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Another year without compensatory draft picks in sight for the Saints

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Sometimes it’s wise to sit out of major bidding wars in NFL free agency. The compensatory draft picks gained could turn into someone special, like NFL Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott.

Divisional Round - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. Prescott was selected with the Cowboys’ 4th Round compensatory pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The NFL shields its formula for determining how compensatory picks are allotted fiercely, but the smart guys at OverTheCap.com have developed the closest thing to it. The resources they have made public are essential for anyone following the draft:

In brief, if your team loses more unrestricted free agents than it gains, they qualify for comp picks in the next year’s draft. Which rounds those picks are attached to (ranging from the third round to the seventh) is determined by the average-per-year earnings of each player’s contract. It’s complex, so be sure to refer to those links. I keep them bookmarked.

Anyway, the Saints nearly qualified for two comp picks this year. Tight end Benjamin Watson signed with the Baltimore Ravens on a contract averaging out to $3.5-million, which would have been worth a sixth round pick. Safety Rafael Bush joined the Detroit Lions at a rate of about $1.2-million per year, valued at a seventh round pick.

However, the Saints were active in free agency. They signed three qualifying free agents in Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener ($7.1-million per year), then-St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Nick Fairley ($3-million), and Cleveland Browns linebacker Craig Robertson ($1.3-million). Losing two free agents but signing three disqualified the Saints from the comp pick formula.

So don’t be surprised in a few weeks when the Saints again don’t receive any comp picks (last year’s picks were announced on March 11, shortly after the dawn of free agency).

One way crafty teams get around the comp pick formula is by targeting players waived from their contracts rather than allowed to walk in free agency; guys released from their contracts don’t fit into the formula. The New England Patriots routinely do this, having picked up then-St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long last spring. Other draft-savvy teams like the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, and Baltimore Ravens take advantage of this loophole.

For reference, here’s some of the notable players cut by their teams:

  • Cleveland Browns cornerback Tramon Williams
  • Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields
  • Indianapolis Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson
  • Minnesota Vikings guard Brandon Fusco
  • New York Giants tailback Rashad Jennings
  • New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz

Should the Saints sign any of them? Should they even bother looking toward ramifications for the 2018 Draft, or is the need to win games now in 2017 more important?