Too Long; Didn’t Read
Patriots slapped a tender offer on Blount to ensure he still counts in the compensatory draft math in order to protect the fourth and maybe fifth round compensatory picks projected to the franchise for the 2018 NFL Draft. This could deter teams like the Ravens and Giants from signing Blount because they could lose their top projected compensatory picks, but shouldn’t affect a team like the Lions that isn’t slated to earn a compensatory pick.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick dug deep into the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to find a way to maintain control of RB LeGarrette Blount and force any team interested in signing the veteran running back to lose out in the compensatory pick calculus.
But what exactly did the Patriots do?
First, we need to understand the compensatory draft pick process. Typically, teams will gain compensatory draft picks for players lost during the free agency signing period, which lasts from the first day of free agency through the second Tuesday after the NFL Draft, per OverTheCap.com.
This year, May 9th marked the end of the free agency signing period, which is what sparked the Patriots action. Once teams allow their free agents to remain on the street beyond the end of the free agency period, these players no longer count in the compensatory pick calculus.
Savvy teams like the Baltimore Ravens will often wait until after the end of the free agency signing period to add veterans still on the street because it won’t negatively affect how many compensatory draft picks they receive in the subsequent draft.
To relate the above to this story, Blount is an unrestricted free agent and would have normally been free to sign with any team after May 9th without a negative impact on their compensatory draft picks.
Enter Belichick and the “June 1st Tender.”
In article 9 (Veteran Free Agency), section 1 (unrestricted free agents), (b) (Signing Period), (i) of the CBA, we find the following language:
“In the event that an Unrestricted Free Agent has not signed a Player Contract with a Club by July 22 or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later, in the League Year following the expiration of his last Player Contract, he may negotiate or sign a Player Contract from July 22 until the Tuesday following the tenth week of the regular season, at 4:00pm New York time, only with his Prior Club, provided that the Prior Club by June 1 has tendered to the player a one year Player Contract of at least 110% of either (a) his Prior Year Salary (if his expiring Player Contract is not a Player Contract he entered into as a Rookie)...in each case with all other terms of his contract identical to his prior year’s contract.”
To translate, the language is saying that teams can retain unrestricted veteran free agents with a “June 1st Tender”, which pays the player “at least 110%” of his prior contract. This tender does not include a draft pick compensation like a restricted free agent tender, but it still shows an intent to re-sign the player and prevents them from becoming a “street free agent.”
This base intent to retain the player keeps the player eligible for the compensatory draft pick calculus and is why the Patriots slapped this tender on Blount.
It should be noted that the CBA defines this as the “June 1st Tender”, but the tender’s name changes every year to align with the second Tuesday after the NFL Draft.
Blount will have until July 22nd to sign with another team, or else he will only be able to negotiate with the Patriots through the tenth week of the 2017 regular season. If he doesn’t sign with the Patriots by the tenth week, then Blount “shall be prohibited from playing football in the NFL for the remainder of that League Year.”
This process is as much a part of the NFL offseason process as retaining CB Malcolm Butler as a restricted free agent, but this is a much more nuanced tender that could seriously affect Blount’s prospects of signing with another team.
For the Patriots, their gains are potentially minimal. Despite leading the league in rushing touchdowns in 2016, Blount might not even make the Patriots roster with Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, and Dion Lewis in the fold.
From a compensatory draft pick selection, Blount would have to sign contract around $5.5 million per season to net the Patriots a fifth round compensatory pick, per OverTheCap- but that would make Blount the ninth-highest paid running back in the league and that just isn’t going to happen.
A more reasonable “upper limit” is the $3 million per season contract needed to net the Patriots a sixth round compensatory pick.
But now we need to look at the Patriots current compensatory calculus, again via OverTheCap. Currently, the Patriots losses of LB Barkevious Mingo and EDGE Chris Long are canceled out by the signings of DT Lawrence Guy and RB Rex Burkhead. Mingo and Long qualify for seventh round compensatory picks, while Guy and Burkhead count as sixth round compensatory contracts.
So if Blount qualifies the Patriots for a sixth round compensatory pick, the compensatory math adjusts so the loss of Blount is immediately canceled out by the Guy contract. This frees up the loss of Long for a compensatory draft pick, but OverTheCap notes that Long would qualify for the very last compensatory draft pick in the entire draft.
In other words, the Patriots could be deterring other teams from signing Blount in order to get the Mr. Irrelevant draft selection, and that just seems ridiculous.
A second proposal by OverTheCap suggests that adding Blount to the list of compensatory free agent losses could protect the team if Mingo or Long doesn’t make their new squads for 2017. This is a much more reasonable proposal because the stakes are greater.
If Mingo or Long fails to make their new team, then they don’t qualify as a compensatory loss for the Patriots. And if they don’t qualify, then the Patriots addition of Guy and Burkhead move up the cancellation chart and pair with the Patriots losses of EDGE Jabaal Sheard and TE Martellus Bennett, currently slated to net the Patriots fourth and fifth round compensatory picks.
So keeping Blount in the compensatory calculus serves as insurance and could ensure the Patriots get their fourth round compensatory as a minimum.
Of course this strategy only works if a team is willing to sign Blount, but it shows the intention behind the Patriots approach to the complicated free agency period.
The flip side of this compensatory math with the Patriots protecting their projected fourth round pick is that some team could lose their top compensatory draft pick.
Teams only gain compensatory draft picks if they suffer a net loss of compensatory qualifying unrestricted free agents. The Ravens are currently slated to earn a third round pick for the loss of RT Ricky Wagner and a seventh round pick for the loss of OG Vladimir Ducasse. If they sign Blount, then that addition will cancel the loss of Ducasse, leaving only the third round pick.
But if Ducasse doesn’t make the Bills roster, then the signing of Blount cancels out the loss of Wagner and the Ravens get zero compensatory draft picks. Is Blount worth a 2018 third round pick? Probably not to the Ravens.
The Giants are in a worse situation than the Ravens where they are slated to only receive a fourth round compensatory pick for the loss of DT Jonathan Hankins. However, they have lost two players that don’t qualify for a compensatory draft pick that could cancel out the addition of Blount- but like with Ducasse, if those two players fail to make their new squad, then Blount will cancel out the loss of Hankins.
Both the Ravens and Giants could sign Blount and his roster spot would be contingent on whether Ducasse or Marshall Newhouse make their new teams, but the main point is that now both teams have major incentives to not sign Blount.
The Lions are in a different boat because they are not slated to earn any compensatory draft picks; they can add Blount without penalty and Lions general manager Bob Quinn is incredibly familiar with the running back from his time in New England. The Patriots decision to apply the June 1st Tender on Blount makes the Lions the favorites to land Blount, in my opinion.