Why It’s a Very Important Day for the Remaining NFL Free Agents

Suh, Ajayi, Ansah and other veterans could be set to sign very soon. It has everything to do with the NFL’s formula for compensatory draft picks.
Publish date:

May 7 doesn’t sound like it would be an important date on the NFL calendar, but it is! Or at least it is for the some teams. Starting today at 4 p.m. ET, teams can sign unrestricted free agents without hurting their standing in the league’s compensatory-pick formula for 2020. And while most of you may not be paying attention, some of the NFL’s best teams have been.

How does this all work? Here are a few things for you to file away …

The formula is based on net gain: That is to say, simply losing a big-time free agent doesn’t mean your team is getting a pick commensurate to his value. If you sign a free agent of equal value, in fact, you could wind up empty handed. Take the Ravens—they lost C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. But they signed Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram. So, Baltimore may wind up with just one pick, or a combination of two lower-end picks, as a result. Same goes for Washington, which lost Preston Smith and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but signed Landon Collins.

The formula is kept under lock and key: Not sure why, but it is. Smarter teams have a good handle on it. What we do know, per the NFL’s Management Council, is that it’s based on a combination of salary, playing time and postseason honors. And I know teams operate as if that formula is weighted toward the money players get.

Street free agents don’t count: To use the Ravens as an example again, they don’t get credit for Eric Weddle’s deal with the Rams, nor are the Rams hurt in the formula by signing Weddle. Likewise, the Jaguars don’t get credit for losing Malik Jackson, and the Eagles don’t dinged for signing him.

Teams don’t get credit/penalized after today, either: So if Ndamukong Suh signs somewhere later today it won’t benefit the Rams like it would’ve yesterday. Nor, for example, will the Eagles get credit for Jay Ajayi getting a deal somewhere.

Cap space is much shorter across the NFL right now: The league had a combined total of $623.98 million in cap room ($19.50 million per team) coming into today, and there were still rookie classes to be signed and space to be socked away for in-season churning, injury emergencies and trade possibilities. By comparison, the 32 teams carried a combined $1.124 billion in cap space into the week that free agency started.

Some veterans have been waiting for this: You’ll see most of the guys on the list are either past their second contracts or have significant injury history. Generally, rebuilding teams don’t take swings on guys like that. And a lot of the teams deep in the comp-pick game are contenders. Players who may not get what they were looking for in March often wait for this point, when better teams might jump in.

And which teams had reason to wait for today? Among the teams that lost significant free agents without huge gains back: the Patriots (Trent Brown, Trey Flowers), Steelers (Le’Veon Bell), Texans (lost Tyrann Mathieu, Kareem Jackson, added Bradley Roby), Seahawks (Earl Thomas, Justin Coleman), Bears (lost Adrian Amos, Bryce Callahan, added Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), Dolphins (Ja’Wuan James, Cam Wake), Eagles (Nick Foles, Golden Tate, Jordan Hicks), Chargers (Tyrell Williams), and Rams (Rodger Saffold, Lamarcus Joyner).

And seven of those nine teams (the Rams and Steelers being the exceptions) have more than $14 million in cap space. Who could they spend it on? Here’s the list …

Ndamukong Suh, DT: He was still a damn good player last year, and his disruption numbers have been pretty consistent the last four years. The question with him relates to money—I mentioned in yesterday’s Monday Afternoon Quarterback that teams believe his price remains very high.

Allen Bailey, DL: Bailey’s had some chances to sign, and is still a good player, raising some questions about his motivation to continue his career at age 30. (I’m told he’s not planning to retire now.)

Ziggy Ansah, DE: We all know how much potential Ansah—the fifth pick in the 2013 draft—has. He’s delivered on it in spots, with seasons of 12 and 14.5 sacks. But he’s turning 30 this month, and a bad shoulder turned some teams away.

Mo Claiborne, CB: Claiborne has ability, but has been wildly inconsistent over the course of his career and has extensive injury history. That said, he started 30 games the last two years for the Jets. He’s the type of player who, at this point, you’d love to have as a starter in a pinch, but maybe not so much as your full-time guy.

Mo Wilkerson, DL: A clearly declining player who can come in and play a role, just so long as that role isn’t full-time.

Pierre Garcon, WR: He’s clearly not the guy he once was, which is why the Niners tried to trade him ahead of the deadline last year. And he finished both his seasons in San Francisco on injured reserve. That said, he could be worth a flier for a needy team.

Brock Osweiler, QB: He’s now at the point where he’s settled into being a good backup option for some team. He played relatively well in five starts for the Dolphins last year.

Jay Ajayi, RB: The belief out there is that he can still play, and he’s only 25. But he has a mountain of injury issues, and the arthritic condition in his knee isn’t going away. Someone may see him as a one-year fix.

Bennie Logan, DT: He could be a good run-stuffing piece for your defensive front.

Jordan Mills, OT: Starting offensive linemen are hard to come by. And while he’s not a great option, Mills did start 48 consecutive games in Buffalo the last three years.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.