Rough Year For Steelers Free Agency Departures Is Bad News For Compensatory Formula

This has not exactly been the greatest of offseasons for former members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a few of whom are currently looking for work now after failing to catch on to the 53-man roster of the teams they signed with this spring or summer.

And I think that it hurt their draft haul next year. While the compensatory pick formula is still some form of alchemy to me, the Cardinals releasing fifth-year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones with an injury settlement may well have had the effect of canceling out the projected fifth-round pick that they were probably planning on netting for the loss of Lawrence Timmons.

They already lost other opportunities to accrue compensatory picks with the departures of Markus Wheaton and Jones by offsetting their losses with the gains of Tyson Alualu and Coty Sensabaugh, who I believe signed contracts large enough to quality to factor into the formula.

The failure of Jones to make the Cardinals’ roster no longer offsets any of their gains, but I can’t help but wonder if this thought was in the Steelers’ minds on the day after the final roster cuts, even though they don’t seem to be a team that particularly spends much time worrying about compensatory draft picks, barring obvious situations like losing a Mike Wallace.

When the team traded for safety J.J. Wilcox, they brought in another free agent who factors into their compensatory pick formula. Had Jones not already been released, his acquisition probably would have canceled out Timmons departure anyway.

But perhaps they already gave the loss of that compensatory pick consideration when they made the Wilcox trade, understanding that it would not hurt their gains anyway because what they had to lose would have already been lost.

It would not surprise me at all if the Steelers did not factor this into their decision to make the trade, of course, because that just doesn’t seem to be how they run things, even if other teams do operate in that manner.

Yet they do think about the formula at times. I believe it was earlier this year that General Manager Kevin Colbert talked about the compensatory picks and how they had two different people working on figuring out their likely gains, and that they pulled up two different answers, neither of which matched the third-round compensatory pick they ended up getting.

On the surface, however, it seems rather unlikely at the moment that the Steelers are going to see any pleasant surprises come draft time next year when the compensatory picks are announced. At the moment, I don’t believe that they will be seeing any compensatory picks in 2018.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Charles Mullins

    I have the answer. If you do good in free agency you don’t get a pick. If you do bad in free agency you get a pick. Seems pretty fair.

  • falconsaftey43

    Question, why would the Wilcox trade count towards the formula? I thought there was a deadline around the time of the draft that after which FAs no longer counted towards the comp pick formula. Are trades different?

  • Boots

    I am in no way proclaiming to understand determining compensatory picks at all, but i thought I read last year that free agent loses that ended being waived injured didn’t completely eliminate them from factoring in. Again, I’m not certain about that and not even sure it is accurate, but it could possibly mean Jarvis still has some factorization in the equation.

  • alevin16

    This whole process is a mess. All I know is that every year no matter what the Patriots and Ravens each get 47 comp picks.

  • Boots

    Because his contract with TB was signed during the alotted time period to count against the formula

  • israelp

    Wilcox is a trade. What does that have to do with free agancy losses and gains?

    And how does Jarvis Jones cancel Timmons?

  • Lee Foo Young


    (Shouted no Steeler fan)

  • Zhan 使美国再次伟大

    Yeah, me too.

    I found the article a little confusing…

  • Igmond

    I am confused. Wilcox was not a free agent, the Steelers traded for him. Why would he count against their comp picks? Also I thought the cut off was mid-May or early-June for FA’s to factor into the formula.

  • nutty32

    1st round pick on Jarvis Jones; that one will forever be a head scratcher.

  • Gee Stryker

    Wilcox and McDonald do not count against Free Agency losses for comp picks as they are trades. Joe Hayden was a Free Agent, and his pickup will make sure we don’t have a comp this year. The comp formula has to do with contract value of players lost over players gained. The FAs also need to have make rosters, if they don’t they are a zero. If you have a loss, you get a comp pick. We should have a gain this year, but we also have key contributors that we don’t have to draft.

  • steelburg

    I didn’t expect much back in the form of comp picks but I was thinking that we would at least get a guaranteed 5th for Timmons and if he plays well enough we would get a pick from Wheaton also. But just like everyone else I’m lost and confused about how Wilcox factors into the comp pick equation at all considering he was a player we traded for.

  • steelburg

    As I understand it players who are cut also don’t factor in if I’m not mistaken. My thought is that Wilcox, Haden, and McDonald don’t factor into the comp pick process at all.

  • dennisdoubleday

    I don’t think Wilcox should count against the Steelers, either. He should count against TB. The Steelers had to give up a pick to get him, so TB has already been compensated. Dallas gets their compensation at TB’s expense.

  • WB Tarleton

    I think Matt is trying to say that when they traded for Wilcox they expected a compensatory pick to make up for the pick we gave Tampa Bay. Now, we will not have that compensatory pick to replace it.

    It is confusing though.

  • WB Tarleton

    But we did not sign him as a free agent, Tampa did. When we trade for a former free agent we get stuck with his compensatory cost? That could be the case but does not make logical sense to me. He was a TB signing, not a Pittsburgh signing.

  • Daniel Santo

    Once you trade for someone you take over their free agency contract. It basically like we signed him in free agency

  • Daniel Santo

    We took over Wilcox’s free agency contract

  • Daniel Santo

    In order to qualify for the comp equation, a player must have been a true Unrestricted Free Agent whose contract had expired or was voided after the previous season (i.e., he cannot have been released by his old team); he must sign during the UFA signing period (which ended July 27 last year); if he signs after June 1[*], he must have been tendered a June 1 qualifying offer by his old team; his compensatory value or contract value must be above a specific minimum amount; and he cannot have been permanently released by his new team before a certain point in the season (which seems to be after Week 10) or, possibly, before getting a certain amount of playing time, unless he was claimed off waivers by another team.
    Jarvis Jones^^^

    If Jarvis would have stayed in AZ until week 10 then we would have gotten a pick, but he was released

  • steelburg

    That kind of makes sense. So if Wlicox plays a ton for us and he plays well the Cowboys get the comp pick. Although it makes sense the logic is flawed IMO because we are saying him signing with the Bucs never happened.

  • Boots

    Hey I don’t make the rules, that’s just what I’ve read.

  • Jeff Burton

    I think last year’s 3rd Round pick for the many players the Steelers lost turned conventional thinking of what the compensatory pick ‘formula’ was, on it’s ear. None of them were individually worth a 3rd rounder and since there is a 32 comp pick cap they couldn’t be award multiple low rounders. So, the league figured losing 2 starters and some contributors was worth that single higher pick. I will go on record as saying the Steelers will get a 3rd Rd pick for Timmons. They lost a very high performing starter who led the team in tackles. That is worth at least a 3rd Rd pick, 4th at the lowest.

  • NickSteelerFan

    I’ll gladly give up one draft pick if it means legitimately having the players in place to win another championship

  • Piratte fan 4 life

    thinks you may be rigt

  • Matt Manzo


  • Joseph Shaw

    At the time, it wasn’t crazy. He fell down the board. Took a chance.

  • nutty32

    He fell down the board because his workout was disappointing; really slow for his modest size. He put up some numbers in college, but most were scheme sacks v. anything good he did. Guess Colbert said they liked him because he played a similar scheme in college to the Steelers and thought he could jump in and help right away. Boy, was that wrong. At least he played hard and hustled, so I don’t hate him.

  • Denny

    TB did pay the signing bonus though.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Wilcox’s compensatory impact transferred with him through the trade, since he’s now with the Steelers and was not released. It does make sense to me.

  • Matthew Marczi

    For the purposes of the comp pick formula, that’s essentially true that it’s like the Bucs signing him never happened now.

  • Matthew Marczi

    As others have said, after speaking to some people who know more than me, when a qualifying free agent who counts toward the compensatory formula is signed prior to the deadline, any move made that doesn’t result in his contract being removed transfers that compensatory impact with him. Trades involving players who were not just free agents have no impact on the formula, of course, but it’s different for traded players who were free agents.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’ll have to do a little more reading, but I think you may be right.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Wilcox is a trade for a compensatory free agent. The Steelers now have that compensatory free agent, so it affects their compensatory formula. If Wilcox were already under a pre-existing contract, then it would not have affected anything in a trade.

    Regarding Jones, I’m going to have to read a little more about how a possible injury settlement affects the compensatory formula, but his not making the roster doesn’t help the Steelers. You can alter the compensatory formula after signings; for example, if they were to release Alualu and Sensabaugh now, or prior to Week 10, it would change their compensatory impact or even wipe it out entirely. The fact that Timmons’ impact is neutered by the 10-year veteran rule means that Jones’ lower contract is more on par with his in terms of the compensatory formula.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Wilcox was a free agent, and the Steelers traded for him. The Steelers acquired his compensatory status as a free agent signing via the trade.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Wilcox does, McDonald doesn’t. Wilcox signed a contract with a new team as an unrestricted free agent during the qualifying time period; with his trade, his compensatory impact transfers to the Steelers.

    Haden’s signing would not have counted anyway because it’s well past the deadline for free agent signings to affect the formula, which I believe is May 9.

  • Matthew Marczi

    You’re forgetting Markus Wheaton.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Because he was signed as an unrestricted free agent during the qualifying time period by the Buccaneers, and such contracts transfer via trade within the same year. The Steelers inherited his compensatory impact through the trade, while the Buccaneers relieved themselves of the compensatory impact (even though they paid him a $1 million roster bonus).

  • Matthew Marczi

    There is a rule within the compensatory formula that the maximum return value for a veteran with 10 or more years of experience is a 5th-round pick, so it’s impossible for him to bring in a 3rd-rounder.

  • Boots

    I don’t know how much this will help but it was an article I read about Beachum’s possible comp pick last year

  • Bradshaw

    While compensatory picks are interesting and accumulating them is fun (more draftees to talk about and analyze), what I really care about stacking are Lombardi’s.

  • Matthew Marczi

    This whole things is weird, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get a clear answer. The only example of a player released with an injury settlement I can find that counted toward the formula was Domenik Hixon, but his situations is different. He tore his ACL in OTAs, but then he retired and was released with an injury settlement. So did he count because of the settlement or because he retired?

  • SteelersGeek4Lyfe

    Whatever. We are in win-now mode.

  • Boots

    Yeah I don’t know why this has to be such cloak and dagger stuff, you’d think the NFL would want to be more transparent on this stuff so that nobody can cry foul. It is bizarre all the way around. I, for one, appreciate your efforts to shed some light on this because it is maddening to try to figure out! Actuaries would scratch their heads at this!

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;


  • Steelgator

    What about Wheaton?

  • Michael Conrad

    Well . Wheaton,Jones,Timmons,S Thomas were not wanted any longer and I’m happy with the team so if we don’t get a pick . I’m ok with it. Getting a pick for Jarvis Jones is like stealing.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    well, i would imagine the only people in the nfl that understand the compensatory picks was dan rooney and bellicheck. maybe the mara’s. colbert said he was explained it many times but didnt get it.

  • WB Tarleton

    Let’s reverse it and pretend that the Bucs traded a 2018 sixth rounder for him, cut him in camp, and we signed him. Would we be stuck with paying the sixth round pick? People would say that is nuts.

    That is essentially what is going on with the compensatory formula. I understand that it is what it is but still do not think it logical that we should pay the price for their signing.

  • HiVul

    That’s basically what the NFL is doing now

  • Matthew Marczi

    But their signing is now the Steelers’ signing. If the front office did not know the impact it would have then it’s really on them.