Patriots' next steps in free agency must also preserve '19 draft assets

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the New England Patriots consider their next moves in the 2018 league year, which will include bringing free agents Adrian Clayborn (defensive end) and Jeremy Hill (running back) to town for a Friday visit, there is an element of strategy they must employ to preserve their 2019 draft assets.

Here's the lowdown:

As it stands now, the Patriots have a solid chance to be awarded four 2019 compensatory draft choices for the free-agent departures of left tackle Nate Solder, cornerback Malcolm Butler, running back Dion Lewis and receiver Danny Amendola. Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com projects the Patriots would receive two third-round picks and two sixth-rounders.

Those are important picks to the Patriots, in part because they've already traded a 2019 third-round pick to Cleveland to acquire defensive tackle Danny Shelton, and last year, they shipped their 2019 sixth-round pick to Detroit in exchange for core special-teams player Johnson Bademosi. The compensatory picks would replenish those, giving the Patriots nine overall selections in the draft.

The Patriots have been sharp in this area, as they have been awarded 35 compensatory picks since 1994, which is the fourth-highest total of any team over that span.

As for how those picks are awarded, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks, and the selections are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors.

Specific to this year, from a strategy standpoint, any compensatory free agent that the Patriots sign could potentially cancel out one of the picks they are scheduled to be awarded. The reason is that any signing would affect the net gain/loss balance used to award picks (Korte details it as part of a cancellation chart).

What could help the Patriots is if any of their other compensatory free agents sign with other teams, and Bademosi could be on the cusp of doing that Friday. Others to keep an eye on, should they not re-sign in New England, include offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming, special-teams captain Matthew Slater, and linebacker Marquis Flowers.

Until a fifth compensatory free agent signs elsewhere, the Patriots might be wise to take it slow, protecting their 2019 draft assets in the process.