Compensatory picks are used as a measure of competitive balance to offset free agency. If a team loses players who sign big contracts with other teams, the picks are provided in the following year’s draft to give that team a chance to replenish its roster. The formula is not very nuanced, however, allowing organized teams to game the system for extra picks. The Baltimore Ravens, for example, have earned 48 compensatory picks in the 23 years of this system. In recent memory, the Bills have not been one of the teams to take advantage of these bonus picks.
The formula primarily is interested in net gains and losses for a team. If the Houston Texans were to lose JJ Watt in free agency and sign five free agents to fill their roster, they would not earn any draft picks. Buffalo was not expected to receive any compensation this season after opting for a low-cost, high-volume strategy that produced a number of cheap veteran starters.
They may have better luck next year. With 22 free agents on the horizon, including potentially high priced options like Stephon Gilmore and Robert Woods, Buffalo may be in line for a third or fourth round pick in 2018.