Joe Douglas previously worked for one of the smartest franchises in football, and he seems to be bringing those roots to the New York Jets
The whole Aaron Rodgers saga was exhausting, in Douglas’ words, but he is noticeably giddy with excitement to have Rodgers on board.
Still, he’s made many other decisions, too, some of which have opened him for criticism. There are certain things he did, such as drafting Will McDonald in the first round, that were puzzling.
However, there may be one hidden philosophy that Douglas is following. It’s one that the best franchises in football have taken advantage of for years, including the team Douglas worked with as a scout for 15 seasons: the Baltimore Ravens, where Douglas learned under one the best general managers in recent history, Ozzie Newsome.
But the Jets have utilized this philosophy sparingly. Much of the reason for it is a perpetually poor roster—but not this year.
Why hasn’t Douglas released any of his players to clear cap space? Why would he keep such a roster crunch?
This is the secret sauce of the NFL, the way that teams like the Ravens, 49ers, Eagles, Patriots, and others have continued to replenish their rosters. NFL teams are awarded compensatory picks when they lose more value in free agency than they gain.
Over the Cap describes the comp pick formula in full detail. Although it’s complicated, here are the basics.
- Start with the Average Per Year (APY) of the contract less workout bonuses, incentives, and other salary escalators.
- Rank the players in descending order and assign points accordingly (the highest point value going to the highest contract).
- Add 25-100 points for players who play between 25-100% of the team’s snaps on that side of the ball (special teams counts differently).
- Add 20 or 5 points for AP All-Pro or PFWA All-NFL/All-Conference honors.
At that point, based on the percentile ranking of the player or coach, a compensatory pick value will be assigned.
If a team gained and lost compensation-eligible players or coaches, the players lost and gained will be canceled out one-for-one based on the round projection.
After the cancellation, any team that has more compensatory free agents lost than gained will gain the comp picks for the non-canceled free agents.
A team may not be awarded more than four compensatory picks in one year. The NFL awards only 32 total traditional comp picks each year, which means that the picks ranked 33rd or lower will be discarded.
(There is a separate stipulation for teams who lose minority employees to become head coaches or general managers with other teams. This is why there were 259 total draft picks in the 2023 draft.)
There are many other details involved, as well.
Jets comp pick history
Per NFL Communications, the Jets are tied with the Saints for the second-fewest awarded compensatory picks among all teams in football. They have had only 14 comp picks since 1994 when the formula started. Only the Browns have fewer, with 13.
Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, teams like the Ravens and Patriots lead the pack. Bill Belichick plays this game consistently, even choosing which free agents to sign based on which players do not count for the comp pick formula.
For example, in 2014, Darrelle Revis did not count toward comp picks because he had been released by his previous team, the Buccaneers. Belichick signed Revis for one year, won a championship, and then let him sign a megadeal with the Jets, netting a third-round comp pick in the process.
The Ravens also do this with most of their free agents, gaining a large boon in the draft pick formula when the Jets overpaid for C.J. Mosley.
The Jets have not been awarded a single compensatory pick with Douglas as their general manager. The reason for this comes down to a lack of talent on the roster.
If a team does not lose quality free agents, they will not be awarded comp picks. By the same token, if they must sign high-priced free agents to fill roster holes, their losses in free agency will be canceled out by their signings.
The Jets won six games combined from 2020-21, which were following Dougas’ first two offseasons with the team. There was a dearth of talent on those rosters. In 2022, Douglas signed big-ticket free agents in Laken Tomlinson, D.J. Reed, Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, Jacob Martin, and Jordan Whitehead, which basically negated any chance of a comp pick in 2023.
This is realistically the first offseason that Douglas would even have much of a chance to gain a comp pick. Before now, there was just no one good to lose.
Prior to the free agent signing period in 2023, Over the Cap projected the Jets’ chances of earning 2024 compensatory picks as low. They did not see the likelihood that the Jets would lose enough significant free agents to be eligible.
The only free agent the Jets lost who will most likely count toward the comp pick formula is Sheldon Rankins with his $10.5 million APY. Nathan Shepherd’s $5 million, Mike White’s $4 million, and Nate Herbig’s $4 million could also count.
However, the Jets still signed too many free agents for them to likely receive comp picks. Between Allen Lazard ($11 million), Quinton Jefferson ($3.6 million), and Mecole Hardman ($4 million), the Jets are likely to have offset most of their losses.
Perhaps the Jets will gain a seventh-round comp pick in 2024, but there isn’t too much else on the table.
One interesting point to note is that starting at 4 p.m. ET the Monday after the draft, any free agents signed do not count toward the comp pick formula. This may be one reason teams wait until after the draft to sign players.
This is where the comp picks could come into play. Players like Carl Lawson, Corey Davis, and Whitehead have all been rumored cut candidates, but perhaps Douglas wants to keep them around this year, let them sign elsewhere in 2024, and then, hopefully, receive comp picks for them in 2025. He already drafted McDonald as a potential Lawson replacement.
Other Jets 2024 free agents who could potentially count for the following year’s formula include Mekhi Becton, Duane Brown (if he does not retire), Chuck Clark, Hardman, Bryce Huff, and Jefferson.
Becton is a particularly interesting case. His promising rookie season is offset by his injuries and weight concerns. He is now reportedly down to 342 pounds but reportedly showed up last offseason somewhere between 390 and 400.
Even if Becton plays up to his potential this season, it would be dangerous for the Jets to commit to him long-term. The franchise tag would also likely be too expensive. More likely than not, Becton is playing to earn a big contract elsewhere in 2023. That would count toward the Jets’ comp pick formula.
Are comp picks in Douglas’ plans?
It does appear that Douglas is starting to be more conscious of comp picks. With a roster that is more robust than it has been in a long time, Douglas wants to start creating a pipeline of young talent to allow himself to replace overpriced veterans while also capitalizing on the compensation.
That’s likely what the McDonald pick was all about. There is very little chance Lawson will return in 2024, and even John Franklin-Myers is not a lock at his contract number. Bryce Huff is also unlikely to return if he plays as well as he did last year. Making sure that the team can satisfactorily move on is paramount. A comp pick is the icing on the cake, especially if it’s a third-rounder.
Obviously, 2023 is largely going to be highly dependent on Rodgers’ performance. But in the long term, setting up the team for continued success is critical. Getting comp picks is a big part of that picture.