Do You Just Know?

Updated: May 2nd 2016

In the Zone

College Swagger

For the most part, I’m a fairly humble person. After all, that is the upbringing of most folks from the Midwest. However, my freshman year in college at Miami University, I had a resident advisor (let’s call him Chuck) that I disliked so much that out of standing up for myself turned me into a trash-talking a-hole, especially on the basketball court.

One night I was playing 3-on-3 hoops with some friends (and Chuck), and Chuck and I were matched up on each other. That night, I got the better of him for the most part and prior to a game I announced it would be my last as I had to head to study group. That seemed to tick Chuck off and he was yapping more than usual while guarding me the entire game.

It got to the point where we were a basket away from winning a close game and the ball got kicked out to me in the corner more than 20 feet out and way before Steph Curry was a known entity. As I squared up to assess my options, Chuck kept taunting me shouting, “be the hero, (Goody)”. I’m not sure but I think I even passed out of that situation initially only to find the ball back to me in the same place seconds later. The chatter ensued. Finally, I had enough of Chuck-I raised up, shot the ball and without looking immediately started running towards my backpack with my hand in the air (kind of like Larry Bird when finishing off a 3 point contest All-Star weekend).

By now, you know the outcome-why would I tell this story if the shot didn’t go in, right? Chuck charged me and wanted to fight because I shut him up again. The big question is “how did I know it was going in?”. The answer and tie-in to my article this week, is sometimes you “just know”.

There’s A Draft In Here…

I get the hype of the NFL Draft. It is the best process for a downtrodden team to make strides to turn things around and sometimes help a team get a missing piece to put them over the top to be Super Bowl Champions. The intrigue here is that players of all positions can be the cornerstone for a franchise, even those outside of the skill positions.

From a fantasy football perspective, it provides a new crop of players to fawn over, especially in dynasty leagues and even more so in a hyper-league format like Reality Sports Online. Pick the right rookies for three or four years on market-friendly deals and the thought is, you can write your own championship narrative.

No doubt folks who have recently drafted Odell Beckham, Jr. or Todd Gurley can attest to how prime talent at $6.0 million a year or less can take their RSO teams to new heights. That is why we as RSO owners get so hyped for the draft, other than the intuitive fact that it is the time when these rookies situations become more known (not from a depth chart perspective, but at least opportunity wise). Remember, even Beckham’s success wasn’t a given and his injury-riddled start cast some doubt initially and now he’s a Top 5 league contract.

In the right years like the 2014 wide receiver class, it eliminated some of the guess-work on the “just know” factor. While players like Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans have not knocked it out of the park the past two years, nobody doubted their talent at the top of rookie drafts (the just know factor), and they have been slight victims of opportunity from offenses that aren’t necessarily pass happy thus far, but the consensus is their outlooks are still very rosy.

2016 Is Not A Just Know Year

With customization across leagues, including those that have individual defensive players (IDP), the rookie draft each year may have a deeper talent pool. For those who are in more common leagues that have 20-25 player rosters and offensive skill positions and team defenses, not all first round rookie deals are owner-friendly, especially if you draft a guy that isn’t a “just know” player, so sometimes it is better to spread your money around in a smarter way.

I’m fairly active on Twitter and follow Dynasty trade tweets frequently. Lots of times you see studs getting traded for a bevy of rookie picks because certain owners fawn over rookie potential in search of the big score on hitting on picks, especially late-round cheap ones. To me, that strategy is fairly risky, especially in a year like this one that is not a “just know” one.

By way of example, let’s dig into Nick Andrews’ Pre-Draft Mock. Of Nick’s Top 12 picks, only Ezekiel Elliott flashes the potential to be an immediate fantasy star (I’d define this as being top 10 in fantasy points at his position for the upcoming few years) and the Cowboys taking him cements that behind their hulking offensive line and Scott Linehan’s affinity for passing to running backs. From an NFL perspective, it probably didn’t make sense for the Cowboys to go this route given the devaluation of the running back position; however, RSO owners don’t want to hear that noise and should take Elliott at 1.01 in all their rookie drafts. Other players may take at least a year to prove themselves (which isn’t a bad thing if you think of players like Devonta Freeman).

However, if you have a league which features three-year rookie deals, you almost need immediate contributors or to hit on your post round one rookie draft picks (which points to trading down to get more shots at this-the Moneyball strategy is being tested in Cleveland and certainly can be applied to your RSO rookie drafts). Let’s get into a few hypothetical situations that may mirror decisions you are facing when assessing your offseason trade or rookie draft strategy (assuming you have a bit of time to evaluate and aren’t doing your rookie draft next week before depth charts are being figured out with offseason workouts).

Hypotheticals-Would You Rather Have?

Established Player A: Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions-1.6 years remaining, $14.0m remaining contract

Rookie Player A: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings-1.02 mock, 4 years, $6.0-$7.6m average annual contract

These are the types of questions that really test the mettle of RSO owners. Tate is a solid PPR option who figures to get the ball more with Calvin Johnson retired, although he’s probably around the 24th best fantasy wide receiver for the next two years.

Treadwell fills a big need in Minnesota, and as one of the highest regarded receivers in the draft, those players typically often become the instant primary target for their teams. Treadwell’s rookie draft value will likely be derived in years 2-3 of his four-year deal and based on the GM’s confidence in his role on the Vikings offense, which has been a fantasy wasteland for receivers for a long time now.

I don’t get too hung up on 40 times like Treadwell’s 4.65 if the player has known game speed. Larry Fitzgerald ran a 4.63 and was fast enough to be able to watch himself leave Steelers defenders in the dust on the Jumbotron while heading to the end zone in his lone Super Bowl appearance. For me, based on Treadwell’s situation in Minnesota, I prefer the steady, if not spectacular Tate based on known production and his role as the number one receiver in the Detroit offense. Full disclaimer, I’d also prefer Cleveland’s first round pick Corey Coleman over Treadwell as well. I know the Browns offense is a mess (with or without Josh Gordon), but they will have to throw the ball and will work with Coleman’s skills to get him the ball in space. This screams heavy volume and potentially a role in the return game as well.

Established Player B: Matt RyanQB, Atlanta Falcons-1.6 years remaining, $17.0m remaining contract

Rookie Player B: Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams-2.11 mock, 4 years, $1.3-$1.6m average annual contract

I’m certainly not the first to compare these players, as Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier did in this article. From a real football perspective, Goff is asked to be the savior of a team returning to Los Angeles and that will likely take time to do, especially given that the franchise has mortgaged in terms of future drafts to get their face of the franchise for the new era of Rams football. The Falcons quickly pivoted to get Ryan some weapons, something that the Rams don’t have the luxury of doing, so they either have to count on Brian Quick types to come out of nowhere or hit a home-run with late round picks in either the 2016 or 2017 NFL Draft.

That said, from a fantasy perspective in dynasty leagues where you are starting one quarterback across a 10-12 team typical format, even with Goff’s potential challenges of being the day-one starter in 2016, the RSO contract values and fantasy production seem to highlight that Goff’s upside and potential return as a second round rookie pick exceed Ryan’s market dynamics.

I love Goff’s presence and instincts (much like fellow Cal alum Aaron Rodgers) and think that he will break out in Year two even without a top wideout like Julio Jones, who Ryan has the luxury of having. At this point, Ryan still has weapons, but hasn’t proved to be worth more than a replacement/streaming quarterback in our format, and that isn’t worth paying out multi-millions and multi-years for.

So in this case, consider me a member of fellow writer Bob Cowper’s valuing rookie QB’s higher school of thought.

Established Player C: Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers-1.0 years remaining, $3.5m remaining contract

Rookie Player C: C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks -1.09 mock, 4 years, $3.6-$4.5m average annual contract

Who better to compare to Woodhead than a former wideout who played running back at Notre Dame last year? In this case, Prosise is still somewhat of a work in progress and needs to better pass protect to see time on an NFL field. However, his route running ability and size are key assets in giving him the opportunity for significant playing time in the right system.

With the increased emphasis on the passing game in the NFL, Woodhead was surprisingly a top 10 fantasy running back last year in PPR leagues and Philip Rivers loves him. Can Prosise be the same at similar dollar values? Who would you take?

For me, this argument really boils down to where you can get Prosise in your rookie draft. Woodhead, while very productive is sometimes challenging to own in fantasy based on offensive game flow. No doubt will the Chargers continue to emphasize Melvin Gordon in the run game and his snaps ramped up on obvious passing downs as the season progressed. Woodhead is also a free agent in 2017 and will be fighting for targets with Keenan Allen returning from a season-ending injury and with newly-signed Travis Benjamin.

Prosise certainly has the ability to be a 50-60 catch guy with the quicks to be like another C.J. (Spiller). However, rookie draft owners making this pick hope that Prosise gets more playing time and utilization than Spiller. If the utilization is similar to Woodhead’s with some carries sprinkled in , it is a 50-50 proposition between Woodhead and Prosise at a pick around 1.09 in the rookie draft from a salary perspective that heavily skews towards Prosise if Thomas Rawls misses extended offseason time, as Rawls is far from cemented as an established fantasy entity. Anything past 1.09 heavily favors Prosise’s upside, especially in Round 2 or later.

Conclusion

Due to the lack of “just know” guys this year, the Moneyball strategy of trading down may benefit you. There are only a few players/situations right now that seem to be definitive, so sometimes the solid, if not flashy vet is a better option than the rookie draft pick. Last year, I traded my 1.08 pick for a year of T.Y. Hilton and I’d do it again with a contending team, in spite of some bad luck surrounding Hilton’s QB last year.

How your team stacks up against the competition and whether you are in contend/rebuild mode matters for your decisions, but the “just know” factor means a ton and dictates whether or not you move up or down in your rookie drafts or trade out of them completely.

As for Chuck, I still laugh about that game and think about the ball going through the net sight unseen.

My Top 5 Picks

If my rookie draft were this week based on the situations they are in and long-term upside, here’s who I’d select:

  1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
  2. Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
  3. Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins
  4. Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
  5. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (18 month old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

Dollars and Sense: Rookie QB Value

Updated: April 18th 2016

I believe that rookie QBs are an undervalued commodity on Reality Sports Online.  However, I am a man on an island because most of my colleagues disagree.  In Dave Sanders’ piece titled “Maximizing Quarterback Value”, he suggests skipping rookie quarterbacks completely.  In Bernard Faller’s piece titled “Value Town: QBs”, he suggests that since the difference between QB2 and QB16 was just 4 ppg that owners could plug-n-play at the position which could lead to you avoid drafting the top rookie QBs.  I disagree with my colleagues on this, in fact I have been a big proponent in my first two articles of reaching for a quarterback in the early second round of your RSO rookie draft.  Ultimately, our differences of opinion come down to one thing: position scarcity.  

The first thing we need to keep in mind about RSO is it’s unique contract driven dynasty format.  Since there are salary cap ramifications for every add/drop, it’s not quite as simple as other formats to rely on the waiver wire to fill your quarterback position.  Furthermore, because of the rookie draft that kicks off each season, younger quarterbacks are more highly owned than in other formats which further complicates the plug-n-play strategy.  Lastly, because RSO owners are more likely to hoard their quarterbacks, it’s important to keep this in mind when looking at metrics such as VBD and others that compare the “replacement level” of a position.

In Bernard’s piece he presents Tyrod Taylor as a good value, which I agree with, but the problem is that in most RSO leagues Taylor was not available once he was a viable fantasy starter and you needed him.  Sure, you could have grabbed him after the Bills’ announcement since he was only owned in about 20% of leagues originally, but if you doubted him and waited to grab Taylor mid-season as a bye week or injury fill-in he was likely already gone.  Ultimately, Taylor finished as QB17 based on the average number of points scored across all RSO leagues and was 81% owned. For comparison, Taylor was only 56% owned on Yahoo and 35% on NFL.com at the end of the season.  On those sites/formats, relying on Taylor to give you some good plug-n-play value at quarterback was a viable strategy, even late into the season, but I don’t believe it could have been on RSO.

Blake Bortles was also a good value but I think the reality of the ownership percentage paints a bleak picture for those who use Dave’s strategy of skipping quarterbacks in RSO rookie drafts.  Before the start of the 2015 season, Bortles was approximately 17% owned on RSO, presumably most of those being owners who drafted Bortles in their 2014 rookie draft.  Compare that to the data compiled by NFL.com leagues in which Bortles was just 2.8% owned in Week 1 of 2015.  By the Jags Week 8 bye, Bortles was up to 40% on NFL.com and by the end of the season he was up to 71.6%; comparatively he skyrocketed to 90.74% in RSO leagues by the end of the season (mid-season ownership percentages are tough to pinpoint on RSO but I would estimate that by Week 8 it would be at least 70%).  To quote Ron Burgundy, “that escalated quickly.”  The owners who had the foresight to draft Bortles in 2014 are paying him rookie money for QB1 production and that’s worth the gamble of drafting a rookie QB rather than battling on the waiver wire once they “pop.”

The next veteran QB we’ll look at to illustrate my rookie QB feelings is the guy everybody loves to hate: Andy Dalton.  Coincidentally, Dalton finished 2015 as QB16 in both average points and ownership on RSO.  In “Value Town: QBs,” Bernard points out that the difference between QB16 and QB2 was just 4 points per game to illustrate his replacement-level strategy.  Based on my research, I think RSO owners need to dig deeper to find the true replacement level at QB.  For most redraft and keeper leagues, I agree with Bernard that QB16 would be the right place to look but for RSO, I would posit you need to go down to at least QB20, if not further, to realistically expect a player to be available.  Before the 2015 season, Andy Dalton was available in just 25% of RSO leagues (17th most owned QB) and that fell to just 8% by the end of the season.  In order to find somebody who was available in at least 40% of leagues at the start of the season, you would have to look to Sam Bradford, Colin Kaepernick or Teddy Bridgewater (the 20th-22nd most owned respectively).  If you were banking on picking up QB16 as a bye week fill-in during your RSO season you were probably out of luck.

As a counterpoint I looked at Ryan Fitzpatrick, the true embodiment of replacement level QBs.  He was just 19% owned before the season began and ultimately finished as QB11 in average scoring so I would admit that he was the rare case of a viable fantasy starter being widely available on RSO.  The interesting thing though lies in Fitzpatrick’s RSO contracts.  A measly 1% of RSO owners have Fitzpatrick locked up for another year.  So while you can find somebody like Fitzpatrick to help you through a few games this season, you can bet that somebody in your league will overpay for him in the subsequent free agent auction.  Instead, you could be content to have a young, potential stud like Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota under contract for rookie money for another 2-3 years.

In summary, I believe these numbers perfectly illustrate the different dynamic of an RSO league and why you need to value young QBs more highly.  You may think that that a value quarterback will be available for you mid-season but chances are they’re already owned by the time you get to the waiver wire.  The best way for you to ensure that you own that QB before they “pop” is to grab them in your rookie draft.  If you get lucky, and I do admit that this is a crapshoot, you could find yourself paying little salary for much production.  After all, the beauty of RSO is it’s similarity to the real NFL, so why would the value of rookie QBs be any different?  Remember what happened when Russell Wilson’s cap-friendly rookie contract allowed the Seahawks to spend their money elsewhere?  Championship.


Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

Cashing Out – Players to Sell

Updated: April 18th 2016

In dynasty and RSO leagues, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of staying active year round in trade talks.  Player values fluctuate more than ever during this time of year.  If you’re willing to stomach some risk, there’s an opportunity for profit.  When discussing trades, I often hear that owners are afraid making a move and having it backfire in the long term.  My strategy is a bit different as I’m unafraid to make an aggressive move if I believe I’m getting more value at the time of the trade.  If you accept that you will lose in some trades but believe you will win out more than 50% of the time, be as aggressive as possible.  Right or wrong, I do not just consider deals made to be potential wins or losses.  I also think this way about trade talks that were close, but never materialized for whatever reason.  For example, trades I’ve declined have potential to be wins or losses as well though my roster has remained intact.

In this off-season edition of Cashing Out, I’ll explain which players I’m actively looking to sell before the 2016 season.  

JordanMatthews

Jordan Matthews finished with 997 yards and 8 TDs in 2015

Jordan Matthews WR PHI – One of the most polarizing players in dynasty leagues, Jordan Matthews has an ADP of 26 in Dynasty League Football’s April 2016 mock drafts.  Personally, I wouldn’t draft him within the first four rounds.  Philadelphia figures to run a more conservative offense under Doug Pederson as Kansas City ranked 24th in passing yards in 2015.  Jeremy Maclin managed to have a very strong first season with the Chiefs, but I see him as a far superior talent to Matthews.  When exploring trades for Matthews, I’d attempt to package a 2016 pick with him to land Sammy Watkins, Dez Bryant, Keenan Allen, Alshon Jeffery, Brandin Cooks, Jarvis Landry, or Kevin White.

Marvin Jones WR DET – After signing a 5 year, $40 million dollar deal with the Detroit Lions, Jones is now viewed as the 1a or 1b option in a Lions offense that will have to find ways to replace Calvin Johnson’s production.  Jones’ inclusion on this list has more to do with a lack of confidence in Matthew Stafford than anything.  Fantasy owners have spent the past few years chasing Stafford’s 2011 season in which he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs to be largely disappointed with Stafford’s fantasy scoring.  According to Pro Football Focus’ end of 2015 quarterback rankings, Stafford ranked as the 23rd best quarterback.  While there’s an opportunity for Jones to absorb many of Johnson’s 150 targets in 2015, I don’t have confidence that he’ll be a top 25 WR on a weekly basis.  I’m looking to sell as I believe there will be quite a few owners in my leagues who like him more than I do.

Jay Ajayi RB MIA – While Miami has not be quiet in their attempts to land a running back this off-season, April may be the perfect time to sell Ajayi.  If I owned Ajayi, I’d email every owner and attempt to sell the fact that he’s currently in line to be the lead back.  After the trade with Philadelphia, Miami may have moved back too far to land Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott at pick 13 in the upcoming NFL Draft.  I’d certainly bring this up in trade talks and sell the fact that at worst he will likely split carries with the drafted running back.  I’m also very worried about his ability to hold up and have a long career as his knees caused him to fall to the 5th round of the NFL Draft.  Even with the uncertainty of the NFL Draft a few weeks away, his value is likely higher today than it may ever be.

Alfred Morris rushed for only 751 yards in 2015, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

Alfred Morris rushed for only 751 yards in 2015, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

Alfred Morris RB DAL – We’ve all heard the popular narrative that anyone can succeed running behind the Dallas offensive line.  Left for dead, Darren McFadden may have proved this to be correct in 2015 by revitalizing his fantasy value with 1,089 rushing yards on 4.6 yards per carry.  My concern with Alfred Morris is due to his lack of versatility.  Never an option in the passing game, Morris may only see the field on obvious running downs.  I don’t see him getting more than 10 rushes per game and don’t view his as a top 25 RB option to open the 2016 season.  Lance Dunbar, Darren McFadden, and potentially a RB acquired in the draft make the Dallas backfield crowded enough for me to avoid at this point.

Martavis Bryant WR PIT – Bryant’s inclusion strictly has to do with the structure of RSO leagues.  I’m cautiously buying Bryant in standard dynasty leagues where you keep your entire roster from year to year, but I cannot justify rostering Bryant long-term in RSO.  If his contract is for anything more than league minimum, he’s hurting your roster with his cap hit.  As a fan of his immense talent, I own Martavis Bryant in my RSO league.  In that league, he’s entering the 2nd year of a 3 year deal worth approximately $6 million per season.  Not too long ago I considered him to be a huge asset at that price.  Now, I’d be willing to do anything possible to move him since there’s no guarantee he’s reinstated for the 2017 season.  If the history of Josh Gordon and others suspended players teaches us anything, it’s not to assume reinstatement is automatic.  Not only will I be actively looking to move Bryant for nearly anything, I might be willing to move back a few spots in the draft just to unload that contract.  If I can find a buyer, the increased cap space is worth enough to move back a few spots and run the risk Bryant returns and is successful in 2017.  This strategy may prove to be difficult for me after writing this article, which I’m hoping my leaguemates don’t see.

Stay tuned later this month as I’ll explore players that I’m actively trying to acquire in the off-season addition of Open the Wallet – Players to Buy.


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each. 

Understanding Free Agency

Updated: April 17th 2016

2016 has seen a splurge of free agency spending by NFL teams in a year without top tier talent in the pool.  The total value of contracts given to free agents by NFL teams has topped the $2 billion mark already.  A number of large contracts were given to NFL free agents, many of whom are considered marginal talents by some analysts or playing at a non-premium position like running back.  Are these contracts really as bad as some suggest?  This article provides some context into reasons for the league free agency spending splurge in 2016 and why this might not happen again for a few years.

A few key provisions of the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement contributed to this year’s free agency spending splurge by NFL teams.

Salary Cap Rollover

NFL teams may carry over unused salary cap space, with year-end adjustments, each year by submitting notice to the league office.  The Jacksonville Jaguars team gives us a great example of how this can be used by NFL teams as they have had the most cap space of any team each year from 2013 onward with 78 million in 2016.  Table 1 details the Jaguars adjusted salary cap in relation to the league wide salary cap number.  We should also note that the league salary cap has increased more than 25% from 2013 to 2016.

2013 2014 2015 2016
Jaguars 146.2 151.8 168.5 190.3
NFL 123.6 133.0 143.0 155.3

Table 1. NFL Salary Cap vs Jacksonville Jaguars Adjusted Salary Cap (in $ Millions)

Minimum Team Cash Spending

The “89 percent” rule specifies each team must spend, in cash, 89% of the total NFL Salary Cap for each of two 4-year League periods including 2013-2016 and 2017-2020. This means NFL teams must spend about $494 Million from 2013 to 2016. This minimum spending requirement is not an issue for the large majority of teams in the NFL with the average amount of cash needed to be spent to meet the minimum at about $103 million for 2016.  This number is well below what most teams will spend in 2016.  A few teams will have to spend significant dollars to meet the minimum spending threshold, however.  There is not really much of a penalty for not spending the minimum cash amount.  A team must pay any shortfall to players on the roster during the time period, allocated according to rules setup by the NFLPA.  In reality, a team will not purposely miss the minimum threshold as no reason exists for the team to pay money for past performances when it can allocate cash to players who will help the team in the future.  Table 2 lists salary cap space, minimum amounts of total cash spending needed to meet the minimum threshold, and total free agency spending for the four largest free agency spenders in 2016.

Team Salary Cap Space Min. Cash Spending FA Spending
Jacksonville 78 158 222
Oakland 74 144 169
Houston 40 132 139
NY Giants 59 98 202

Table 2. Team Cap Space and Minimum Cash Spending (in $ Millions)

The median amount of total free agent spending per team is about $49 million in 2016 at this point. Our top four spenders averaged $183 million.  It is fairly evident that those teams who needed to meet the minimum threshold and had large amounts of cap space tended to spend big in free agency.  Cleveland and San Francisco, two teams with plenty of cap space, conversely spent very little in the free agent market.  Neither team needed to spend money in free agency to meet the minimum cash spending limit.  There is also the question of where each team is in the development cycle.  Neither the 49ers nor the Browns will likely compete for a division championship for a couple of years at least.  Both teams are beginning the rebuilding process accumulating many draft picks this year.  Our four highest spenders are each expected to challenge for playoff spots soon.

You might also ask why each team did not use their cap space to lock up their own players for the long term, particularly Jacksonville and Oakland with lots of cap space and many young emerging stars. I believe Oakland would have loved to sign Mack and Carr while Jacksonville could have locked up Bortles and Robinson for years to come.  The CBA limited each club in this case.  Contracts may only be renegotiated after three years for drafted players and two years for undrafted players.  The young players mentioned above have only in been in the league for two years and were high draft picks.  Allen Hurns, however, is a prime candidate to receive an extension with the amount of cap space Jacksonville has and 2016 being the last year of Hurns’ undrafted rookie deal.  It is also possible each club would have chosen not to extend their young players given that the teams have control of each player for two more years on cheap rookie contracts.

Cash Spending vs. Salary Cap Hit

The difference between cash spending and salary cap hit also needs to be addressed before we look at individual contracts. Table 3 details a hypothetical 4-year $60 million dollar contract with a $16 million dollar signing bonus and progressive salary increases each year.  The signing bonus is prorated to each contract year for salary cap purposes resulting in a $4 million cap hit each year from the bonus.  The entire signing bonus is applied in the year given producing a large cash charge in the first year.  Giving large signing bonuses to free agents or converting future salary to signing bonus on existing contracts is an effective means of meeting the minimum cash spending limit.  Conversely, many teams with cap struggles restructure contracts by converting a portion of the current salary to a signing bonus.  The current cap hit is reduced while increasing in future years.

Year Bonus Salary Salary Cap Cash
1 16 8 12 24
2 10 14 10
3 12 16 12
4 14 18 14

Table 3. Cash Spending vs Salary Cap Charge (in $ Millions)

Overspending?

The casual NFL fan may not have heard of Malik Jackson (5 years – $85.5M), Olivier Vernon (5 years – $85M), and Kelechi Osemele (5 years – $58.5M), but NFL teams have paid handsomely for their future services as a few of the highest paid free agents from 2016. However, these deals are not quite what the big numbers would suggest when we examine the contracts closely.

Let us look at the Malik Jackson deal for example. Jacksonville may cut Jackson after the 2017 season with only $6 million in signing bonus left to count against the cap.  A portion of that cap hit may be moved further in the future with a June 1st designation.  This is an overriding theme for most of the large contracts signed this year.  In reality, the contracts are four or five year contracts in name only.  Most are more accurately described as two year contracts with team options for two or three additional years and a minimal cap hit relative to the projected cap if the player is released.   This is further demonstrated by the fact that only $863 million is guaranteed out of the $2 billion in contracts signed in free agency.  Expect release or renegotiation of contracts in the future for many of the players signed this year.

Conclusion

The 2016 free agency spending extravaganza is an event we likely won’t see for another four years. The end of the first four year minimum cash spending period and multiple teams with accumulated excess cap space likely contributed to teams spending more on free agents this year.  Teams will always spend big money on premium free agents, but premium players hitting the free agency pool is becoming very rare given cost controlled rookie contracts and the leverage teams have with the franchise tag.

References: The data used in writing this article came from Spotrac and Matt Papson’s Salary Cap Analysis Series on Reality Sports Online.


Bio: Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

One is the Loneliest Number

Updated: April 17th 2016

I have recently joined two new RSO leagues. For most when you join a new league you look at the scoring and rules to see if there will be any major discrepancies in terms of player value. Obviously certain RBs and WRs lose value in non-PPR leagues; while earning points for kick return yardage and touchdowns places slightly more value on those Swiss Army knife players. Most of the leagues that I have participated in, redraft or dynasty, feature some combination of half to full point PPR and start between two and four RBs and WRs with flex players mixed in. These are almost the new standard for fantasy football leagues. However one style seems to be less prevalent and sometimes actively avoided across the community, 2QB.

Starting two quarterbacks seems counter intuitive to some owners as they want the closest experience to being a real general manager in the NFL. That is why RSO owners choose the site since the salary cap and contracts are as realistic as possible. Therefore if you want the real experience why would you ever want to start two quarterbacks in fantasy when there is only one on the field? While it may not seem realistic, fantasy owners do need to remember what position is most important on the field, the quarterback. Depending on scoring formats of the top 20 scoring players in 2015, eighteen were quarterbacks!  Despite this, the smart owners know to not overspend in auctions, and to invest lower or no draft capital in the position. Fellow RSO writer Dave Sanders wrote an article explaining how to hold your dollars and picks for other positions instead of investing heavily in an elite quarterback.

Stacking the Deck

If we know that football’s most important position is now being undervalued due to an influx of usable options, how can we fix leagues to make quarterbacks more valuable in terms of contract dollars and trade value? Simple, you start two of them! The chart below shows the average points per game that the first ranked player earned over the 10th, 20th and 30th ranked player at each position. Since most leagues start more than one WR/RB this is why these two positions on most championship teams earn contracts in the $20-$30million/year range while the starting quarterback contract is between $8-$15million/year.

Position PPG 2015

To further illustrate my point that leagues should be 2QB as a standard I am going to use a formula that some of you may already be aware. I like to think of this formula as one similar to the WAR score (wins against replacement) that is frequently referenced in baseball. The principles are the same; the higher the score the better that player is against the average replacement player at his position. The use of this formula is to set contract values for each player in your free agency auction based on their expected fantasy points. In my next article I’ll breakdown the formula in more depth when I show you how to prepare your budget for your auction draft. For the purpose of this article I’ll just be showcasing the result comparing a 1QB vs. 2QB league.

2QB 4TD Contracts

Comparing four of the most valuable quarterbacks and two elite players at both running back and wide receiver shows the big disparity between the values. Elite skilled positions are at a greater premium and therefore command a greater amount of the annual salary cap. However, when owners become forced to use the 20th ranked QB (and up to 30th in the case of bye weeks, injuries, benching etc.) the point differential increases to the level of starting three RBs/WRs. The value of these elite quarterbacks then rises on average over 170%. When we make this same comparison in a league that uses six points for a passing touchdown instead of four the gap is almost completely lost. As seen in the chart below the values of the quarterbacks actually leapfrogs the running backs and rivals that of the wide receivers.

2QB 6TD Contracts

Now we see the most valuable position in football start to hold similar value in fantasy football as it does on the field. In a league with this format it would make it much easier to justify trading, drafting and paying for quarterbacks. Additionally, this helps leagues that lack trades because it creates opportunities for teams to have different strategies to build a championship team around. In the case of leagues bigger than 10 teams however, I recommend utilizing only one quarterback and offering a superflex position instead. This allows teams that are not able to have three starting quarterbacks on their roster to still compete each year since there would not be 36 starters each week to use.

Arbitrage Time

Updated: April 8th 2016

In the Zone

For those of you reading me for the first time (thank you), I love movies. I quote them incessantly, especially my favorite ones. Glengarry Glen Ross is one of them based on an all-star cast and intense, gripping dialogue (if you haven’t seen it and are a House of Cards fan, picture Kevin Spacey on his heels the entire movie getting chewed out by Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, amongst others). The movie centers around selling of investment properties and who can “close” the most to win the monthly sales contest (first prize Cadillac El Dorado, second prize set of steak knives, third prize is you’re fired).

Since you are all going after the Cadillac El Dorado and not you’re fired (or some humiliating punishment for finishing last if your league is super intense), every now and then I’m going to write about arbitrage opportunities in your leagues-essentially where you may be able to take advantage of the market on a certain player to gain competitive advantage. To me, for 2016 the lowest hanging arbitrage fruit comes in Washington Redskins Tight End Jordan Reed. Reed is owned on multi-year deals about a third as much as Rob Gronkowski in Reality Sports Online leagues and has favorable contract metrics (1.2 average years remaining, $5.7 million average contract remaining). That’s cheaper at this point than the Jason Witten and Kyle Rudolph deals currently out there.

The Opportunity

A few years ago, I wrote this numberFire article comparing Reed to the contents of the envelope of the frozen concentrated orange juice crop report from Trading Places. This came at a time when Reed hadn’t proven himself to make it through an entire season and was more about potential than production. His 9 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown on a whopping 17 targets vs. Green Bay in the playoffs quelled any further talk of potential as Reed has established himself as a Preseason Top 5 fantasy tight end.

However, in spite of the Preseason Top 5 distinction, based on his concussion history, Reed’s 2016 auction price likely has a fair bit of buy-low upside in it, especially against the competitive set at the tight end position who in some cases, have experienced worse injuries. Gronkowski (ACL, Back, Forearm in the past), Jimmy Graham (Patellar Tendon in 2015), Travis Kelce (Microfracture Knee Surgery in 2013), and Julius Thomas (Hand Surgery in 2015) all carry similar if not worse question marks with way higher Reality Sports Online price tags. Only Greg Olsen has managed to escape missing significant game time in the past few seasons.

So your auction offer for Reed has to consider both his concussion history, the fact that he played like a Top 5 tight end last season (87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games),  Reed being a 2017 real-life free agent, and the competitive set of who is actually a free agent at the position. I’m even suggesting you take it one step further and consider Reed as a flex-worthy receiving option to pair with the tight ends above or in lieu of spending big on a free-agent wide receiver as well. This accomplishes two great things for you: 1) it dilutes the already not deep pool of tight ends for those in your league needing them, and 2) it gets you a flex playmaker with potentially the same upside and similar stats for cheaper. In plain terms, you can try to get cute and hope for this season’s Gary Barnidge or you can make the market for one of the best tight ends in the league who still has significant upside.

Think about it this way-if you had to choose between Reed and last year’s early-season target monster Keenan Allen, is it really that big of a slam dunk for Allen? I’d say not as Allen is coming off a lacerated kidney which ended his season and while he posted a 67-725-4 line in only eight games, and often runs fairly short and intermediate routes (2.16 yards per route run per Pro Football Focus), which is actually less than Reed with less red-zone potential as well.

If you are considering using your franchise tag for the tight end position, the average of the Top 5 tight ends across all RSO leagues is $13.5 million and that feels like a fairly good barometer for an annual Reed contract in an auction as well. I love the yearly option value of the franchise tag, especially if you took Reed last season as a flier with upside or someone off the waiver-wire. Remember, $13.5 million is the average Top 5 tight end contract across all leagues, yours may be lower. If so, Reed presents a significant opportunity to profit.

Competition for Targets? 

Washington certainly will have an interesting offense in 2016 with Kirk Cousins, fresh off getting the franchise tag around $20 millon for 2016 slinging the football to a ton of weapons and a ground game featuring the punishing second-year pro Matt Jones. The way Jay Gruden’s offense is constructed with DeSean Jackson (in the few games a year he’s healthy) taking the top off the defense on deep balls, allows perfectly for Reed and Jamison Crowder to own the middle of the field, with veteran Pierre Garcon opposite Jackson to get the rest.

So then, what was the need for the team to sign Vernon Davis, you ask? Personally, I think the Davis signing is more Reed injury insurance than anything else (remember Niles Paul is still making his way back from injury, too). GM Scot McCloughan drafted Davis and he played at the University of Maryland, so in essence this is a double-homecoming for him in the event Reed’s pending free agency and injury history catch up to him. However, if you have nervous owners in your league who are worried about Davis you can certainly benefit even further by the target uncertainty facing Reed.

In the end, Reed is a wide receiver playing tight end who makes way too many plays like these for a relatively low cost. So if you want the El Dorado this year, you may need to get on the Reed train this year.


Matt Goodwin is entering his third season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year four of his main league. He also contributes for numberFire. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a championship for a Cleveland major sports team a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (6 year old son) and Lainie (18 month old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.