We’re through two days of free agency and the Patriots have yet to make a big splash. But their haul thus far goes beyond a few pass-catchers you’d never heard of prior to Thursday and a run-game staple on the defensive line.
There are those compensatory picks. There are always compensatory picks.
According to Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com, the Patriots are currently scheduled to land two comp picks in 2020 — both third-rounders. Korte has Malcom Brown, Cordarrelle Patterson and Eric Rowe‘s departures canceled out by New England’s acquisition of Brandon Bolden, Mike Pennel and Terrence Brooks.
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Should Patriots free agents like Chris Hogan, Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Shelton or LaAdrian Waddle sign elsewhere, the Patriots could end up with other later-round picks. Still, those two thirds represent one of the best compensatory pick packages in the league to this point.
Teams are gaming the comp pick system. Letting FA walk & not getting greedy. Picks can be traded.
>PHI has 3 (3rd/4th/4th)
-Combined value=37th pick overall
>NE has 2 (3rd/3rd)
-Combined value=43rd pick
>SEA has 4 (3rd/4th/6th/6th)
-Combined value=54th pick
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 15, 2019
The Patriots, Eagles and Seahawks — teams that have combined to win five of the last seven Super Bowls — are among the teams atop the comp pick chart. That’s not a coincidence. And last season’s Super Bowl runner-up, the Rams, landed two third-round picks and two sevenths via the compensatory pick formula.
With the rules on trading comp picks changing two years ago — prior to that teams had to keep their compensatory selections — they have more value than ever. And for a team like the Patriots, which has gotten older due in part to its willingness to deal away picks for veterans, that means more ammo. Whether the picks are used to maneuver up the draft, traded, or used to nab rookies, they offer real returns for teams that remain disciplined in their spending and don’t cancel out their compensatory awards.
The Patriots have four compensatory picks in this year’s draft, the maximum number for any team. (Only 32 picks are awarded every year.) Two are thirds. They could be used on players or to climb up the draft to get into an area of the draft — perhaps higher in the second round? — to improve their chances of landing impactful rookies. While having an older roster has worked out for them, they understand they need to start building up their next young core. They also have a sixth and a seventh-round comp pick that could somehow chip away at that goal.
Keeping those two thirds in 2020, though, could have a real impact on how the Patriots approach the rest of free agency. Even if they were to create enough cap space to ink a high-priced free agent (for instance, someone like Ndamukong Suh), would they if it meant potentially parting ways with a third? Seems unlikely. Even signing someone relatively expensive like Adam Humphries or Golden Tate would’ve preserved those thirds as both receivers are projected to land their teams fourth-round comp picks.
Lately the Patriots have gone out of their way to preserve their comp-pick awards by trading for players — Trent Brown, Jason McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, Dwayne Allen, Cordarrelle Pattersion are all recent pick-for-player swaps they’ve executed — as opposed to being big-time wheelers and dealers in free agency. They could also make plays for free agents who’ve been released since they don’t count against the comp-pick formula. Potential fits like Justin Houston and Jordy Nelson would fall into that category.
To the smartest teams in the league, those compensatory picks matter. And it looks like the Patriots are going to end up protecting theirs again.
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