The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2020 offseason about as tight as anybody in the league up against the salary cap. They also entered the process with the fewest players who were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, and yet they have seemingly lost as many players as any other team, having already had four players sign with other teams.
The first player to reach a deal was Javon Hargrave, who signed a big-money three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. The biggest surprise was Tyler Matakevich landing a contract with the Buffalo Bills that could reach $9 million over two years. B.J. Finney and then Sean Davis also found new homes in Seattle and Washington, respectively.
While the Steelers were able to get a lot of their own business done—placing the franchise tag on Bud Dupree, placing restricted free agent tenders on Mike Hilton and Matt Feiler, retaining Zach Banner and Kameron Canaday—they did also find room, and time, to bring in one free agent of their own, fullback Derek Watt.
A whole lot of things could change between now and the end of the 2020 season, but over the years, the compensatory pick formula has become more stable and predictable as the data set expands every year. The premiere tracker of compensatory picks has been Nick Korte of Over the Cap.
To date, the site has the Steelers scheduled to earn three compensatory picks for 2021, which should be expected. He believes Hargrave’s $13 million per year deal should net a fourth-round pick, while the deals signed by Matakevich, Davis, and Finney (all in the $4-5 million per year ballpark) would qualify for sixth-round picks. Watt’s compensation amounts to seventh-round compensation, but would cancel out one of the sixth-rounders.
So, for those keeping track at home in the middle of March—it’s not like we have anything else to do right now—as it currently stands, the best prediction for what the Steelers could expect to see in terms of compensatory picks for 2021 is a fourth-rounder and two sixth-rounders.
This can and likely will change. It’s probable that the Steelers will try to sign at least one more free agent, targeting perhaps the offensive or defensive lines following the losses of Finney and Hargrave, plus the retirement of Ramon Foster. That will cancel out another pick if they add an additional player, provided that it’s significant enough to qualify.
Other factors than salary shape the compensatory pick, including playing time, so, for example, if Hargrave misses a lot of the 2020 season, his compensatory pick could drop to a fifth-rounder. If Watt misses the year, he could factor out of the formula altogether.