While we are still a few weeks out before anything can actually happen, speculation has long been a part of the 24-hour, 365-day sports coverage, so I think it would be fine to talk about the possibilities of what could unfold over a year from now in the fallout from free agency.
Recently, Nick Korte of Over the Cap, who has about as strong an understanding of how the compensatory pick process works as anybody not in the league, and who has been pretty accurately predicting the compensatory picks for the outlets over the years, recently put together an exercise looking at the possible outcomes of this free agency cycle and how it relates to compensation.
13. OK, let’s try this again: The new list after making corrections on:
•Leonard Floyd being a Ram, not Bear
•PFF sending Richard Sherman to the Bills, not Patriots (thanks, @patscap!)
•somehow forgetting Mitch Trubisky
Tweets 8 and 9 are erroneous and should be ignored. pic.twitter.com/d5Qh9bHtVl
— Nick Korte (@nickkorte) February 24, 2021
Obviously, this is impossible to predict accurately, because compensatory picks involve not only the players that you lose to other teams but also players you gain as unrestricted free agents, so the first step is using a model, and he used Pro Football Focus’ free agency predictions as the basis for his work.
With their projections, Alejandro Villanueva, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, and James Conner are all anticipated to return compensatory draft picks for the Steelers. Smith-Schuster is anticipated to land a deal paying $17 million annually, and Villanueva $15 million annually.
At that threshold, both would qualify for third-round compensation, the Steelers accounting for two of the eight projected (the Baltimore Ravens are also projected to net two for their pass rushers, pending whatever they might add).
PFF has Dupree settling for a one-year, $10 million contract, which is projected to translate into a fourth-round compensatory pick. Conner signs for a deal with $6.67 million, which is good for a fifth-round draft pick.
The site did not predict the Steelers signing any outside free agents other than Kelvin Beachum, to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. At that level of compensation, it would fall toward the bottom of the compensatory cut-off. If it comes in just above the cut-off, it would cancel out the fifth-round pick for Conner, but it could also be offset by other contracts that surpass it. Right now, the contract falls just outside the cut-off, so it wouldn’t hurt the Steelers either way.
But even if it did, the site also projects the Jaguars to bring back Tyson Alualu for a one-year, $6 million deal, and Matt Feiler is also signing elsewhere on a two-year deal averaging the same amount, so either of those could also command a sixth-round compensatory pick and cancel out Beachum’s signing.
If things actually fall this way, and to be honest, it’s far from realistic, then the Steelers will have quite a bounty of compensatory picks at their disposal in 2020, with two extra third-round picks, an extra fourth, and an extra fifth—their best haul ever.
I’ll remind you at this time that Alex Highsmith was a compensatory draft pick—though so was Dri Archer. And so was Beachum, for that matter.