Restore, re-tool, or rebuild, whatever you might call it, the Detroit Lions are headed for a fresh start. So far, first-year general manager Brad Holmes has cut several key pieces from the roster. Leaving the Lions with a lot more needs than the average team.
With Detroit having a low amount of cap space and only five draft picks at the moment, don’t expect them to fill every single hole on the roster. In the past, we’ve been accustomed to The Lions’ front office building in a pinch in order to give quarterback Matthew Stafford the best roster possible.
However, everything is different now. And a suspected rebuild strategy might already be in place. Compensatory picks.
Here is a full breakdown of what compensatory picks are, by NFL Media Draft Analyst, Lance Zierlein …
“Teams are awarded compensatory draft picks between Rounds 3 and 7 based upon a league formula that takes into account the following criteria for players who left the team to sign elsewhere as free agents: average salary per year (APY), snap count and postseason awards… To qualify for compensatory picks, teams must end up with more qualifying free agents lost than gained in a particular year.”
Simply put, this is a system the NFL puts in place so that teams will receive some sort of compensation for losing key players. However, this is negated if that said team signs players of the same caliber they lost.
For example, during last year’s offseason, Detroit let four players walk in free agency that received a compensatory draft grade: guard Graham Glasgow (fourth-round pick), defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (sixth-round pick), tight end Logan Thomas (seventh-round pick), and quarterback Jeff Driskel (seventh-round pick).
Now, if Detroit didn’t sign anyone during free agency last offseason, that means they would’ve had nine picks for this upcoming draft instead of the five they currently hold. The NFL would have compensated them for not replacing Glasgow, Robinson, Thomas, and Driskel.
However, former general manager Bob Quinn signed six players that offseason who were given compensatory draft grades. Right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (fifth round), linebacker Jamie Collins (fifth round), defensive tackle Nick Williams (sixth round), quarterback Chase Daniel (sixth round), nose tackle Danny Shelton (sixth round), and strong safety Jayron Kearse (seventh round).
Doing elementary math, they signed six players with compensatory grades and lost four. Giving them a plus two advantage, thus they were given no compensatory picks for this year’s draft.
How does this apply to the 2021 free agency period?
If Holmes wants to build through the draft, he could receive multiple draft picks next year if he decided to stay quiet in free agency.
Starting with the obvious, pending free agent and wideout Kenny Golladay is a strong candidate to be given a third-round compensatory grade.
Six other players are also likely to be given some sort of compensatory grade. Including wideout Marvin Jones, defensive end Everson Griffen, slot receiver Danny Amendola, safety Duron Harmon, running back Adrian Peterson, and return specialist Jamal Agnew, who has already signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Assuming this was the strategy, Holmes would let these players join new teams in free agency. At the same time, if they refrain from signing players who will also be given compensatory grades, the Lions could end up with over 10 picks (five in the first three rounds) in the 2022 NFL draft.
Another thing to note, players who are released or waived are not included in the compensatory draft pick formula. So, the signings of wide receiver Tyrell Williams and tight end Josh Hill will not hurt the Lions’ chances of receiving compensatory draft picks, since they were released by their previous team.
That means they could still sign players while attempting this strategy, they would just have to be players who were cut or waived. Usually, that wouldn’t be a good thing, but with the salary cap dropping for the first time in a decade, a lot of good players are being released.
Why would the Lions use this strategy?
As previously mentioned, they don’t have a lot of cap space to work in the first place. So, leaving that money to be rollover for next season would be a smart idea.
It would also give Detroit a chance to thoroughly evaluate the young players left by the former regime. Perhaps find a diamond in the rough. Lastly, the more draft picks, the better, which doesn’t need an explanation.
Why won’t the Lions use this strategy?
A handful of players in this free agency class has ties to the new regime in Detroit. Bringing in familiar players will help build a culture if done right (hello Matt Patricia, wherever you are).
Another possibility would be the slight chance that the Lions actually want to be playoff contenders next season. In which they would go out and sign the best players for short-term success. Again, unlikely.
In the event that free agency feels empty for the Lions, just know that there is a reason behind it. Compensatory draft picks can go a long way, especially with a general manager known to find late-round talent.