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NFL free agency activity set to ramp up with compensation window closing

Related: Patriots have an easy decision to make ahead of Monday’s 5th-year option deadline

NFL: DEC 18 Patriots at Colts Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL’s free agency compensation window is coming to an end at 4 p.m. ET on Monday. With signed or lost free agents no longer counting towards the formula used to determine which teams will earn extra selections in next year’s draft, some open market movement might be on the horizon.

From a New England Patriots perspective, this means that their remaining unsigned free agents might get some opportunities elsewhere. These players, who are left unaccounted for since the market initially opened in mid-March are as follows:

  • LB Jamie Collins Sr.: Profile | Status: TBD
  • TE Troy Fumagalli: Profile | Status: TBD
  • LB Dont’a Hightower: Profile | Status: TBD

If those three, or indeed any unrestricted free agents, are signed away by another team beginning today, they will no longer factor into the compensatory process in the Patriots’ favor. The same is true for New England itself picking up free agents from the market in the coming hours or days.

The New Orleans Saints, for example, are expected to kick things off by signing veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu later on Monday. An unrestricted free agent, who spent the last few seasons in Kansas City, Mathieu will neither be counted as a lost free agent for the Chiefs nor as a qualifying gain against the Saints.

As far as the Patriots’ three UFAs are concerned, the belief is that they will not come off the market as quickly. Dont’a Hightower has still not committed to playing next year, while Jamie Collins is coming off a mostly quiet season; Troy Fumagalli is a camp body at the tight end position and no priority player to be added right now.

With the compensation window closing we can now also take a look ahead at 2023. The Patriots, who did not own any compensatory draft picks this year as a result of their free agency spending spree last offseason, are expected to get some extra picks.

New England lost high-profile free agents J.C. Jackson and Ted Karras in free agency while handing out only moderate contracts itself. Per Over the Cap, the Patriots’ current tally therefore looks as follows:

Over the Cap

Compensatory selections will not get announced by the NFL until next February, and are dependent on a secret formula that also puts factors such as playing time in consideration. Nonetheless, the Patriots’ eventual haul is expected to look close to the projection above. If that is indeed the case, New England will enter the 2023 NFL Draft with a total of 10 selections at its disposal:

  • Round 1
  • Round 2
  • Round 3
  • Round 3 (via Carolina Panthers)
  • Round 3 (compensatory selection)
  • Round 4
  • Round 4 (via Los Angeles Rams)
  • Round 6
  • Round 6 (via Carolina Panthers)
  • Round 7

Even after trading a third-rounder to Miami for wide receiver DeVante Parker, the Patriots are expected to own five selections on the first two days of the 2023 draft. For comparison, they entered this year’s college player selection meeting with only three such picks in hand.

Of course, the compensatory rule does have one exception that is worth mentioning; teams have the option of placing the 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 into that 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 qualifying free agent pickup before that deadline, he would no longer count against the formula to potentially alter the picture once again.

However, it would be rather surprising if one of the players lost by the Patriots this year would be let go before that deadline. J.C. Jackson and Ted Karras project as starters and three-down players for the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.