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Compensatory picks are a critical part of the puzzle for the Ravens

While he was once a top-10 selection in the NFL draft, Eugene Monroe might not be in Baltimore today if not for compensatory picks.

Back in October, when the Ravens acquired the left tackle in a midseason trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars, they did not balk when the Jaguars insisted the Ravens surrender two draft picks.

That's because while the Ravens covet draft picks, they figured they would have a couple to spare because they would be rewarded with four compensatory picks after losing several key free agents after their Super Bowl win. They also figured that if they were to lose Monroe, too, this offseason, they would likely receive a prime compensatory pick for him next offseason.

No team has been awarded more compensatory picks than the Ravens, who have shown that they are able to identify talent in the draft and unafraid to let talented but costly contributors leave in free agency. The Ravens will reap the benefits of that system once again during May's NFL draft as they, as expected, received four compensatory picks the NFL's owner meetings Monday in Orlando.

The Ravens received a third-round pick (99th overall), two in the fourth (134th and 138th overall), and one in the fifth (175th overall), giving the team eight total selections in this year's draft.

So what's their recipe for compensatory-pick success?

"We guard those secrets like Coke's formula," assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said at the Senior Bowl in January. "Any time you have more draft picks, you have the chance to draft more players obviously and get lucky on a few guys. That's what this thing is really all about, putting yourself in position to take advantage and do things to help your team."

The league does not make public its formula for determining compensatory picks and the formula at times can mystify coaches and general managers around the league. But the rules are in place to award a team additional draft picks, up to four each year, if that team loses more qualifying unrestricted free agents than it signs. Players who are released by their teams — as opposed to having their contracts expire — do not qualify.

The values of the contracts of the players signed away are also a factor in the level of compensation, along with playing time and postseason honors, according to the NFL. Most of the compensatory picks are awarded in the later rounds of the draft, but losing a high-priced free agent can sometimes result in a third-round pick or a fourth-round pick being awarded.

Last offseason, the Ravens sat back and watched some of the heroes from their Super Bowl run sign free-agent contracts — some of them surprisingly lucrative — with other teams.

The Cleveland Browns signed pass rusher Paul Kruger to a five-year, $40 million contract. Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe cashed in with $35 million over five years from the Miami Dolphins. Free safety Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans. Cornerback Cary Williams joined the Philadelphia Eagles.

Meanwhile, most of the players the Ravens signed were released by their former teams, including strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil, free safety Michael Huff and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.

Middle linebacker Daryl Smith, whose contract with the Jaguars had expired, was the exception. But Smith did not factor into the equation for compensatory picks, as the Ravens signed him after June 1.

"All of those players that we signed last year were free agents and weren't [unrestricted free agents]. They were cap casualties of other teams, which allowed us to be able to maintain our compensatory picks for the guys that we lost," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in January. "So there is a rhyme and reason in how we acquire players — to continue to maintain our ability to stay strong going forward."

So far this offseason, the Ravens have conducted their business in a similar fashion, putting themselves in position to receive more compensatory picks next offseason.

During the first week of free agency, the Ravens focused on re-signing their own players while monitoring the free-agent market. They kept Monroe, their left tackle, by agreeing to a five-year, $37.5 million contract within the first two hours of free agency. They later re-signed wide receiver Jacoby Jones and Smith, the middle linebacker.

They have signed two players from other teams: wide receiver Steve Smith and safety Darian Stewart. But Smith will not factor into the compensatory picks because he was released by his former team, the Carolina Panthers.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have lost four of their unrestricted free agents to other teams: safety James Ihedigbo, defensive tackle Arthur Jones, right tackle Michael Oher and cornerback Corey Graham.

They did not make an offer to Jones, who signed a five-year, $33 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts. They knew another team would give Jones more than they were willing to pay. But they also knew that if he signed elsewhere they could receive a compensatory pick — likely a fourth-rounder or a fifth-rounder — in 2015.

"I think the thing that Ozzie and company have done so well over time is that they value their free agents at a certain price and they stay with that price. They don't move with the market and chase the market," former NFL general manager Bill Polian, now an analyst at ESPN, said on a recent conference call. "Ultimately, when you draft well and you exercise restraint in free agency, you end up with a pretty good situation. And that's what they've done."

The NFL began awarding compensatory picks in 1994. Since then, the Ravens (formerly the Cleveland Browns) have received 41 of those picks, the most in the NFL.

Among the players the Ravens have selected with compensatory picks, which cannot be traded, are running back Chester Taylor, fullbacks Ovie Mughelli and Le'Ron McClain, quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Troy Smith, rush linebacker Pernell McPhee and offensive tackle Rick Wagner.

Notable compensatory picks throughout NFL history include quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, safety Antoine Bethea, wide receiver Hines Ward, outside linebacker (and recent Super Bowl MVP) Malcolm Smith, and some guy named Tom Brady.

"They matter," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls with Brady as his quarterback, succinctly said in 2010.

The Ravens obviously agree with that line of thinking.

matt.vensel@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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