Heading into the start of free agency, attention in Green Bay has been the landing spot of wide receiver Greg Jennings. Or the potential of signing a marquee name like running back Steven Jackson.
Meanwhile, media attention on linebacker Erik Walden was almost nil. It didn’t matter whether it was the newspapers, televisions, talk radio or blogs, nobody was talking about Walden.
There was more attention on losing fellow linebacker Brad Jones as a free agent. While everyone was focused on whether the Packers might sign Chris Canty or Cullen Jenkins, Walden flew under the radar.
And that’s why Walden’s signing of a four-year deal worth $16 million with the Indianapolis Colts (as reported by Bob McGinn of JSOnline) caught everyone by surprise. This is the same guy who signed a one-year deal with the Packers for just $700,000 one year prior.
The best news about losing Walden from a Packers perspective is that they’ll likely receive a draft choice for losing Walden, something that even Ted Thompson didn’t expect coming into Wednesday.
Receiving a draft choice isn’t guaranteed, and it’s a year delayed. If the Packers were to receive a compensatory draft choice for the loss of Walden, it would come in 2014, not 2013.
In order to receive a draft pick for Walden, the Packers must lose more free agents than they gain. In a press release from last year, the NFL explained the compensatory draft choice formula in general terms:
Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks.
The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four.
According to these rules, that’s why the Packers received the maximum number of compensatory draft choices last year. They received four draft picks for losing Cullen Jenkins, Daryn Colledge, Brandon Jackson, Jason Spitz and Korey Hall the year after the Super Bowl.
The Packers received two extra fourth-round picks and two extra seventh-round picks for losing these players. It was partially because of this influx of draft picks that allowed the Packers to trade up three times in the 2012 Draft, acquiring Casey Hayward, Jerel Worthy and Terrell Manning.
A very similar situation is likely to play out this year because last year the Packers lost Matt Flynn and Scott Wells in free agency and only signed Jeff Saturday. There’s some question whether Saturday will even count in the draft pick formula, because of speculation that players over a certain age don’t factor into the equation.
The NFL has never publicly stated the exact formula for compensatory draft choices, but has said that “Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.”
So what will the Packers gain by losing Walden? Based upon his salary paying him approximately $4 million per season, the Packers could probably get a sixth round draft choice in 2014, depending upon those other factors like playing time and postseason honors.
If Walden were to be a Pro Bowler in 2013, the chances improve that the Packers could net as much as a fifth-round pick. But on the other hand, if Walden were barely to see the field, it could bump down to a seventh-round pick.
Of course, this all assumes the Packers don’t sign any unrestricted free agents. The moment they go out and sign a guy like Steven Jackson in free agency, it would negate the loss of Walden, and the Packers wouldn’t receive anything.
Free agency isn’t over. If players like Jennings or Jones happen to sign with another team, they’ll factor into the comp pick formula as well.
So when deciding to sign any free agents whether it’s Jackson or Peyton Hillis or anyone else, the Packers have to decide whether the benefit of adding them outweighs the potential of receiving a draft pick in 2014.