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A Player Acquisition Philosophy Td Needs To Adopt

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Cooking the NFL Draft with a Special Sauce

Since compensatory picks were instituted in 1994, the Baltimore Ravens have received a leauge-high 41. No matter how many good players walk in free agency, this is where general manager Ozzie Newsome is willing to gamble

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — At this time of year, there are two things that Ozzie Newsome can never get enough of: Cornerbacks, and draft picks.

The latter isn’t just a wish. It’s an organizational philosophy of the Baltimore Ravens, requiring a conscious choice to exercise restraint during the annual free agency gold rush. Since the NFL instituted compensatory picks in 1994 to pay teams back for losses in free agency, the Ravens have been awarded 41—the most in the league. The team, by the way, didn’t exist until 1996.

“Not to go into a whole lot of detail,” says Newsome, the Ravens GM, “because I don’t care [to have] 31 other clubs understand how we go about getting compensatory picks.”

The team has a proprietary formula—a “special sauce,” assistant GM Eric DeCosta calls it—that factors in potential compensatory picks to the free agency cost-benefit analysis. The length of a draft pick’s contract, his salary compared to a veteran, are among the variables that count. Consider that DeCosta says the Ravens “base our offseason on acquiring as many draft picks as we can.” He didn’t say they base their draft on acquiring as many picks as they can, he said they base their offseason on doing so.

In this year’s draft, the Ravens will pick four extra times as a result of net losses in 2013 free agency: a third-rounder (No. 99), two fourth-rounders (Nos. 134, 138) and a fifth-rounder (No. 175). The league has its own complex formula for awarding these picks—salary, playing time and postseason honors are factors, and not every free agent lost or gained counts—but each team basically receives one compensatory pick for each net loss in free agency, up to a maximum of four.

You don’t have to know the specifics of the Ravens’ formula to realize they came out ahead in this calculation. Three of their four compensatory picks this year were awarded for players the Ravens didn’t have an intention of re-signing last spring, at the least not at the prices they fetched elsewhere: Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Ed Reed. The fourth was for Cary Williams, and while the Ravens would have liked to keep him—Newsome can never have too many cornerbacks—they were able to move forward with a pair of above-average starters at the position, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.

Knowing these compensatory picks were coming allowed the Ravens, in turn, to be active in the trade market. Compensatory picks can’t be traded, but they gave Newsome a cushion to offer standard 2014 draft picks in exchange for key roster additions: Fourth and fifth-round picks for starting left tackle Eugene Monroe last fall, and a sixth-rounder for probable starting center Jeremy Zuttah in March.

“We take some stress—a lot of stress—during free agency,” Newsome says. “There are a lot of good players that sign with other teams, and we lose a lot of good players, but we maintain the patience. And we’ll try to sort through other areas to get players.”

This offseason, on the rebound from their first postseason whiff in six years, the Ravens again stuck to the blueprint. They re-signed some of their own core players (Monroe, LB Daryl Smith, TE Dennis Pitta and WR Jacoby Jones) but also let several walk (DE Arthur Jones, RT Michael Oher and CB Corey Graham). They added receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, but since both players had been cut by their previous teams, they don’t count in the league’s compensatory picks formula. Nor do players signed after June 1, which helped the Ravens last year, when they filled a void at inside linebacker by signing Daryl Smith on June 5.

The premium the Ravens place on compensatory draft picks doesn’t mean they always hit on them, in the way they did with Tony Pashos or Le’Ron McClain, comp picks in the 2000s who became full-time starters. The range in which compensatory picks are awarded, the third through seventh rounds, is a crapshoot. Of the eight compensatory picks the Ravens have made since 2011, six are still on the team and two are currently in line for key roles next season: Rick Wagner (fifth round, 2013) at right tackle, and Chykie Brown (fifth round, 2011) at nickel cornerback.

The idea behind amassing picks, and especially compensatory picks, is to improve the odds. The Ravens didn’t necessarily have the same philosophy in the late 1990s, DeCosta says, but it has developed over time and been influenced by studying teams around the league.

“We look at the draft as, in some respects, a luck-driven process. The more picks you have, the more chances you have to get a good player,” DeCosta says. “When we look at teams that draft well, it’s not necessarily that they’re drafting better than anybody else, it seems to be that they have more picks. There’s definitely a correlation between the amount of picks and drafting good players.”

The Packers, also known for building through the draft, have had the second-most compensatory picks since 1994, tied with Dallas at 33. Jets general manager John Idzik, since his hiring in 2013, seems to be instilling a similar philosophy in his organization. He also earned the maximum four compensatory picks for the 2014 draft, giving his team 12 total picks to work with—the fruits of his deliberate hand in free agency. The compensatory draft pick system, Idzik says, “is always in your mind.”

Next week, the Ravens will work the odds as they try to stud their roster with quality young players. And here’s betting that at least one pick will be a cornerback.


MY TAKE: Obviously the Ravens philosophy is about as opposite of the Falcons as you can get. For the Ravens methods to work, they have to watch some quality players walk away. However the Ravens seem to be able to identify good players in the drafts mid rounds, something our Falcons have failed to do, so the Ravens get away with good players leaving.

When TD insists on re-signing failed players like Baker or Jerry, there goes any comp pick we might have gotten. When TD trades away so many picks, the pressure is huge to find good players by hitting with the remaining picks. As we all saw last season, if TD whiffs on any of the few players he drafts, or we suffer a rash of injuries, the team is in trouble.

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The Falcons have 3 comp picks this year and had 4 last year, the max allotment, iirc.

Further, your assumption fails because we guys like Peria and Hawley and an injured Peters were hardly going to command price tags that would warrant comp picks

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I'd imagine since TD has been here we've been near the top of the league at acquiring comp picks.

The Falcons have 3 comp picks this year and had 4 last year, the max allotment, iirc.

Further, your assumption fails because we guys like Peria and Hawley and an injured Peters were hardly going to command price tags that would warrant comp picks

Read the article again, fellows. The thirds fourths and fifths the Ravens got this year trump by a HUGE margin the fourth and three sevenths we are getting.

I did address the quality of the free agents leaving the Falcons. Simply put....the Ravens have more picks, get better players and develop them enough to make them worth something in Free Agency, and so....the Ravens get far better comp picks than the Falcons do. IF the Falcons had more draft picks, we could get more players and find more good ones. The better players we allow to leave in FA, the better our comp picks would be. This isn't so hard to see, right?

And you know something about seventh round draft picks? On good teams, seventh round picks have almost zero chance of contributing to the team. Seventh round picks usually make teams that do not have much talent to begin which. Which describes our Falcons to a T.

Edited by egoprime II
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Read this on Saturday...really awesome article.

I think we do this to a certain extent, we just don't do it every year. We've done pretty well in getting comp picks and it seems that the FO considers it in their offseason plan.

This year, we didn't have any big free agents exiting so I think we were far more active knowing that we werent going to cost ourselves more than a 7th rounder. But in the years where we've had guys like Grimes or Lofton head to FA, we've received high comp picks as a result.

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TD isn't that good of a drafter. Why would we let our best players go just to get a 3rd round comp?

Its not easy to get a 3rd round comp. They don't grow on trees.

agreed on both counts. I think TD is historically bad in the 3rd round. and to get a 3rd round comp pick, the player you're losing is probably the very top of the free agent class. At that point, I'm sure most fans would be freaking out about not re-signing the guy

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