|Monday, April 1
Bills awarded four compensatory picks
By John Clayton
The NFL never reveals its secret formula for determining compensatory draft picks awarded annually to teams that lose free agents. Monday's release of the 18 teams that received 32 draft choices only added to the confusion.
The surprise winner was the Arizona Cardinals, who received the highest selection -- a third-rounder -- despite signing guard Pete Kendall to a five-year, $18 million deal last year and losing three players -- defensive linemen Simeon Rice and Mark Smith and offensive lineman Matt Joyce. Rice's contract was judged after the first season, which apparently created a boost in the formula to the Cardinals' benefit.
Rice made $1 million with no signing bonus last year, but he had an option that the Bucs exercised after the season that turned it into a four-year, $25 million extension. The secret formula, developed by the NFL Management Council, is based on salary, playing time and postseason honors.
Bumped into by reporters, Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis sounded as though he had just won an Academy Award. "I'd like to thank them for their choice," McGinnis said. "It's great to get an extra choice in the first day."
The big loser appeared to be the Baltimore Ravens. They lost three players who ended up being significant starters for other teams -- center Jeff Mitchell (Carolina), halfback Priest Holmes (Kansas City) and safety Kim Herring (St. Louis). Holmes led the NFL with 1,555 rushing yards and went to the Pro Bowl. Herring started for the NFC Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.
For their free-agent losses, the Ravens received only three sixth-round draft choices.
The compensatory pick system was created to help teams that have salary cap difficulties and have limited ability to sign players. Thus, if they can't re-sign some of their top free agents, they get a chance to recover some of their losses in the draft.
Last year, the Bills were cap-strapped throughout the offseason. They ended up getting a league-high four draft choices -- a third-rounder and three seventh-round choices. Defensive end Marcellus Wiley, who went to the Chargers from Buffalo, was considered perhaps the top free agent in 2001. The Bills also lost cornerback Donovan Green and offensive lineman Marcus Spriggs to Miami.
The Lions received a fourth-round choice for the loss of center Jeff Hartings to Pittsburgh and gained two seventh-round choices for the losses of tight end Walter Rasby and offensive lineman Mike Compton.
Three other teams received draft choices in the fourth round -- the Titans, Vikings and Packers.
The most any team can receive is four, and the Bills were the only team to reach that maximum number.
The Redskins were the only team to receive a compensatory pick -- a seventh -- even though they did not suffer a net loss of compensatory free agents. The formula determined that the Redskins' losses outweighed the players they signed.
John Clayton is a senior writer at ESPN.com.