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At some point during the 24/7/365 NFL news cycle, you’re likely to run into the term “compensatory selection” in regards to the NFL Draft. The league dispenses these to teams based on their gains and losses in free agency. Rarely does this become the subject of attention, but this week it did.

Just what is a compensatory NFL draft pick?

Simply put, the NFL awards “compensatory picks” to teams based on how many players they either lost or gained in free agency the previous year. Basically, if a team loses more qualifying free agents than it picks up during the off-season, they qualify for a compensatory pick. These are piled onto the end of rounds three through seven of the NFL Draft.

The league uses a complicated formula to assign these selections round-by-round based on the value of each free agent lost. Teams who lose the highest-value free agents are compensated with a third-round pick. If this confused you, don’t worry. We were just as confused when we wrote this.

According to, this formula was not public until the most recent renewal of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement in early 2020. However, some analysts have attempted to reverse-engineer it, with varying degrees of success.

The New England Patriots benefit from a mathematical error

Last off-season, the New England Patriots lost the ultimate free agent: Tom Brady. That guaranteed them a third-round compensatory pick for the 2021 draft. Independent analysis of the formula seemed to indicate that the Patriots would receive two more compensatory picks, as they also lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

But when the initial list of comp picks came out on March 10, it included only two for the Patriots — for the third and fourth round. This turned out to be a mistake, as the league later admitted to

“The inclusion of a 33rd compensatory selection in this year’s Draft resulted from a correction by the Management Council to the calculation of average yearly compensation,” said a league spokesman.

As a result, the Patriots have received the first comp pick of the fifth round. The Chicago Bears got to keep their sixth-round selection, while the Atlanta Falcons’ third-round pick slid down two slots.

Will the NFL’s math goof have any long-term effects?

Logo for the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, TN
The NFL Draft logo is displayed during the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019, at the Draft Main Stage on Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville, TN | Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bill Belichick and the Patriots Suffer Unexpected Retirement Blow

The short answer: Maybe. The long answer: It depends on who the Patriots actually select with their bonus pick.

Just having a boatload of draft picks doesn’t guarantee success. Even when the Dallas Cowboys fleeced the Minnesota Vikings out of all of those draft picks in 1989, it would have backfired horribly if Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson picked a whole bunch of draft busts.

Unfortunately, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have not been so hot with their draft selections in the last few seasons. Few, if any, of the Patriots’ picks since 2018 have made any lasting impact with the team. This could explain why the Patriots have compensated this offseason by going on a massive free-agency binge.

However, there is reason to believe the Patriots could hit another home run this time around. After all, they chose Tom Brady with the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft, which was, of course, a compensatory pick. Perhaps history is repeating itself this year.