The common thinking from fans (and media nerds such as myself) who follow small print topics such as NFL compensatory picks is that the Miami Dolphins have done good work this offseason in positioning themselves for being awarded two 2020 picks — a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder.
Except I just got saying you have to read the small print, and after getting around to reading that, I can report those valuable picks are absolutely not a certainty at this stage.
The NFL compensatory formula — which is about as well read as an Apple user agreement — awards teams with compensatory draft picks when they lose top talent in free agency without adding commensurate talent. Some teams work the system by waiting until after the second Tuesday following the NFL Draft to sign veteran free agents because players signed after that date do not affect the formula’s balance.
This year, for example, the Dolphins signed offensive tackle Jordan Mills and linebacker Nate Orchard after the compensatory formula was no longer a consideration.
So the Dolphins have been managing the compensatory pick formula.
And everyone has reported the Dolphins are expected to receive a third-round compensation pick for losing starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James to Denver and receive a fifth-round compensation pick for letting Cameron Wake walk away to Tennessee.
And that’s accurate-but-incomplete information.
Because there are other factors weighed in the compensation formula, like what happens to the players when they get to their new teams, and the aggregate of the number of players lost or gained — not just their contract sizes.
So here are some facts that could adversely affect Miami’s chances at their expected compensation picks:
Let’s first understand that Dolphins lost two running backs this offseason in free agency. Frank Gore went to the Buffalo Bills when the Dolphins showed no interest in re-signing him. Brandon Bolden returned to the New England Patriots.
So the Dolphins could see their former players twice each this season.
Here’s the irony: You better hope Gore and Bolden play well for Miami’s AFC East rivals and remain on rosters much of the 2019 season.
If one of them is cut or retires, the Dolphins will be at risk of losing the fifth-round pick for Wake.
If both of them are cut or retire, or a combination of the two, the Dolphins will be at risk of losing the fifth-round pick for Wake and the third-round pick for James.
Losing Wake and James while gaining quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is not enough to give the Dolphins those two comp picks. The Dolphins need Bolden and Gore to factor or need Fitzpatrick to not be in the picture — which is obviously unlikely since he’s competing for the starting quarterback job.
And here’s the concern: The Bolden and Gore scenarios are viable.
Bolden has in fact been cut by the New England Patriots. Twice.
Bolden was cut last year before being claimed on waivers by the Dolphins. And he was cut the year before before signing back with the Patriots days later. The point is the Patriots have been playing roster tag with Bolden for a couple of years, so there’s no guarantee after training camp this year they won’t try the same thing.
Except this year if Bolden is cut, it could affect a fifth-round pick for Miami.
The idea that Gore would be cut is far-fetched. The Bills have no longstanding relationship with Gore, but that organization isn’t simply going to cut a future Hall of Fame candidate just like that after training camp. They would give him a chance to walk away on his own terms first.
So if Gore somehow doesn’t feel right during training camp and the preseason and wants to walk away or the Bills strongly suggest he retire to avoid getting cut, that too would affect Miami’s compensatory pick formula. On it’s own it would put the fifth-round pick in jeopardy.
But Gore being cut or retiring combined with Bolden being cut, would put both of Miami’s compensatory picks at risk.
Yes, Gore suddenly deciding to walk away after agreeing to play in Buffalo in 2019 would be somewhat unexpected. But he is 36 years old and stranger things have happened.
The point is the Dolphins need both these players to have good enough training camps and preseasons to be on their respective teams when the season begins.