Hold’em or Fold’em: Part 2

Updated: June 5th 2016

When I wrote my first article here on RealitySportsOnline the goal was to help breakdown whether or not to tear down your team and start the rebuilding process. Now that NFL free agency and the draft have concluded we have a clearer picture of what our roster looks like. We can take a look ahead now at our own drafts and auctions to establish what our goals for 2016 should be. Hopefully you used my guide to evaluate your roster against those of your other league mates. If you haven’t already I’ll give a rundown of how to evaluate your league. Remember that just having a rough outline of whether you are making a run or not this season will give you a direction for preparing for your draft and auction. So let’s go ahead and get started!

Evaluating Your League

Recently I had a conversation with one of our readers about my last article which discussed a formula for valuing players in the auction draft.  He got me thinking about tiering players to create a value for a group of players rather than each one individually. This is where I will start our league-wide comparisons. Using the “base” system that I discussed we can break groups of players up into Elite, Great, Good, and Average. From there assign values to each group (1000, 500, 250, and 100 are nice round numbers to use) and sort the returning players onto each individual team and all expected free agent players into a “free agent” pool. Using an example from one of my leagues, where I adopted a team, you create a chart that resembles something similar below. The numbers within each box represent the number of players that fit within each of the tiers listed before. The totals are these players multiplied by the values given. I also included the free agent chart underneath that lists the number of players in each tier and at each position.

Team Talent 1

Team Talent 2

I have outlined my team in red here so that you can compare it to the others. Our league is pretty even in terms of talent with a couple outliers on either end. This is likely similar to your league where one or two teams clearly have the inside track to a championship, five to eight teams have a shot at making the playoffs and then one to three teams are a step behind the class and are likely to win only a handful of games. When doing your chart if you fall in the bottom third of team value you need to be in rebuild mode. If you are in the middle third you have the option to hold or rebuild now before everyone else in your tier starts their rebuild.

Finding New Building Blocks

Congratulations, you now have an outline for whether you are rebuild in 2016 or holding for another season. For rebuilders the next step is to determine how much of a rebuild your team needs. Your rebuild will be determined based on three factors: returning players, available cap room and auction pool value. For a fast track rebuild if you play in a league that starts fewer players (8-10) and your free agency happens to have a large number of ELITE and GREAT players this offseason you could potentially be a Cinderella team in 2016 just by building through one draft and an aggressive auction. This strategy likely only works however if you have a significant cap space differential from other owners and already have a couple of elite players retained for next season. More likely you will want to give yourself a window of 2-3 years to be a contender.

So if I say that it will take at least two offseasons to rebuild a team what does that mean for the players you currently have? Since RealitySportsOnline is different from other traditional dynasty league sites in that contracts limit the time that an owner can control any player, rebuilders can actually have an advantage. Similar to how other dynasty strategists suggest trading away veterans that are unlikely to be valuable assets when your team “makes the turn”, you can also move younger players on contracts that will be free agents in 2-3 years. Even with young players such as Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins, if you’re not going to be contending with them until after their contracts have expired, you might as well strike while the iron’s hot and get value for them. For those of you that only have one or two standout players on their rosters this first step is much more beneficial than sitting on the player’s value for a couple of years.

Rebuilding in Year 1

But Nick, if we’re trading away all our elite talent what are we supposed to build around? Don’t worry you won’t be talent-less forever. Once you have moved your big names you should have a lot of cap space, draft picks and quality ancillary players. Not ideal for a team trying to win games but that’s okay because what we want is to have flexibility in free agency and to hold some good picks in next year’s draft.

Starting with your rookie draft preparation this season your strategy won’t change much from what you were likely already going to do. However, for those that do their draft away from the online draft room, if you are not in love with a player at your selection then consider moving out of the draft from that spot to a similar spot in future drafts. Remember that you’re not likely to compete this year so why not move the contract that you will be giving to a player a year out. Particularly considering how strong and deep the 2017 draft is shaping up to be. If you can trade a first pick this year for a first next year that could be a huge win.

With regards to your auction, the goal year one can be broken down into long and short term contracts. Long term contracts should only be given to low cost, young players (preferably WRs and QBs) that can generate value once your team comes around. Investing low cost 3-4 year contacts in players such as Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, John Brown, or Allen Hurns in the range of $3-5 million/year can offer a nice foundation player to have in the future. For the short term you want to purchase good value one year players that can offer midseason trade value to contenders. The goal is to not go crazy offering/accepting huge long term deals along with other league mates since you want to keep open your cap space in your second offseason of rebuild.

Preparing for 2017 and Beyond

Looking ahead to the 2017 offseason now you’ve likely won four or less games and have a top 3 pick along with several other picks accumulated from trading. All the players that were one year deals and became a bargain you likely traded them to contenders for either draft picks or more long term project players. Now is the year that you can pounce, especially if many of your league mates are locked in with their roster and cap space. You still want to use your long term deals only on players with high floors but you can begin to spend more. For those of you that are getting close to releasing your first class of rookies to free agency this is the perfect time for you to collect several of those players. Players like Kennan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins and Giovanni Bernard were likely allowing owners to benefit from their low rookie contracts and will not be able to afford them at their market value. This is why holding future cap space open is the key.

Now that you are collecting some elite talent and you haven’t lost all your future money you can implement the same strategy in year three. With the 2014 WRs coming available this year or possibly in 2017 depending on 3 or 4 year rookie contract lengths, at this point you should have collected enough elite and good players to compete with others in your league. As well you should hold a couple of players on rookie contracts that are less than market value, assuming you drafted well. From here on the goal to avoid having to go through a total rebuild again is to sell players in their second to last year of their contracts and continue to use long term deals only on high floor or lower cost players. Don’t be afraid of the one year deal on projected elite players as best case scenario the player is awesome and you get all your money back to buy them again the next year. If the player busts you get out from under them rather than having to pay half their salary for another two years.

Happy drafting and as always if you have any questions about draft or trade strategies you can find me @naandrews19 on twitter.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

Squeeze Every Penny

Updated: June 5th 2016

Let me start this article by raising a glass to the creator at Twitter who added the poll option to tweeting. Since this feature has been added, the ability to quickly skim through @dynastytrades feed to vote and see the results of fantasy football trades, has been an incredible resource. If you are not already following them you should be. However, be careful when reading these polls that they don’t offer exactly approximate value of players in the context of YOUR league. As I have said in previous articles owners have tendencies towards certain players and team philosophies that can alter the value of these players. Even entire leagues can have a style that can alter how one participates in their auctions. One league can be very bullish in their contract signings while another can be coyer when spending large cap figures on single players. Regardless of your league setup however, there is a way that you can quantify how much each player should receive. I will breakdown how to understand and use this formula for not only your auction drafts but also to compare the values of players that are already currently owned.

Please note there are two factors that prevent the formula from being applied universally across all leagues. The first is that the point values are inputted at the discretion of the user and different lists could yield different results. Some users simply like to apply the point totals for last season, others like to use predicted point totals that are released from various fantasy sites. Whichever YOU chose,  just be sure that you feel comfortable with the values as these are the drivers for all the contracts. The second variable is the league settings, including roster sizes and number of starters at each position. It should be pretty easy to understand that the more players that are started and the larger the roster size the more money that needs to be spread throughout each roster. This will reduce the max dollars that the elite players should receive when compared to smaller rosters.

Preparing Your Chart

Once you find a database for every player’s fantasy point total that you are comfortable with, organize them into each individual position so that you can create a baseline and margin scores. Again make sure that the database values that you are using were calculated based on your league’s scoring settings. There is a big difference between half, full and non PPR scoring as well as TE premium and 6 points/passing TDs that will drastically change the values for certain players. From here you can place each player and their fantasy point value in a chart that goes in descending points order along with 6 extra columns labeled as below. This example is for the QBs in my 10 team 0.5 PPR home league which starts 1QB, 3RB, 4WR, 1TE, 2FLEX, 1K, 1DST and has a roster size of 26.

Auction Chart 1

A tip here would be to use Microsoft Excel so that you can input all the formulas and save some time. Either way, now that you have the information entered you can create the VORP score (Value Over Replacement Player) for each player. For each of the BASE values they will be equal to the number of starting players in your league times the appropriate multiplier (1.75, 1.5, 1, 0.5). In my example that would be values of 18, 15, 10 and 5. These values are what you are going to be comparing each player against to calculate their margin score. For example, in the Base x1 to determine Aaron Rodgers’ margin you would compare his points versus that of the 10th ranked QB (Andy Dalton) and subtract his points from Rodgers (304.58-269.3=35.28). You would follow the same process to fill out the rest of the chart where comparisons would be made against the 18th, 15th, 10th and 5th ranked players. This is also why you may have noticed that I did not include every QB available. Every player that ranks lower than your Base x1.75 value, in this case the 19th ranked QB and lower, should only receive the minimum bid at auction. Now you will have a chart now that looks like this. I also included the margin value which is the sum of these base values.

Auction Chart 2

Applying the Math

Once you have done this for every position you can then calculate the contract values. This requires a formula that will be the same for all positions and will yield a multiplier to calculate contract values.

Contract Multiplier = (∑QB Margins+∑RB Margins+∑WR Margins+∑TE Margins)/[(Salary Cap -Roster Size*Minimum Bid)*Number of Owners]

This may seem like a daunting formula but it is simple when broken down. First, multiply the number of rostered players you must have in your league by the minimum auction bid of $500,000. Subtract that number from the salary cap value of $155,270,000 for this year. This difference becomes the “fun money” that you have to spend after accounting for filling out the roster with minimum bid players. Multiply this by the number of teams in the league and you have the entire league’s “fun money”. This number will likely be in the billions of dollars!

The numerator part of the formula takes all of the margins for each position and adds them together. Notice that I did not include a sum for kickers or defenses as I believe in only spending the minimum. Let other owners in your league spend the extra money so that you have more to use on positions that matter. Finally, divide this sum of all position margins from the billions of dollars available in total league “fun money”. This value will be very small, likely a number with four to six 0s after the decimal. For my example this number comes out to 0.00001456 or 1.456e-5.

You now have your multiplier to compare players’ values against one another. Divide an individual player’s margin by the contract multiplier and a dollar value will appear as your contract value. Don’t forget to add back $500,000 to account for the minimum bid value that comes with each player with a value equal to 0. Doing this for every position will yield a completed chart as below.

Auction Chart 3

For those of you that participate in IDP leagues the same formula can apply. You simply would need to do the same margin charts for all defensive positions and apply their sum margins to the numerator.

Hopefully you have stayed with me throughout this impromptu math session. The key to staying focused in your auction is to be prepared. Every owner is entitled to conducting the auction in their own manner, however, too often I have seen owners come in knowing that they want a collection of players and are willing to pay whatever to acquire them. Having a sheet prepared of all the approximate values for each player helps see the whole field instead of getting locked in with blinders. I know math and computers are not everyone’s strong suit so if you have any questions about the chart or want help setting up yours you can find me on twitter @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

Taming the Wild

Updated: March 31st 2016

How many times has this happened to you? Your phone buzzes and you read a trade notification email and you are left pondering, “What is that guy thinking!?”  You try to research information that you may have missed that would change your opinion on the trade but cannot find a thing. You then label that owner as a scrub and throw a terrible trade offer their way to get in on the reaping. They feel insulted and reject the trade. You are then left wondering why they would accept the first trade but see your offer as heresy. Sound familiar?

While ADPs are always the easiest reference points to compare two players against one another there will be biases towards certain players that an owner always has. What I have found is that there are four different types of owners found in every fantasy football league. These four types can be characterized as: the elephant, the hyena, the vulture, and the mouse. Over time everybody in fantasy will be one of these examples. Hopefully I am able to help you recognize where your league-mates are in their strategies, and how to best approach each of them with trade and counter trade offers.

The Elephant

A wise and intelligent owner, they often know a dearth of football knowledge. They have likely been playing fantasy football for a number of years and have a solid foundation for how they want to approach their strategies. Unfortunately, this knowledge can often hinder their decisions related to trading, cuts and drafting as they are set in their process. Players that are perceived as bad stay bad, and those that had a good year in 2013 are still those same players despite the ever changing situations in the NFL. An example would be those who held Peyton Manning as their QB1 heading into the season because he’s been the stud for the last two decades, reasoning why would you need another QB1?

The Hyena

Almost an opposite of the elephant owner, the hyena seems to be always changing what they perceive a player to be valued at and what their strategy will be. They are always on top of what the latest buzz news is around the league and try and jump ahead of the crowd without concrete analysis. While they may be sneaky to trade for the big name free agent before he moves to the ideal new team but they also get burned by the news that a player is meeting with another team only to end up in a much less opportune situation. Think those who trade for Trent Richardson after hearing about his move to Indy or traded away Doug Martin before last season’s rebound.

The Vulture

This owner is always waiting for a player to have an injured or bad season and will then look to pick them up across several teams. While in trade conversations they will often talk down the players that you have as old, broken or not that good while every player they have on their team is the next Randy Moss or LT. They will often also send out the most trade offers per season to which you wonder who would ever accept these crappy offers? However, at some point each season a league-mate or two makes a deal with this owner, whether out of necessity or to fit their own strategy, that everyone else in the league is left scratching their head.

The Mouse

These are the owners who keep their players close to the vest. While not all of these owners are inactive because they don’t pay attention, they definitely don’t make as many moves as the rest of the league. Think the same strategy as the Packers in terms of free agents. Similar to the elephant this could be because they have a set strategy to which they do not need to make a large number of trades. They instead would rather build their team through the draft (rookie and auction) without moving much of their own capital. That’s not to say they will not trade but they are more calculated in when they initiate and accept trade offers.

Developing a Strategy

Now that I have outlined the four types of players we can see a friendly illustration below of how each of the owners interact with one another.Trade Circles

As you can see each has two owners that they can frequently negotiate with and one that it is more difficult. This makes sense as someone who is set in their ways (elephant) is not likely to be swooned by someone with sudden and aggressive trade offers (hyena). Alternatively an owner who is savvy and recognizes someone panicking over a player’s situation (vulture) or someone who sees a player who fits well into their roster (mouse) will always investigate the owner’s interest.

It is now easier to see how strategies will develop when approaching trades with these owners in your league. The main point to get across regardless of who you are dealing with is COMMUNICATION.  For different reasons and motives it is always important to stay in constant communication with everyone in your league. The second point is to know that every owner will fall into all four of these broad categories at some point with each of their players. The goal to being successful in dynasty is to recognize what their impressions are regarding each player and approach accordingly. This is ultimately where you are able to create tremendous value in trades.

Do’s and Don’t

Here is a quick list of how to approach each owner type:

Elephant

  • Do offer the studs on the decline, especially if you are in a rebuild. Capitalize on that top dollar before your players retire or meet father time (ex. Forte, Marshall, AP).
  • Don’t target their core players using savvy values. If you are in championship mode and looking for a few veterans to help your run don’t expect much for aging discounts on the players above.

Hyena

  • Do try and capitalize on hype players. No player is untradeable and you should at least see if anyone will pay the moon for one player. (Alfred Morris, Lamar Miller, Brock Osweiler, Ladarius Green)
  • Do establish a value for dropping ADP players. If an owner is souring on a player’s new situation try and see if you can pounce. (ex. Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory)
  • Don’t get sucked into the snowballing trade; keep your focus on a certain player. Often a trade starts one for one or two for one and then it snowballs into trading half your team for half of theirs.

Vulture

  • Do listen to each offer that they send. Even the most ludicrous of trade offers can be narrowed down to be something that would hold value.
  • Don’t feel you need to do any trades because you are rebuilding or strapped for cash. Just because you might be placed in less than ideal conditions doesn’t mean another owner should be able to buy your players for eighty cents on the dollar.

Mouse

  • Don’t approach with too vague an offer. Starting a conversation with, “I’m looking at X, what would you value him at?” will usually go nowhere. Do your homework and have a flexible list of players and picks that you would be willing to offer.
  • Don’t start the conversation involving their core players unless you are willing to offer up one or two of yours. Unless they are in a rebuild a mouse will usually only do ancillary deals to fill holes rather than changing the foundation of their whole team with one trade.
  • Do offer savvy veteran pieces if they are in a championship run. While they might not offer the top dollar for aging players like the hyena or the elephant they will see value and will often be easier to negotiate with.

Hopefully from reading this article you are now able to recognize the different personas that are in your individual leagues. Remember that any one owner can be all four of these characters at once so you need to keep in communication about their impressions from one player to another. As each league gets closer to their rookie and auction drafts strategies will change and player values will fluctuate. For those of you that read my Fold’em or Hold’em article in the second part I will frequently reference these types of owners when it comes to developing a strategy leading into next season.


Bio: Nick is a Sports Administration graduate in Canada who has worked/interned with two NFL organizations. His 7 championships allow him to mock and ridicule relentlessly across his three different family and friend’s leagues to a point of annoyance. While the value of those championships is meaningless in terms of his professional enhancement he will subtly place them as “related skills” in his work applications. 

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

Peer Pressure: Doing What is Right

Updated: March 20th 2016

No less a mind than Albert Einstein dropped this line on his Nazi-fighting personal physician and friend, Janos Plesch, in 1947: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”   The fantasy GM in me likes to think Einstein was genius-level taunting his buddy after winning their inaugural fantasy season.   Big Al’s victory was sealed by the effort of one Elmer Angsman, a third round pick out of Notre Dame dropping two 70-yard TD runs in the ’47 NFL championship game as the Chicago Cardinals dusted the Philadelphia Eagles.  Einstein selected Elmer for his team, “Straight Outta Quantam,” to mockery from his friends in the analytics community that saw Angsman as too one-dimensional to succeed at the pro-level.  Albert later pointed to the lone scouting report that convinced him to draft Angsman, a rival defensive back saying of Elmer, “He was…A straight ahead north and south runner who would just as soon leave cleat marks on your balls as run around you.” Victory.

The preceding story is, of course, fantasy in its fullest sense.  The quotes and people are real, but stripped of any context to produce new meaning.   The very best friends, fantasy GMs, and experts realize that fantasy means more than absorbing common knowledge.  They are stripping reality to its parts and building teams and leagues largely dependent on two pillars; the NFL players and fantasy players.  This column will attempt to remind the fantasy community that the fantasy players you know bear as much impact on fantasy success as the NFL players you may never meet.  When it comes to our own community, we have to borrow once more from the genius of Albert Einstein, “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.”  Reality Sports Online auction drafts will help the best fantasy GMs determine both what is popular and right in the new, young, and hungry RSO community.

How does one determine what is popular in the fantasy football community?  Multiple levels come into play, but at the most macro level it seems possible to determine where the community at large is getting its information.  Initial analysis of web traffic indicates that sites like Yahoo, NFL.com, and CBS drive and support casual fantasy football play at massive rates.  Future posts should examine how more specialized and sophisticated players set up preseason draft boards, but in every instance the great GM should try to determine how and where our frenemies in the league are getting their information.   Does your crew support a few drifters that roll in on draft day with “cheatsheets,” smelling of beer, fresh ink, and hot paper emblazoned with the logos of well-known sports outlets? If so, nod along to the popular risers like Lamar Miller while noting your favorite names buried deep on that list.   Using data from Fantasy Draft Calculator from 2013-15 we can establish a baseline of how the community at large drafted over a series of mocks preceding each season.    The link between the preseason site rankings of Yahoo (currently the clubhouse leader in sports web traffic) and ADP of drafted players according to fantasy calculator matches at a statistically significant rate over that three year sample.  This could be true for several reasons.  My theory is that massive sites that offer free information like Yahoo rankings drive the average player in a causal way.   Most people don’t have hours to research, agonize over, and tinker with fantasy draft boards.  It doesn’t make them dumb, lazy, or stupid.  In fact these casual players serve as humbling reminders to every GM who has “the bug” that the fickle whims of fortune all too often determine the victor.  If this theory is right, however, it is incumbent on you as a GM to understand that such fantasy players default to typical internet usage habits, hang with the crowd, and defer to the most readily available, popular, rankings.

Several counter-arguments can be made to my thesis that popular websites drive drafting patterns. I will focus on two notable objections.  First, an easy argument might suggest that experts constructing Yahoo’s rankings actually model off ADP collected in preseason mocks so the rankings are reactive rather than predictive of GM draft patterns.    For example, Yahoo’s preseason rankings predicted the ADP of the top 10 picks in a standard scoring at a 90% rate.  2013 was particularly telling, when Yahoo either drove or matched community consensus as it coalesced around early running backs.  Only a detailed chronology could sort the truth of whether the rankings or the ADP came first. This correlation between rankings and ADP reveals the second strong argument against the original thesis; experts and average fantasy players draw from the common data set of NFL players to produce results that correlate, but are not caused by, popular rankings.  Of the second point, I am particularly wary, as gifted minds provide hilarious examples to remind us that Nicholas Cage’s acting and drowning deaths are probably not causally connected.

Here is where value of my hypothesis can be tested in a specific way with the Reality Sports Online platform.  The average player is deprived of the multiplicity of cheatsheets and rankings that blurred the causal relationship in the aforementioned objections.  RSO auction drafts provide a unique test because there is only one free, popular, and visible tool to determine rankings in the RSO offseason.  If my intuition is correct, most players will depend on the site’s recommended contract values as they prepare for league play.  Those values meet the criteria we established above: free, readily available, and popular.  The recommended contract values take on outsized importance because of their presence in the mock draft rooms and the auction draft rooms itself. As both the most prominent, and sole, source of rankings during the actual draft, the values land with the authority of an Adam Schefter tweet during free agency. Staring down the clock and the eye-of-Sauron-like power of the recommendations is where your mettle as a fantasy GM gets tested by RSO and your league, because the popular choice of adherence to the crowd will be pitted against the mockery of any wild pick driven by your own research, but…a note of caution.  What is popular and what is right is not mutually exclusive.   Knowing something is popular in the fantasy community informs your subjective decisions about your own team in a meaningful way because you understand the context of your league.   Determining what your friends and league mates are doing is important, but rarely order to fit in.

At some point growing up I became acutely aware that my father was often the smartest guy in the room. More NASA than NFL in his game by a wide margin.  The man emphasized tangible, concrete truths in life: housing, hard work, and grades.    This paternal wisdom often came at great cost to his sons. Popularity was more of a prayer than an aspiration in my youth. Homemade clothing, haircuts resembling a family montage of “before they were stars,” and the infamously mockable eyewear known as Rec Specs, are written into my family history as indelibly as burning half my auction budget on Adrian Peterson. Popularity never drove my father’s reasoning in these confounding decisions, and he never wavered in the cliché “nerds rule the world.”  This fantasy offseason affords you a chance to pivot away from the peer pressure of the fantasy community to the wisdom of its nerdiest, brightest minds. Find your baseline with the solid, thoughtful, and regularly updated, ADP work at places like Dynasty League Football and mock drafts on RSO.  Once you have a sense of what the “cool crowd” is doing it is time to break from the pack.

The final move should be a search for, and commitment to, some of the Einsteins of the fantasy business.  Brilliant ideas will gain popularity eventually, as the best GMs come to understand practical applications. It is best to be ahead of the game with hipster-like savvy.   Most of us do not have the time, nor expertise to construct algorithms, watch tape, or synthesize data in brilliant new ways  By determining experts with a track record of success, and contrasting them with the loudest, most popular voices in your immediate fantasy circle, you properly contextualize where NFL players will likely be drafted in your own drafts, and at what cost.  Cut the noise and find a Virgil for your Dante draft-day purgatory. Your best fantasy days will come when you see clearly the reality of the NFL players in front of you and your friends and fantasy GMs around you.  With a bit of work you will find the right fantasy thing may be popular, but its popularity is neither necessary nor sufficient to make it right.   We are all following in someone’s fantasy footsteps, here’s hoping you choose the right ones to leave some cleat marks in your league.

More Analysis by Luke O'Connell

Fold’em or Hold’em: Part 1

Updated: March 15th 2016

Committing to doing a rebuild is often hard for an owner as it often requires an admittance of failure. Whether it’s a slew of bad draft picks, unsuccessful free agent and trade acquisitions or poor cap management, sometimes it is better to just make some tough choices and move on rather than dig the proverbial “hole” for another 5-8 or 6-7 season. For some this might mean starting less than desirable players for a couple of seasons or absorbing large contracts from other teams.

Now that’s not to say tanking is condoned, as this by far is one of the biggest pet peeves and cardinal sins in fantasy football. Instead I am suggesting there might be different strategies with trades, drafts, and free agency spending than a team that considers itself a top contender. This topic is too broad to talk about every situation and strategy; instead it will be broken into two articles. The first is to help distinguish if your situation is a total rebuild, or if you just need to retool at a few positions. The second article will feature more of the strategies involved in three key areas: current roster moves (cuts, trades and franchise tags), rookie draft strategy and free agent spending.

The first aspect before committing to a total rebuild and selling off any older superstars is to take a deep breath and step back for a minute. You should be evaluating your team’s situation and compare it to each team in your league. If the core of your above average starters are still under contract for next season while other teams are losing key pieces you might be able to outbid them in free agency; their losses may become your gain. One of the best features of the RSO “dynasty” format is that there is a greater chance of league parity as even superstar players are usually only on the same roster for a maximum of 3 to 5 seasons.

If, however most of your superstars are departing and it’s unlikely you will be able to afford to tag one or resign them in free agency it may be a good opportunity to start the rebuild ASAP. Rebuilds are often more successful if there are fewer teams trying to rebuild at the same time. Simple economics suggest that too many teams selling players and not enough contenders buying these players will limit their trade values. If you can be a year or two ahead anticipating what other team’s rebuilding period will be it will allow you to maximize your elite and high upside player’s market value. Depending on how cyclical your league’s standings are, it also stands you will benefit from doing trades with contending teams when you are in your own rebuild. This will hopefully build stronger trade relations for when they are rebuilding, and you need that final piece for your championship run. In general I find most leagues function better when owners try to treat their league mates as equal, competent fantasy players rather than trying to always “win” the trade, but trading etiquette is a topic for another article.

The other major event to evaluate each offseason is the rookie draft. The main goal before the draft is to create a rough outline determining: what the overall expectations and value of each rookie class is, the needs of each team in your league (including yourself), where the collection of picks currently are and the tendencies of each owner. Many of you are familiar with preparing your own draft board of either position by position rankings or “tiering” players in groups of similar values. It is also wise to look both one year ahead and one year behind for comparative rankings to evaluate each incoming rookie class. The 1.01 of each year does not equal the value of every first pick before or after it and depends on the depth and talent of each class. The consensus first pick of one year may only be as valuable as the fourth or fifth selection in other years. Early this offseason I have seen several Twitter trades asking if DeVante Parker is worth flipping for the 1.06 or 1.08? Without being a time wizard who can foresee the future it has been expressed by several experts that despite being a mid to late first round value in last year’s draft players like Parker would be the unanimous 1.01 in this year’s draft due to the lower expected level of talent. This is why it is important to do at least some research into future drafts before doing any deals involving future picks.

Once you create a rough draft board this season you will also need to assess what every team in your league perceives the current draft classes’ value to be. You should watch for verbal and nonverbal giveaways about what owners are preparing for their offseason strategies. Is an owner talking up a large portion of first round talents or making moves to acquire a large quantity of picks in a single draft? These are owners to take note of, as they are likely a trade partner that you can be working the phones with right before the draft. Other owners might be looking to add to their team, either as depth for future free agents or perennial starters. Since RSO rookie drafts occur before the free agency auction some owners may look to fill a portion of their roster with incoming rookies should they not have the funds available to likely retain or buy superstar free agents. If these owners are contending teams that just need to bolster or replace a weakness with their starters they might not want “project players” that usually fall to the end of rounds that may take two or three seasons to produce. Depending on your place in the draft, draft capital and whether you see your team as a rebuild or a retool there are a couple of strategies that can be used to greatly increase your chances of having a successful turnaround this offseason.

So now that we have gone through all the key aspects to look at throughout the offseason, we need to decide to either retool pieces of our team or totally tear down and begin anew. First, evaluate your starting line-up from a year ago. Is your core going to be significantly weaker than at least half of other team’s returning players? Do you have enough cap room to be able to compete for expected free agents this offseason? If you are losing significant ground on your opponents before the offseason starts and are pressed against the cap it might be best to act now to avoid prolonged exposure to fantasy’s middle of the pack purgatory seasons. Second, what is your current draft capital? If you traded many of your first and second round picks for a championship run or expected “upside” players that didn’t work out, it might be time to cash out with whatever value you can return and hit the reset button.

Not every season that ends without a championship has to be deemed a failure. Sometimes with even the best roster there are just unlucky weeks that change the landscape of standings and playoff results. The best thing you can do is recognize whether your 2015 season was truly unlucky or your team really was a step behind others and go down the appropriate path this offseason. The second part of this article will hopefully present information and strategies to help you set your team down its future championship path.


 

Bio

Nick is a Sports Administration graduate in Canada who has worked/interned with two NFL organizations. His 7 championships allow him to mock and ridicule relentlessly across his three different family and friend’s leagues to a point of annoyance. While the value of those championships is meaningless in terms of his professional enhancement he will subtly place them as “related skills” in his work applications.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

The Art of Trading-RSO Style

Updated: November 6th 2015

Danny Woodhead could be an interesting player to acquire at the trade deadline.

Danny Woodhead could be an interesting player to acquire at the trade deadline.

When you and your friends signed up to join a Reality Sports Online league, you basically walked into the corn like in Field of Dreams. You weren’t necessarily sure what your initial strategy would be, but like other owners on the platform, you needed something more challenging, more engaging, basically an NFL-General Manager experience to break from the monotony of the everyday redraft league.

That’s exactly what you’re entrenched in and winning your league against your friends who you consider to be of above-average intelligence would be sweet, very sweet. Now you are at the point where you’ve meticulously managed your roster, strategized over rookie draft picks, made a deal or two, had some injuries, doled out some long term contracts, used your franchise tag and are ready to get raise your fist in the air for your first RSO championship.

The final piece to that roster puzzle to win your league may or may not come at the trade deadline, which is upcoming for several leagues. For non-contenders, the trade deadline becomes a chance to salvage some value (particularly future rookie draft picks or developmental players) for expiring players who won’t be retained but may help a contender. For contenders, the trade deadline is the last chance of the season to add a piece to help you for your championship run and potentially in future years.

The art of trading in your RSO league is all contextual and situation dependent which makes it the most complex set of scenarios you can face down the stretch in your attempt to gain lifetime bragging rights on your buddies because flags fly forever and your championship forever becomes part of league lore.

With that, let’s discuss some scenarios that you may be facing at the deadline, with a quick primer first.

Every now and then, we get Tweets asking about trades and whether or not you should do them. Let me start with some obvious advice-context really matters. Of course I’d rather have Julio Jones than Allen Robinson all things being equal. But if Robinson is on a second-round rookie deal and Jones costs me $30 million a year, Robinson’s value and point production allows so much flexibility that he’s more valuable than Jones to me. So make sure you consider the following when making any trade deadline deal:

1) Are You a Contender or a Non-Contender?

This can be a tricky question depending on what kind of league you are in. For instance, the top four records make the playoffs in my league plus another two wild-cards based on total points scored. So there’s multiple ways into the playoffs and teams that are on the fringe of one or the other can still be chasing these up until the last week of the season. Which makes our league super-exciting, but also hard to gauge how a team sees itself.

To me, total points scored is a good barometer at this point for how your team really is performing. I know there are bye weeks and everything, but if I learned anything in business school, it is the bigger the sample size, the better and a sample size of 30 typically takes out the randomness. So if you go to your standings and to the breakdown section, you’ll see your record if you played every team in your league each week. If your record is strong (sample size is definitely bigger than 30), it means you are putting up ample total points to contend in your league. If it is below .500, your overall record may mean you are getting lucky and you should be a seller.

Every owner has to decide where they fit at the deadline, but false optimism usually leads to straddling and backfires. So if you are playing for next season, act like it and get some assets that will help you more than having a few more weeks of Jonathan Stewart.

2) You don’t always have to get the best player in the deal, but make sure you are walking away with the best valued player in the deal.

Your lineup is like a puzzle and you have to put together the best lineup possible to win. Through the auction, rookie draft, in-season free agency and trades you’ve made thus far, you have to fit the player and the cap space you are targeting into your lineup. The natural inclination as your league trade deadline approaches is to go hard after the obvious names, a bunch of studs that you think can put you over the top, even if their contracts may not be good.

Hold off on this approach, unless the capital required is reasonable. The truth is if you are contending, you probably have a lot of solid pieces already. You don’t need two more years of Adrian Peterson at $25-30 million a year, you need Eric Decker at $5-$8 million a year for the next two-three years (or even one year). Plus the trade capital required to get a player like Decker will be way less (Editor’s Note: Goody indeed just traded Kendall Wright and his 2016 2nd Round Pick for Decker).

3) If you’re trading rookie draft picks, figure out what they are worth to you. What’s a Rookie Draft Pick Worth? should help you immensely in that pursuit.

In my main league, I’ve seen rookie draft picks (particularly first rounders) move back and forth all season as teams have gone in and out of determining whether they are contenders. Meanwhile, the top two contenders (me included) have kept their picks intact and watched these teams make these moves.

Examples of these trades include Ben Roethlisberger’s owner panicking when he went down and trading his first for a one-year, $15.0 million Drew Brees deal (which so far, along with a solid cast has kept that team near the top of the standings), and a team traded a first rounder and Coby Fleener for DeMarco Murray (who was franchised in 2015). In total there have been fifteen trades so far this regular season in my 12-team league, most of which involving 2016 first-round draft picks.

I can with fair certainty say that save for myself and another top team, that most of the serious playoff contenders (and by that I mean the ones who can do serious playoff damage), don’t have draft picks to trade at the deadline to upgrade their teams. As a result, for me, it may be best to stand pat and not make moves unless this other top team does. Assuredly, assuming team health, trading first rounders seems to be out of the question when I can stand pat and still have a very good shot of being a top two team without making a deal. Thus in my particular situation, even though my draft pick figures to be towards the end of the first round, I’ve determined that it isn’t likely worth it to me to trade my 2016 first rounder to try to get a player to help ensure I win the championship this year. That doesn’t mean I don’t have other players I couldn’t move to get another piece (more on that later).

Please note that I’m more clingy to my rookie draft picks in a league with four-year rookie deals than three-year deals, especially since most owners are already one year into those deals. So if you are in the last year of an Eddie Lacy rookie deal for instance, getting something of substance back could be a coup.

4) Remember that you aren’t necessarily looking to “win the trade”, but rather get the value that propels your team to greater heights either now or later, depending on what your goal is.

So many trades don’t happen in fantasy leagues, because one owner is trying to get over on another. We’re all smart owners on this platform, so appropriate value the best way you know how. At the deadline you have two types of teams-contenders and non-contenders. Contenders want help now for the short-term (and maybe a year beyond) and non-contenders want future assets in the form of draft-picks or development players. If a non-contender decides that trading Martellus Bennett for three years of Jay Ajayi floats their boat, then other owners shouldn’t judge. The same thing goes for if a team makes a move going for the playoffs and it blows up in their face. Last year, a leaguemate did exactly that in my league and I think they’ll be way more careful at the deadline this year.

5) Throwing the farm and multiple good players for one great player doesn’t make as much sense in a league like this as it does in a redraft league.

I’ve seen some Tweets lately asking my views on multi-player trades. The one that stuck out to me was someone asking me if they should trade Jordan Matthews, Mike Evans (both on original rookie deals) and Gio Bernard for DeAndre Hopkins (3 years, $48.0 million) and a 2016 2nd rounder? Of course, I drilled in on context, but while this trade may make sense in a redraft league, no way am I give up two cheap, young assets plus Bernard for Hopkins (who I do think is a Top-5 wideout).

The upside is just too high on Matthews and Evans, plus the value given of three fantasy starters for one studly starter just doesn’t compute for me.

If I’m a contender at the deadline, I’m not looking to get back less starters than I’m giving up, unless I have a super deep bench. If making a deal like the above, though to get Hopkins means I have to start a player I can’t trust weekly in the playoffs to replace a guy I just traded while giving up multiple starters, the point differential Hopkins is giving me doesn’t matter. I’m not starting Nate Washington or Malcom Floyd in the playoffs without a serious down-the-stretch track record or injuries just to get myself a player like Hopkins.

6) Don’t be afraid of the one-year contract expiring player for several reasons.

A few weeks ago, a Twitter follower @naandrews19 sent me a few messages about how to value first year players. Nick was asking me how to value these in his league when others were so focused on multi-year players and suggested I write an article about it. First off, thanks Nick for the idea and for following me. Second, hopefully I can address the one-year expiring player, who I do believe has more value than your league counterparts think.

Nick was saying that most of his league was very afraid to trade their picks for “rental” players, guys on one-year deals. This is faulty logic to me. I know the tendency in leagues like this is to try to lock up a bunch of studs on multi-year deals. However, sometimes that blows up in an owners face. In fact, in your first few years, your best team strategy is probably to avoid getting yourself into bad contracts. Ask the owner of Charles Johnson about multi-year deals now and see what he says if he/she can get out a complete sentence without a bunch of expletives.

With that, let me be explicit. There are certain types of players worth trading your first-round draft picks for on expiring deals. Those players to me are guys that you’d consider putting the franchise tag on in 2016. If you already have an obvious franchise tag player based on your league dynamics, or the amount this newly acquired player would cost you in 2016, don’t fret. You still may be willing to part with a 2016 first rounder if you know that you will be in the bottom few picks of the first round and the player you’re getting is worth it. Logically, you’d prefer to give up a second rounder because the picks don’t snake, so you aren’t really giving up much from that standpoint with a second rounder. The happy go between may be to give up a second rounder and a player (either a mid-tier player or a devy guy if you have many of them).

In terms of examples, guys like Danny Woodhead (still currently in the Top 5 in PPR league scoring at running back) are prime examples of players who may not have a ton of future value but can make a significant contribution for your team towards a title.

7) Who is your biggest roadblock to winning a championship and what are they doing at the deadline to improve their team?

Sometimes you have to follow a game theory strategy and only make moves if you perceive your biggest roadblock is going to make them (or already has made them). As a contending team, you have a certain window to remain competitive, so keep that in mind in any deals made. That said, on my current team, I’d be more than willing to move a guy like Chris Conley and his 6’3′, 205 lb frame and 4.35 40-time on a cheap multi-year deal if it netted me the piece I needed to put me ahead of my rival. If the right player was available and the other trading partner wanted someone else in the deal with Conley, I feel like a guy like Vernon Davis could be of interest in his new Denver locale.

If the other team is doing nothing, you may not need to do anything (sometimes doing nothing is actually the best strategy), but be acutely aware of where their weaknesses are and see how you really match up with them in a one-game playoff scenario

8) Non-contending teams should be looking to unload bad contracts as well as pick up future assets.

I feel like I’ve been banging this drum all year, but non-contending teams want three things in this order: 1) future draft picks 2) to rid themselves of bad contracts 3) developmental players. If you are a team that’s fallen on bad luck with injuries or non-performance but have a wealth at a certain position, perhaps you package that wealth with a bad contract (think guys like Michael Floyd or Victor Cruz) to get a combination of assets and contract relief. Heck, if you haven’t moved a player out for the season to IR, you can even trade them if they have future years (guys like Arian Foster) if you are thinking they won’t come back at the same level or at all. Like the NFL, however, you can’t trade players off of your IR on the RSO platform.

So, those are some of my thoughts as your league deadline approaches. I find myself currently to be a buyer in both leagues I’m in (I’m a jaw-dropping 8-0 in my writers league, dominating in total points scored and searching for an area to improve in a 10 team league and I’m 5-3 in my main league with the second highest point total). I don’t know if I’ll get any deals done in these leagues, but I certainly am thinking about potential offers at this point.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @mattgoody2 to talk trade strategy, general questions, start/sit, whatever is on your mind RSO wise and good luck this week!

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin