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NFL free agency compensation window closes today; Patriots projected to earn three extra 2021 draft picks

Related: Evaluating how the Patriots addressed their needs in the draft

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

More than a month ago, on March 18, the NFL’s 2020 league year and free agency period began — and it was a busy one for the New England Patriots. Not only did the team lose some of its core players from years past headlined by future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, veteran linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, and special teams ace Nate Ebner, it also brought in a total of seven outside players through the open market.

All in all, though, the balance of the team’s free agency sheet is once again a negative one from the Patriots’ perspective. This, in turn, leads to the team being projected to earn multiple compensatory picks in next year’s draft. According to Over The Cap, New England is currently projected to gain three additional selections as a result of its net free agency losses — one fewer than was the case over the last two years:

Over The Cap

While compensatory selections will not get announced by the NFL until next February, and is dependent on a secret formula that also puts playing time in consideration, for example, the final tally is ultimately expected to look similar to the projection above. If it indeed does, New England would enter the 2020 draft with a total of 11 selections — four of which in the first three rounds (one first-rounder, one second-rounder, two third-rounders).

Today, the Patriots will get one step closer to securing those three extra selections: the league’s free agency compensation window closes, one week sooner than was the case under the previous NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement: any players still on the open market due to expired contracts can now be signed without having an impact on a team’s compensatory chart — among them three who were with New England last year:

C James Ferentz

K Nick Folk

OT Marshall Newhouse

There is one exception to the compensatory rule, though, as teams do have the option of placing a rather seldom-used tender sheet on a free agent today. The CBA explains it as follows:

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 the Monday immediately following the final day of the NFL Draft for that League Year has tendered to the player a one year Player Contract [...]

New England did this with running back LeGarrette Blount back in 2017 and therefore prolonged his counting against the compensation formula for another two months. The gamble paid off for the Patriots, as Blount ultimately signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles that factored in this year’s compensatory formula. Don’t expect anything like that to happen this year, though.

The next date to take a look at when it comes to compensatory draft picks is therefore Week 10 of the regular season: if a team releases a free agency pickup before that deadline, he would no longer count against the formula — potentially altering the picture once again. However, it would be rather surprising if one of the ex-Patriots signed in this year’s free agency was let go again this early into his tenure with a new club.

It is a fluid process, as can be seen, but one that is expected to result in considerable return for the Patriots next year — and one that also allows the club to pick up free agents starting today that will not alter said return. It would therefore be no surprise if some more veteran players were brought aboard soon for depth purposes. Last year, for example, New England signed offensive tackle Jared Veldheer soon after the compensation window closed.