ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken is kept deep in a Louisville, Ky. vault, under 24-hour surveillance via security guards and motion detectors, and is monitored so closely that its spices are culled from different suppliers so no one can reliably concoct the formula.
The NFL's formula for dispensing compensatory draft picks is an equally protected secret, although teams and websites have tried to get a grasp on the computation and dispersal of picks.
Through their internal estimates, the Broncos expect to receive four compensatory selections, Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway said Wednesday. That projection matches the one compiled by OvertheCap.com.
"That's our calculation," Elway said, adding that he was uncertain of the rounds in which the compensatory picks would fall.
The Broncos will learn whether their estimate is correct at the owners' meetings, which begin March 22.
Each year, the league awards picks at the end of the last five rounds of the draft to teams based on their net losses in unrestricted free agency the previous year. The calculations to determine the compensatory picks are based on the salary, playing time and performance of the player lost to another team.
Last year the Broncos signed three unrestricted free agents: wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. (Defensive end DeMarcus Ware and center Will Montgomery were cut by their previous teams, making them street free agents who are not incorporated into the calculation.) But they lost nine players: safety Mike Adams, defensive end Robert Ayers, guard Zane Beadles, wide receiver Eric Decker, defensive end Jeremy Mincey, running back Knowshon Moreno, defensive end Shaun Phillips, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
Any compensatory number greater than two will surpass the Broncos' total from the 2007-14 drafts, when they had just one: a "supplemental compensatory selection" given at the end of the 2011 draft because there were just 21 compensatory picks issued that year (if there are less than 32 compensatory picks doled out in a year, the league adds "supplemental compensatory" picks to get to 32, starting with the team with the worst record the previous year).
Since 2006, when the Broncos took Akron wide receiver Domenik Hixon with a compensatory pick in the fourth round, that 2011 supplemental pick (defensive end Jeremy Beal) is it.
Even including the 2005 and 2006 drafts, when the Broncos used three compensatory picks on Domonique Foxworth, Maurice Clarett and Domenik Hixon, the Broncos have just four compensatory picks in the last 10 drafts, the third-fewest in the league.
The league average in that span is 9.97 picks, led by Baltimore with a whopping 25, followed by Tennessee (18), New England (17) and Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Cincinnati (16 apiece). For all but the Titans, it's been a successful formula; the other five clubs have combined to average 7.4 playoff appearances over the last 10 seasons and have combined for five world titles and nine Super Bowl appearances.
The knowledge of what lost free agents can still yield in compensatory picks isn't lost on Elway.
"That's part of the mindset too. We're aware of what the system is," he said.