor and direction for the Washington Football Team for years to come.

Mayhew and others are attending the Pro Days of various prospects, in the hopes of gaining inside information in advance of the draft. Rivera has indicated that he intends to build the team “the right way” in free agency, “being cautious and smart” even though they have among the most money in the league to spend:

Building on 2020

The 2020 WFT free agency class was, in a single word - amazing. Every time I think about it, I’m awestruck by how much production - quality production - the team got for such a relatively small investment. Look at the list below, with their 2020 cap hit in parentheses:

  • Logan Thomas (TE) - $2.5M
  • JD McKissic (RB) - $1.6M
  • Cornelius Lucas (OT) - $1.7M
  • Ronald Darby (CB) - $3M
  • Kevin Pierre-Louis (LB) - $3M
  • Wes Schweitzer (G) - $2.5M
  • Kendall Fuller (CB) - $4.1M
  • Total Cost: $18.4M

All of those players carried out critical roles for the team in 2020. All were starters at one point or another during the season, and the only real free agent “bust” was Sean Davis (S), who never played a down with the team. I still struggle to think of a better free agent class in team history. The good news is, Rivera apparently intends to try the same approach this year:

The “bad” news, if it can really be said to be bad - and I don’t think it can be, given the way those guys played - is that signing all those free agents last year obliterated any chance that the team would garner compensatory picks in the 2021 draft, by offsetting Washington’s own free agents who walked after last season (i.e., Ereck Flowers and Case Keenum). In contrast, our arch rival Dallas Cowboys played the comp pick game masterfully last season, and ended up netting 4 additional picks in the coming draft (a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth).

Until 2019, Washington had been notoriously terrible at accumulating comp picks, which are - in essence - a bonus that teams get for losing players in free agency who are sufficiently desirable that they get good contracts from other teams. Those “bonuses” are chipped away when the original team signs outside free agents, however, so the best way to optimize comp picks (any team can receive up to 4 picks in a given draft) is to groom good players who are eventually allowed to test free agency, and to minimize the number of outside free agents you sign (you are not penalized for signing your own free agents). The rules are a bit more arcane than that, but that’s a basic summary.


Explaining how compensatory draft picks work (updated 25 Feb 2018)

This year, players like Ryan Kerrigan and Ryan Anderson are likely to generate comp pick capital. Brandon Scherff surely would have as well, had he not been tagged. If Darby ends up leaving, he too will be a player of a high enough caliber than he’d count towards the comp pick calculations. For the most part, the rest of the teams free agents are likely to be of too little outside interest to figure into the comp pick formula. Given that the team is only likely to have 2 or 3 players generate comp pick value, and is likely to be a fairly active buyer in free agency, given its cap space, I doubt that we’ll receive any comp picks in 2022 either. At this point, however, we should be looking beyond that.

Optimizing Comp Picks in 2023

Washington’s free agency losses are relatively minor this year, but next year could be a dramatically different situation. Potential free agents include: Scherff, Steven Sims, Tim Settle, JD McKissic, Cornelius Lucas, Jon Bostic, Jon Allen, Kyle Allen, and Logan Thomas. Hopefully, several of those players with be extended and sign with the team, but some surely won’t. That’s nine potential comp pick generators. And, the best way to generate actual picks it to produce more free agents than you sign. For instance, last year, only the Chiefs and Packers failed to sign any qualifying free agents. Every other team in the league signed at least one. The Dolphins led the league, signing 9.

Given our available cap space, about $39M after the tagging of Brandon Scherff, Washington is in a prime position, 6th best overall in the league, to convert cap space to future draft picks during the free agency period. The down cap year presents a unique opportunity for teams to find a host of 2021 bargains in free agency, for vets looking to sign one year deals before the cap begins its upward trajectory again in 2022.

Certainly, if the team finds a particular player willing to sign a multi-year deal at good valuation for the organization, they should do it. But, they should also keep a particular eye on players looking for one year deals, one year rentals who either prove enough value to the team to be signed long term, or generate enough interest in 2021 to be sought after commodities once the cap increases again in 2022, and the buyers’ market expands dramatically. Three or four extra picks in 2023 draft could end up being an important component of Rivera’s desire to build sustainable, long term success in Washington.


Should the WFT being thinking about ways to generate future compensatory picks as they enter free agency?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Yes, it should be a primary consideration.
    (111 votes)
  • 70%
    Yes, it should be a secondary consideration.
    (586 votes)
  • 15%
    Who cares about comp picks?
    (129 votes)
826 votes total Vote Now