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Why the Patriots and Rams were forced to change the terms of the Sony Michel trade

Related: Patriots trade Sony Michel to the Rams for two late-round draft picks

When news broke that the New England Patriots had traded running back Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams, the original reports had the compensation as a pair of conditional late-round selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. The conditions were later added as well, with New England’s haul depending on the Rams’ compensatory draft choices next spring.

If L.A. was awarded a compensatory pick in the fourth round — one the team was expected to receive after losing safety John Johnson to the Cleveland Browns in free agency — then that choice would transfer to the Patriots. If not, New England would receive picks in the fifth and sixth rounds in return for Michel.

While the structure was complex, it appeared to be pretty straight-forward. However, when the trade was officially announced, its terms read as follows:

Michel, Sony RB Georgia

Selection Choice--Round 6, 2022
Selection Choice--Round 4, 2023

Instead of getting either a fourth-round pick in 2022 or fifth- and sixth-round selections that same year, the Patriots ended up receiving one sixth-rounder and one fourth-rounder the following year. So, what happened?

According to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, the original terms of the contract violated league rules: a recent change in NFL policy now prohibits teams from exchanging conditional compensatory picks in that way. Given that all moves have to be approved by the league, the Patriots and Rams were forced to change the terms and come up with a different, more conventional, compensation structure.

Compensatory draft picks in general can be and have been traded, so it is unclear to see why the NFL decided to change the rules. One reasonable expectation is that the league does not want draft choices that have not yet been awarded to be traded.

As opposed to “normal” draft picks which are handed out in the same fashion each year, compensatory picks are only awarded after a season to reflect the status of qualifying free agents lost by team. At the moment, the Josh Johnson compensatory selection therefore only exists in theory. It is plausible that the NFL does not want its teams to deal with theoretical draft capital.

Looking forward to 2022, that means that New England now owns the following draft selections:

  • Round 1
  • Round 2
  • Round 3
  • Round 4
  • Round 6
  • Round 6 (via Los Angeles as part of the Sony Michel trade)
  • Round 7 (via Las Vegas as part of the Trent Brown trade)
  • Round 7 (via Houston as part of the Ryan Izzo trade)

As far as the 2023 draft is concerned, the Patriots now own selections in every round plus an additional fourth-round pick acquired through the Michel trade.