The Bills have an opportunity to add a third-round draft pick this week. The scenario seems unlikely, but here's how it could happen:
The NFL awards compensatory draft picks to teams that suffer a net loss of unrestricted free agents who meet certain criteria. The formula has never been publicly announced, but we have a decent idea of how the process works.
When we looked at this scenario in the offseason, the Bills weren't projected to get any comp picks despite losing players like Stephon Gilmore and Robert Woods in free agency. That was because the number of qualifying free agents they added (seven) was more than they lost (five). But if the Bills cut some of those qualifying players before Week 10 (this weekend), they could fall back into a net loss and would likely be rewarded with a third-round pick to make up for Gilmore's departure.
Who would the Bills have to cut? That's where it gets tricky. Checking in with salary cap site Over The Cap this week, they said cornerback Leonard Johnson has been added to the list of qualifying free-agent additions due to his play time this season. So the Bills would now have to cut four players to earn the pick.
Their qualifying players are:
• Safety Micah Hyde
• Safety Jordan Poyer
• Kicker Stephen Hauschka
• Fullback Patrick DiMarco
• Receiver Andre Holmes
• Guard Vlad Ducasse
• End Ryan Davis
• Cornerback Leonard Johnson
Poyer and Hyde aren't going anywhere, and Hauschka and Johnson seem pretty safe, too. That leaves DiMarco, Holmes, Ducasse and Davis.
The Bills seem highly unlikely to cut all of them this week. They're in the thick of the playoff hunt, and jettisoning four players probably wouldn't go over so well in the locker room.
But, hey, maybe the Bills' front office sees things differently. One of GM Brandon Beane's favorite things to say is he wants to make moves that help the Bills win now and win in the future, and if he thinks he and his staff can adequately replace all four players, pushing aside some of the emotional arguments to score another Day Two draft pick might be worth it. As well as the Bills are playing, they're still in Year One of a rebuild. Earning another third rounder would almost make back what they gave up in the Kelvin Benjamin trade.
Considering cutting these players isn't necessarily implying they aren't important. What would matter most is the value of replacements the Bills can find. Ducasse has been starting, but not exactly excelling. Is he significantly better than John Miller (or Ryan Groy or anyone else on a practice squad)? Holmes has three touchdowns, but only 12 catches. With Benjamin in the fold, he'll be the fourth receiver at best, and could even be inactive if the Bills decide to dress Deonte Thompson and Brandon Tate. DiMarco seems to be settling in fairly well, but could another fullback do a comparable job? Ditto for Davis, who has played about one-third of defensive snaps.
It seems like it would be hard to get four new players up to speed in the middle of the season, and adding a third-round pick doesn't feel like it's worth the risk for a team in the playoff hunt (if they had a losing record, this would be a different story). Plus, you'd like to think that if there were better replacements out there, the Bills would've already signed them. Which is why this scenario feels unlikely. Nick Korte, who handles the compensatory pick calculations for Over The Cap, said he didn't see it happening, either.
But anyway, it's possible. Sammy Watkins and Marcell Dareus weren't safe, so why should anyone else feel that way? If Beane really wants to build for the future, he has some ruthless options available this week.