How The NFL’s Compensatory Formula Brought Justin Bethel To New England

Forbes Finance 3 weeks ago
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A day after his release from the Baltimore Ravens, Pro Bowl and All-Pro special-teamer Justin Bethel ... [+] joined the New England Patriots. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The NFL’s compensatory rules left Justin Bethel without a team to begin the week.

Bethel, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro, led the Baltimore Ravens both in snaps and tackles on special teams prior to being released. He’d signed a two-year, $4 million deal with $1 million guaranteed in March. And the Presbyterian College standout proved to be what Baltimore expected him to be.

But the decision had little to do with Bethel.

When former Ravens defensive lineman Brent Urban was let go by the Tennessee Titans this past weekend, it left the organization without a projected fourth-round compensatory draft selection in 2020 after previously seeing wide receiver John Brown sign with the Buffalo Bills over the offseason.

The free-agent losses must outweigh the free-agent gains in the eyes of the NFL Management Council. And salaries, playing time and postseason accolades all factor in. Though, as Nick Korte of foreshadowed, players cut before Week 10 of the league’s regular season cease to count against the compensatory formula.

And that’s where Bethel became one of them on Monday.

“Justin Bethel unfortunately had to be released because of a funky rule that the NFL has with these compensatory picks,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters. “A judgement has to be made for the future, as well. You guys can research that and figure all that stuff out. But that’s tough for us. I told him I think he’s the best special-teams player in the NFL, and he’s playing that way. That’s going to be a blow, and we’re going to have to find a way to overcome that.”

Enter the New England Patriots.

New England would mark Bethel’s first visit following his Ravens release. New England would also mark his last.

The 29-year-old signed Tuesday evening, as NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported, in a move that gave way to safety Jordan Richards’ departure from the active roster.

Bethel now joins a kicking game that already includes decorated captain and gunner Matthew Slater. And together, they combine for 10 Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pros on paper.

Bethel spent six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and one season with the Atlanta Falcons before spending this spring, summer and fall with the Ravens.

He’s played 40 downs along the way versus New England.

“One of the top special-teams players in the league,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Bethel leading up to the September 2016 opener against Arizona. “He’s about as good as anybody that we’ll face. We obviously haven’t seen a lot of him, but he’s an excellent coverage player, kick-blocker.”

Bethel has started 14 games since entering the league. Over that span, four interceptions returned for three touchdowns have been accrued. As have four forced fumbles and four blocked kicks.

Bethel’s résumé also features 205 total tackles between special teams and defense.

And while the sequence that led to him going from Baltimore to New England is “funky,” it is the reality.

No organization has garnered more compensatory picks than the Ravens’ 50 since the formula got underway in 1994. The Patriots rank fourth since then with 39.

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