The Tampa Bay Buccaneers own six picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. By the end of the month, they could own seven.
At some point, probably in February, the NFL will announce the results of its compensatory pick system, which will award up to 32 picks to teams around the league based on net losses in unrestricted free agency last year. In 2019, these picks were announced on February 22.
The Buccaneers have reason to be eager for the compensatory pick announcement this year, as they expect to gain a pick through the system for just the second time in the last nine years. Moreover, it will likely be the team's highest compensatory pick in almost two decades, potentially slotted in at the end of the fourth round.
The system used to determine which teams get compensatory picks and in which rounds is both simple and complicated. The simple part is a one-to-one matching of the number of qualifying free agents a team added and lost; if a team lost one more than it gained the previous year, for example, it qualifies for one compensatory pick.
That is exactly the case for the Buccaneers in 2019, as they signed unrestricted free agents Shaquil Barrett, Breshad Perriman and Bradley Pinion but lost Kwon Alexander, Adam Humphries, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Adarius Taylor. Some free agents fall under the threshold of counting in the compensatory pick formula, and the Buccaneers signed (Earl Watford) and lost (Josh Shaw) one of each in that category.
The Buccaneers had one more prominent free agent signing in 2019 in defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. However, because the team waited until after May 10 to sign Suh, he did not count in the compensatory pick formula. Also, the signing of linebacker Deone Bucannon ended up not factoring into the formula, either, because he was released on October 9, prior to the ninth week of the season. Had Bucannon not been released, the Buccaneers would have had an even number of free agency gains and losses and would not have been in line for a compensatory pick in 2020.
The complicated part of the formula is determining in which round each of the compensatory picks will fall. The league determines this using a combination of the average per-year salary of the contracts the free agents sign and the playtime they subsequently receive with their new team, along with any postseason honors. For the Buccaneers, this applied to Alexander, who was the player left over after the Bucs other gains and losses cancelled each other out.
Based on Alexander's contract with the San Francisco 49ers and his playing time in 2020, the Buccaneers are likely to receive the aforementioned fourth-round pick. Alexander missed the last eight games of the regular season due to a pectoral injury; had he played the entire season at his snap rate through the first eight games, Tampa Bay likely would have received a third-round compensatory pick for the first time in franchise history.
The compensatory pick system was introduced in 1993 as part of the collective bargaining agreement that created the league's first true free agency. Some changes to the compensatory system are expected in the next CBA, currently between negotiated between the NFL and the NFLPA but they are not expected to change the picks this year.
The free agent signings in 1993 resulted in the first compensatory picks being awarded in the 1994 draft. In the years since, the Buccaneers have netted 19 such picks, the vast majority of them falling at the end of the seventh round.
Only twice before has Tampa Bay received a compensatory pick in the fourth round, most recently in 2003. That pick was used on Northwestern center Austin King, who did not play in a regular-season game for the Buccaneers but did log three seasons (2004-06) with the Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs' other fourth-round compensatory pick was in 1997 and that one worked out well with the selection of linebacker Alshermond Singleton. Singleton was a core special teams player who eventually developed into a starter for the 2002 Super Bowl team before heading to Dallas in free agency the following year.
The Bucs most recent compensatory pick was awarded in 2018, a seventh-round selection that was the penultimate pick in the draft. That pick was ultimately included in the draft-night trade in which the Buccaneers moved down five spots in the first round before selecting defensive lineman Vita Vea at number 12 overall. Tampa Bay netted a pair of second-rounders from Buffalo in the deal and sent back the 255th overall selection. Prior to 2017, teams were not permitted to trade compensatory picks.
The most recent player to be selected by the Buccaneers with a compensatory pick and to make the roster was Erik Lorig, a seventh-round choice in 2010. Lorig was drafted as a defensive end out of Stanford but later switched to fullback.
Though the Bucs are likely to get their highest compensatory pick since '03, they won't know exactly where it is slotted until the league announces all of the added selections. Last year the league awarded seven third-round compensatory picks to six teams and the four that fell at the end of the fourth round were picks 135-138.