The Atlanta Falcons gave up their 2010 seventh round draft pick to the Rams for Tye Hill. They had earlier given up their second round pick to the Chiefs for Tony Gonzalez.
But in addition to the regular seven draft picks per team, the league also awards 32 compensatory draft picks to offset player losses due to free agency. The league has a proprietary (translation: secret) formula it uses to determine which free agents count and in what rounds the resulting compensatory draft picks will fall.
Some keys: not every player counts. The secret formula includes factors such as salary, playing time, postseason results and other awards/honors - with both the old and new teams. Reverse engineering of the formula has found that by far the biggest factor is the salary received with the new team.
Also, only players that are true unrestricted free agents and who sign with their new team during the unrestricted free agency period count. The signing period typically starts March 1 and runs through July, subject to minor calendar-related adjustments. (This year's period opened on Feb 27 and ended July 27.)
Players who were released by their former clubs do not count. Players who sign after June 1 that were not tendered offers by their former clubs also do not count.
Compensatory picks are based on NET loss of free agents. If you lose four players that count to other teams but sign three, you have a net loss of one compensatory free agent. You would typically expect to receive one compensatory pick.
No matter how many players you lose, you can receive at most four compensatory picks.
The formula places values on the players as well as counting them. It's possible to get an extra pick if you sign the same number of guys as you lose - if the value of the guys you lose is much greater than the value of the ones you sign. But the picks awarded this way will only be late seventh rounders.
Also note that there are always 32 and only 32 picks awarded. If the formula determines that more than 32 are deserved, only the highest ranking 32 will be awarded. If the formula comes up short, the remaining picks will be given to the teams that would be selecting first if there were an eighth round of the draft. (That happened this year - and the Raiders and Chiefs got the final two picks of the draft as a result.)
It can get a little fuzzy as to which free agents count and which don't, and in what rounds the resulting picks will fall. The key factor appears to be the salary with the new team. Best guess = guys with salaries below $800k will not count at all. Guys above $900k probably will. For the ones right in that $800-900k territory, playing time will decide it.
Here are the Falcons players, both coming and going, and how they might affect the Falcons draft in 2010:
Mike Peterson - reportedly signed for 2 years, $6.6 million. He counts as a player signed by Atlanta and will have a value around the 6th round.
Grady Jackson - reportedly signed a 3 year deal with the Lions for $8 million. (Congratulations to the big man. Falcons fans wanted him back, but we can understand our team not competing with that kind of offer.) Best guess is he'll count as a seventh rounder, but he may be on the borderline of the 6th round..
Lawyer Milloy - will not count. He signed with the Seahawks far too late. (The idea is that these extra picks offset your losses in free agency. If you don't even bother to tender him an offer, you didn't really lose him. You threw him away.)
Brett Romberg - apparently signed a two year deal at an average of $800k per year. The salary should be too low to count, and even if it's close, he's not a starter. Unless someone gets hurt, he won't play enough snaps to count at all.
Verron Haynes - was out of the league last year. Does not count.
Will Svitek - was released by the Chiefs last year. Does not count.
Domonique Foxworth - signed a 4 year, $27 million deal with the Ravens. My best guess is that he'll count as a 4th rounder, but there's a possibility he'll end up counting for a 3rd round pick.
Keith Brooking - signed a 3 year, $6 million deal with the Cowboys. I think the borderline between 6th and 7th round picks will be around $2.5 million per year, so I suspect Brooking will count as a 7th rounder.
Michael Boley - signed a 5 year, 25 million deal with the Giants. He'll be right around the borderline between a 4th and 5th. I'll be optimistic and say a 4th, but playing time could drop him to the 5th - so root for him to start every game after this week and play nearly every snap.
Jeremy Newberry - signed June 15, then retired. I'm 99% certain he doesn't count.
Marty Booker - signed in August. Does not count. (Ditto for Robert Ferguson and Jamie Winborn.)
I see four players who left Atlanta that will count and only one incoming player. The Mike Peterson signing will offset the Grady Jackson loss, leaving Atlanta three compensatory picks: a fourth rounder, a second fourth rounder or fifth rounder, and a seventh rounder.
We'll still feel the impact of losing the 2nd rounder in the Tony Gonzalez trade, but with potentially two extra picks coming at the end of round four, the Falcons still have the freedom to trade their own 5th and/or 6th round picks for extra help if needed.