For the fourth straight year and fifth overall, I’ve attempted to do something nobody else has ever attempted (to my knowledge) – to project all of the compensatory draft picks the NFL will award. In each of the past two years, I got 26 of the 32 comp picks exactly right – going to the correct team in the correct round – and was off by only one round on four other comp picks in 2003 and two others in 2004. (Last year, of the first 28 comp picks awarded, I had 25 exactly right and two others off by only one round.) My goal for this year is to get more than 26 correct, but it’s such a difficult task that I’d settle for 24 or more (75 percent or better). As the NFL explains, compensatory picks are awarded to teams that lose more or better compensatory free agents than they acquire. The number of picks a team can receive equals the net loss of compensatory free agents, up to a maximum of four. Compensatory free agents are determined by a secret formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. Not every free agent lost or signed is covered by the formula. Although the formula has never been revealed, by studying the compensatory picks that have been awarded since they began in 1993, I’ve determined that the primary factor in the value of the picks awarded is the average annual value of the contract the player signed with his new team, with only small adjustments for playing time (I use games played and games started as a general estimate) and postseason honors. A simple method of determining for which qualifying free agents a team will be compensated is, for every player signed, cancel out a lost player of similar value. For example, if a team signs one qualifying player for $2 million per season and loses two free agents, one who got $1.8 million per season and one who got $4 million per season, the team will be compensated for the $4 million player. It is possible for a team to get a compensatory pick even if it doesn’t suffer a net loss of qualifying free agents, although those type of comp picks come at the end of the seventh round, after the normal comp picks and before the non-compensatory picks that are added if fewer than 32 comp picks are awarded. There have been eight of these type of comp picks awarded, and in each case, the combined value of the free agents lost was significantly higher than the combined value of the free agents signed. In all eight cases, those teams lost the same number of qualifying free agents as they signed. No team has ever been awarded a comp pick after signing more qualifying free agents than they lost. This year, I don’t project any of these “net value” comp picks being awarded. I should note that my comp pick formula is merely an attempt to project the results of the actual (highly secret) compensatory picks formula, which I’m sure is more precise and complicated than my simple simulation. I don’t pretend to know the actual formula. But I think previous results indicate that my formula is a pretty good simulation. 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 on July 22 last year); if he signs after June 1, he must have been tendered a June 1 qualifying offer by his old team; he must sign for at least a certain amount of money per season; 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. One potential qualifying player this year, Mike Compton, was released by Jacksonville on Sept. 5 and then re-signed on Sept. 23. Because players who were released and re-signed by the same team in the past have qualified for the comp equation, I am projecting that Compton will qualify this year. Last year, the lowest-paid player who qualified for the NFL’s comp equation was Cameron Spikes, who signed for $675,000 per season and started all 16 games. The highest-paid player who did not qualify was Chris Hetherington, who signed for $655,000 per season and played in 14 games, starting one. To determine the approximate cutoff points for this year’s comps, I raised last year’s cutoffs by the same percentage as the increase in RFA tenders from 2003 to 2004, which was 3.8 percent. That means a player whose playing time in 2004 was equal to Cameron Spikes’ in 2003, and who signed for about $700,650 per season, should qualify for the equation. But a player whose playing time in 2004 was equal to Chris Hetherington’s in 2003, and who signed for $679,890 per season, should not qualify. Determining whether players who signed for $660,000 to $700,000 per season qualify is one of the most difficult tasks when trying to project the comps. There were three players on the bubble this year – Jermaine Wiggins ($660,000 per season, 14 games played, 13 games started), Matt O’Dwyer ($685,000, on PUP list, then four games played, zero started) and Bobby Hamilton ($685,000, 16 GP/15 GS). I’ve projected that all three players will qualify for the equation, based on their playing time (and for O’Dwyer, because significant injuries haven’t lowered players’ value in the equation in the past). Also, since the minimum salary for veterans of seven to nine seasons rose by only $5,000 from 2003 to 2004 (from $655,000 to $660,000), and since that minimum is very close to the minimum needed to qualify for the comp equation, it’s possible that the minimum value needed to qualify also rose by only $5,000 or so. That would make it more likely that the bubble players did qualify for the equation. Other than determining which players do or do not qualify for the equation, the most difficult thing about projecting the comp picks is determining the value range for each round. Last year, regardless of playing time or postseason honors, the one third-round comp player got $5.33 million per season, fourth-round comp players got $3.95 million to $5.4 million, the only fifth-round comp player got $3.75 million, sixth-round comp players got $1.75 million to $2.5 million and seventh-round players got $1.5 million or less. When determining the approximate ranges for this year’s comps, I again used a 3.8-percent increase over last year’s levels and adjusted for playing time and postseason honors. Conveniently, there were gaps near the cutoff points for almost every round. For example, there were no comps for any players between $3.52 million (almost certainly a fifth-rounder) and $4.17 million (almost certainly a fourth-rounder). The one place where there is the biggest question is between the third and fourth rounds -- in particular, the comps for Bert Berry ($5.0 million, 16/16, Pro Bowl) and Damien Woody ($5.17 million, 16/16). I’ve projected that both of them will be fourth-round comps, although they could end up being third-rounders (one Denver newspaper has even reported that the Broncos would get a third-rounder). However, in each of the past two years, there have been players who signed for more than $5 million per season and were worth only fourth-round comps, so that’s where I’m projecting those two. One factor could be Ian Gold being released by the Buccaneers and being re-signed by the Broncos. He had signed for $5.464 million and, if the Broncos’ comp pick was for him instead of Berry, that might have been a third-round pick. But because he was released, he made only $2 million for one season. Since the Broncos signed two low-value qualifying players and lost three players, their comp will be for their highest-value player lost, which would be Berry. And I don’t think Berry’s contract is large enough to merit a third-round pick, despite his great season. But I could be wrong, and I could be with Woody, too. Like Gold, another qualifying player who was released after one year of his contract was Mario Edwards. He signed for $2.78 million per season, but because he was released, he made only $1.5 million for one season. In the cases of Gold and Edwards, I’m projecting that their releases will play a part in determining their contract values, based on what happened in 1998 with Lester Holmes. In 1997, he signed for $1.765 million per season. But he was cut after making only $296,240 for one season. Because he signed $1.765 million per season, he qualified for the equation. But his value seems to have been based on the amount he actually made before being released, since he was part of the “net value” comp Oakland got in 1998. The Raiders had signed Holmes and Desmond Howard ($1.43 million), and they had lost Kevin Gogan ($2.08 million) and Michael Jones ($1.5 million). If Holmes’ full value had been used, the difference in combined values of players lost and signed wouldn’t have been anywhere close to that which would be needed to merit a net value comp. But with the smaller value used for Holmes, the value of the players lost was more than double the combined value of the players signed, which would merit the net value comp. Since the rules regarding cases such as these (or any other case, for that matter) have never been revealed, I can only base my projections on what has happened in previous years. And since Holmes’ release after the season seems to have been taken into account, I am projecting that the same will be true for Gold and Edwards. But again, I could be wrong. As I alluded to earlier, the NFL adds non-compensatory picks if fewer than 32 comp picks are awarded. The non-compensatory picks are given, in order, to the teams that would be drafting if there were an eighth round. If there are 26 true comps, for example, the NFL would give additional picks to the teams that would have the first six picks in the eighth round, if there were one. This year, though, I’m projecting that there won’t be any non-compensatory picks needed. By my calculations, there will be 32 true compensatory picks awarded. In fact, there could have been a 33rd (for Jermaine Wiggins), if there wasn’t a limit of 32. Here are the projected picks, along with the compensatory player, their games played/started and their average contract value – THIRD ROUND Tennessee (Jevon Kearse, $7.83 million, 14 GP/14 GS) Kansas City (John Tait, $5.61 million, 13/13) St. Louis (Grant Wistrom, $5.5 million, 9/9) FOURTH ROUND Denver (Bert Berry, $5.0 million, 16/16, Pro Bowl) New England (Damien Woody, $5.17 million, 16/16) Indianapolis (Marcus Washington, $4.17 million, 16/16, Pro Bowl) Tennessee (Robaire Smith, $4.39 million, 16/16) FIFTH ROUND New England (Ted Washington, $3.5 million, 16/16) Carolina (Jeno James, $3.52 million, 14/14) Philadelphia (Carlos Emmons, $3.3 million, 15/15) Carolina (Reggie Howard, $3.62 million, 15/3) San Francisco (Jason Webster, $3.01 million, 10/9) Philadelphia (Bobby Taylor, $2.95 million, 10/0) Oakland (Charlie Garner, $2.91 million, 3/3 IR) SIXTH ROUND Indianapolis (David Macklin, $2.6 million, 16/16) St. Louis (Brian Young, $2.51 million, 15/15) Carolina (Deon Grant, $2.42 million, 16/16) Dallas (Ebenezer Ekuban, $2.52 million, 16/11) Baltimore (Marcus Robinson, $2.25 million, 16/7) Oakland (Matt Stinchcomb, $1.9 million, 16/16) Philadelphia (Bobbie Williams, $1.75 million, 16/16) SEVENTH ROUND San Francisco (Tai Streets, $1.5 million, 13/12) Seattle (Reggie Tongue, $1.33 million, 16/16) St. Louis (John St. Clair, $1.3 million, 14/14) Dallas (Mario Edwards, $1.5 million, 15/3) San Francisco (Travis Kirschke, $1.6 million, 16/1) Tampa Bay (Tom Tupa, $935,000, 16 games) St. Louis (David Loverne, $867,000, 15/13) Philadelphia (Marco Coleman, $785,000, 16/16) Seattle (Willie Williams, $760,000, 16/10) New England (Bobby Hamilton, $685,000, 16/15) Cincinnati (Matt O’Dwyer, $685,000, PUP 4/0) Last year, two of the comp picks I projected were off by one round. The highest fourth-rounder in my projection ended up being the only third-rounder, and the lowest fourth-rounder in my projection ended up being the only fifth-rounder. This year, it’s possible that the comp for Wistrom could be a fourth-rounder, the comps for Berry and Woody could be third-rounders, the comps for Webster, Taylor and Garner and Edwards could be sixth-rounders, and the comps for Stinchcomb and Bobbie Williams could be seventh-rounders. The other comps, if they are awarded for the players I’ve indicated, should be in the correct rounds. If I am wrong about Mike Compton qualifying or any of the three bubble players – Bobby Hamilton, Matt O’Dwyer and Jermaine Wiggins – qualifying, it could affect the comp picks awarded. If Mike Compton does not qualify, New England would not get a seventh-round comp for Bobby Hamilton, and Carolina would get a seventh-rounder for Jermaine Wiggins (if he qualifies). If Bobby Hamilton does not qualify, New England would not get a seventh-round comp for Hamilton, and Oakland would get a seventh-rounder for Rick Mirer. If neither Mike Compton nor Bobby Hamilton qualifies, New England would get neither a fifth-round comp for Ted Washington nor a seventh-rounder for Hamilton, and Carolina would get a seventh-rounder for Jermaine Wiggins (if he qualifies), and Oakland would get a seventh-rounder for Rick Mirer. If Matt O’Dwyer does not qualify, Cincinnati would not get a seventh-round comp for him, and Tampa Bay would get a seventh-rounder for Cornell Green. If Jermaine Wiggins does not qualify, any scenario in which Carolina would have gotten a seventh-round comp for him would instead result in San Francisco getting a non-compensatory pick after the seventh-round comp picks. If Jermaine Wiggins’ value is determined to be higher than Matt O’Dwyer’s value, Carolina would get the 32nd comp pick instead of Cincinnati, and all of the above scenarios in which Carolina would have gotten a seventh-round comp would instead result in Cincinnati getting a seventh-rounder (in this case, Carolina already would have one). But even if Wiggins’ value would be higher than O’Dwyer’s value, if O’Dwyer does not qualify, Carolina would not have the 32nd comp pick because Tampa Bay would get a seventh-rounder for Cornell Green. Carolina would then be in the same situation as above, needing another team’s comp pick to be eliminated in order to receive a seventh-rounder for Wiggins. In the event that fewer than 32 true comp picks are awarded, the first seven teams in line to receive non-compensatory picks would be San Francisco, Cleveland, Miami, Oakland, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Tennessee, in order. This year’s compensatory picks should be awarded sometime around March 21. After they’re announced, I’ll try to review what the NFL did and where my projections were incorrect (although I’ve already presented some other possibilities).