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2019 NFL draft: The hidden reason why the Buccaneers always have a top 10 pick

They lose off-the-field games, too.
The Buccaneers have owned a top 10 pick in five of the past seven NFL drafts. [Associated Press]
The Buccaneers have owned a top 10 pick in five of the past seven NFL drafts. [Associated Press]
Published Mar. 4, 2019|Updated Mar. 5, 2019

Ever wonder how the New England Patriots do it?

Year after year, they win 12, 13, 14 games.

Doesn’t the NFL have a system in place designed to keep that from happening? A system that ensures competitive balance? Isn’t that why bad teams get to draft players earlier than good teams?

Speaking of bad teams, how is it that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers almost always own a top 10 pick and yet almost always finish in last place?

On the surface, the difference between the Patriots and Bucs seems obvious. New England has had better coaches and players. What truly separates the two, however, is one organization’s ability to make a series of little moves that ultimately make a major difference.

Over the past five drafts, the Patriots, despite forfeiting two picks because of the 2015 Deflategate scandal, have made 42 selections. The Bucs have made 34. Only the Cardinals, Chargers, Panthers and Giants have made fewer selections.

There’s more happening here than New England’s willingness to trade down to acquire more picks and Tampa Bay’s eagerness to package picks to trade up for a kicker.

The Patriots are taking advantage of the NFL’s version of penny stocks:

Compensatory draft picks.

What are compensatory picks? The league awards about 30 of them each year and distributes them between the third and seventh rounds. Teams that lose more (or better) free agents than they acquire are eligible. The league’s formula for deciding which teams receive picks and when is super duper top secret, but we know that it’s based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The more free agents a team loses, the more likely it is to be awarded early picks. For example, because New England lost Danny Amendola, Johnson Bademosi, Malcolm Butler, Cameron Fleming, Dion Lewis and Nate Solder during the 2018 offseason, it gained not one but two late third-round picks in this year’s draft — the No. 97 and No. 101 selections.

In all, the Patriots received four 2019 compensatory picks (the two third-rounders, as well as a sixth and a seventh). The Bucs received none.

2019 compensatory draft picks
Team Picks
Washington 4 (Nos. 96, 173, 206 and 253)
Patriots 4 (Nos. 97, 101, 205 and 242)
Cardinals 4 (Nos. 207, 248, 249 and 254)
Rams 3 (Nos. 98, 99 and 251)
Vikings 3 (Nos. 209, 247 and 250)
Bengals 3 (Nos. 210, 211 and 213)
Falcons 2 (Nos. 137 and 172)
Eagles 2 (Nos. 138 and 208)
Panthers 1 (No. 100)
Ravens 1 (No. 102)
Colts 1 (No. 135)
Cowboys 1 (No. 136)
Giants 1 (No. 171)
49ers 1 (No. 212)
Chiefs 1 (No. 214)

This is not an anomaly. Since 2015, New England has been awarded 12 compensatory selections. Tampa Bay has been awarded one — No. 255, the next-to-last selection, in the 2018 draft. The Bucs never made the pick; they gave it to the Bills on draft day to make them feel better about trading away their two second-round picks as part of what ultimately became the Josh Allen-for-Vita Vea deal.

RELATED STORY: Bucs general manager Jason Licht robbed the Bills like a thief in the night

Not all compensatory picks become reliable starters. Many end up becoming busts. The draft is random like that, but you can’t win the lottery if you don’t have a ticket. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, for instance, was a compensatory pick (No. 135 in 2016). So, too, was Steelers running back James Conner (No. 105 in 2017). As for the Patriots, in last year’s draft, New England packaged receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round compensatory pick in a trade for the Rams’ first-round pick.

The quality of the compensatory picks matters, of course, and the Patriots dominate in that department, too. Since 2015, no team has accumulated more value, according to the draft pick chart developed by Chase Stuart of Football Perspective. Stuart’s chart, which assigns a point value to every pick, is basically a more accurate version of the Jimmy Johnson chart commonly cited by draftniks.

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Value of compensatory draft picks, 2015 to 2019
Team Picks Pick value
Patriots 12 28.5
Ravens 9 25.2
Broncos 12 25.1
Seahawks 9 24.1
Bengals 13 23
Browns 7 19.6
Rams 6 19.6
Chiefs 10 17.5
Packers 9 16.9
Cowboys 9 15.7
Panthers 4 14.3
Cardinals 10 13.5
49ers 8 13.3
Texans 6 8.9
Dolphins 3 8.5
Washington 4 8.1
Colts 3 6.5
Lions 2 6.2
Steelers 3 5.8
Giants 2 5.3
Falcons 3 5.2
Jets 1 4.8
Eagles 2 3.8
Bills 2 3.5
Raiders 4 1.8
Chargers 2 1.8
Vikings 5 1.6
Bucs 1 0.1
Bears 0 0
Jaguars 0 0
Saints 0 0
Titans 0 0

The value New England has accumulated in just five years worth of compensatory picks is roughly the equivalent to owning the No. 3 pick in any given draft. Put another way, every five years the Patriots, despite making regular appearances in the Super Bowl, add a top-three pick. The Bucs, meanwhile, add nothing but another season to their playoff drought.

If Tampa Bay is to ever snap its drought, it will have to look beyond the quick fixes — the star quarterback, star pass rusher or star coach — and start winning on the margins. Otherwise, it will keep losing games before the national anthem is even sung.

Mock Draft Monday

What will the Bucs do in the first round? Here are the latest predictions:

Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Devin White, linebacker, LSU

“White's speed, athleticism and playmaking ability would add a dimension to a Bucs defense that should become more aggressive under Todd Bowles' direction.”

Luke Easterling, USA Today’s Draft Wire: Jawaan Taylor, offensive tackle, Florida

“While passing up Ed Oliver would be difficult, the Bucs have bigger problems than defensive line depth, and a stellar prospect starting them in the face here. Taylor would be an instant replacement for Demar Dotson at right tackle, and could eventually become the starter on the left side if Donovan Smith doesn’t get locked up long-term.”

Chad Reuter, NFL.com: Josh Jacobs, running back, Alabama

“If I were projecting trades, I'd move the Jaguars or Dolphins into this spot so they could get their favorite quarterback. The Bucs could then nab their new bell-cow back in Jacobs with one of those later selections.”

Peter Schrager, Good Morning Football host: Jawaan Taylor

“With 2018 starting tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson not long-term answers, don’t be shocked if the first pick of the Bruce Arians era in Tampa Bay is a tackle who can protect the quarterback’s blind side.”

Mike Tanier, Bleacher Report: Devin White

“Let's kick off the Bruce Arians-Todd Bowles era by upgrading the Buccaneers defense before (Gerald) McCoy and (Lavonte) David are too old to rock 'n' roll. Devin White is the player the Bucs hoped Kwon Alexander (a free agent) would become after his promising rookie season: a big-hitting blitzer with range and thump to take pressure off David. But Alexander has dealt with injuries, and his development stagnated. And White is an all-around better athlete.”

Mock draft tracker

Will Brinson, CBS Sports: Jonah Williams, offensive tackle/guard, Alabama (last update: Feb. 11)

Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Devin White, linebacker, LSU (March 4)

Charley Casserly, NFL.com: Clelin Ferrell, defensive end, Clemson (Feb. 25)

Walter Cherepinsky, walterfootball.com: Jonah Williams (Feb. 25)

Luke Easterling, USA Today’s Draft Wire: Jonah Williams (March 4)

Doug Farrar, USA Today’s Touchdown Wire: Deionte Thompson, safety, Alabama (Feb. 25)

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com: Josh Jacobs, running back, Alabama (Feb. 11)

Kalyn Kahler, Sports Illustrated: Jonah Williams (Feb. 25)

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: Josh Allen, outside linebacker, Kentucky (Feb. 25)

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Montez Sweat, defensive end, Mississippi State (Feb. 18)

Todd McShay, ESPN: Jonah Williams (Feb. 11)

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Houston (Feb. 18)

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Greedy Williams, cornerback, LSU (Feb. 25)

Rob Rang, NFL Draft Scout: Deionte Thompson (Feb. 25)

Mike Renner, Pro Football Focus: Clelin Ferrell (Feb. 11)

Chad Reuter, NFL.com: Josh Jacobs (March 4)

Peter Schrager, Good Morning Football host: Jawaan Taylor, offensive tackle, Florida (March 3)

Mike Tanier, Bleacher Report: Devin White (March 4)

Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: Quinnen Williams, defensive tackle, Alabama (Feb. 25)

Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: Quinnen Williams (Feb. 11)

Lance Zierlein, NFL.com: Quinnen Williams (Feb. 11)

Past Mock Draft Mondays

Feb. 11: A lesson from the Bucs’ 1995 draft

Feb. 18: How the Kyler Murray decision and the Joe Flacco trade shake up the first round

Feb. 25: How does Gerald McCoy’s return affect the Bucs’ draft plans?

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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