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Rams are losing some key players, but adding comp picks

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Why players like Jadeveon Clowney may also be seeing less of a market than they had wanted

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams were not expected to be active during 2020 free agency because of all the moves, extensions, and signings they had done prior to now that left them with little salary cap space. So the fact that they have not made any new additions yet is not surprising and we should not expect them to be heavily active with any high profile outside free agent signings.

Which should at least net them some good compensatory picks in the draft next year.

In thinking about the fact that Jadeveon Clowney remains unsigned, with few rumors at this point, I of course had to consider the compensatory pick factor. It’s not just that a team signing Clowney may have to pay him $20 million per season, but they’d also have to factor in whether it costs them a third round compensatory pick. Take the Dallas Cowboys for instance, a team rumored to be interested in Clowney right now.

They gave Dak Prescott the franchise tag and signed Amari Cooper to a new deal, but they also lost Byron Jones to the Miami Dolphins on a contract that pays him $17 million per year. The Cowboys are in line for a third round comp pick because of Jones, but signing Clowney offsets the loss and they lose the pick. Clowney costs them money and draft capital. Even the fact that Dallas is also likely getting a third rounder for Robert Quinn should not preclude them from weighing Clowney’s comp pick penalty.

To the Seattle Seahawks, Clowney only costs money, unless he signs with another team, then he is worth a third round compensatory pick to them. So whether it’s the Cowboys or the Seahawks, Clowney is negotiating with a team that must also think, “but third round pick.”

As obsessive as many fans (and GMs) have become with compensatory picks, it’s interesting to think what it costs the players and agents in terms of time, options, and money. I haven’t followed baseball as closely in the last decade as I have football, but I believe MLB ran into similar issues with their free agents. The NFL isn’t seeing players of this caliber remain on the market for as long as baseball did, but the Seahawks waited until May 10 of last year to sign Ezekiel Ansah because of the comp pick penalty.

I don’t expect Clowney to wait two months — and given the state of things right now, I don’t know that any players are being advised to “wait” for what could be a critically important signing bonus at the moment — but it could be impacting his market in a negative way.

One could even wonder if the Rams would like to be involved in Clowney negotiations at a time when his market is more depressed than he and many others expected it to be. Despite their limited cap space — currently projected at $15.5 million at overthecap.com, though many considerations need to be made that would instantly cut that number in half, at least — I suspect that LA could make one of the best pitches to Clowney to join them over other clubs. Les Snead and Sean McVay have already attracted some of the most talented players to the Rams in the last three years, Clowney might see a Dante Fowler light at the end of a one or two-year tunnel.

But it’s not just money that they have to consider.

The Rams have already seen Cory Littleton exit on a three-year, $35.25 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders and Michael Brockers sign for $30 million over three years with the Baltimore Ravens. Typically these deals would seem more modest by comparison but it goes along with the current trend of 3-4 year deals. Both of those contracts are also supposed to be less than what Fowler should sign for, whenever he signs, and that gives LA as many as three comps for next year. It may even be that Greg Zuerlein signs for enough to add to the pool too.

Update: Fowler is reportedly signing with the Falcons

I use Clowney as an example because he’s the most obvious remaining case of a player who may factor into the third round compensatory pick formula, perhaps only rivaled by Fowler or however the NFL ends up viewing Jameis Winston, not necessarily because I believe there’s a strong connection between him and the Rams. Surely he could fit into the defense, especially if Fowler exits, but I’m actually more of a Clowney skeptic than most. I was wondering if he’d be disappointed by the market if teams were as skeptical as I am, but I figured that it wouldn’t happen because franchises like the Detroit Lions exist.

But part of it also has to be the compensatory pick considerations too.

For some teams, they wouldn’t have to make that consideration at all because they didn’t lose any notable free agents. However, free agency is never as simple as fitting a player onto the depth chart. You start out with 32 teams to choose from but that can quickly be cut down to only five or six teams that actually make sense. With the compensatory pick considerations, this may reduce the options once again and we should assume that Los Angeles is one of those teams that loses some interest because of it.

This could be good for the Rams in 2021, but may contribute to slower efforts right now.