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. 

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.

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.

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!

Mastering Year 2 On RSO

Updated: August 21st 2015

Chasing Quarterbacks is one strategy not to follow in your second year league.

Chasing Quarterbacks is one strategy not to follow in your second year league.

This article is dedicated to those owners in their second year of their Reality Sports Online leagues. If you are in your first year of your Reality Sports Online league, my high level advice is to not get too caught up in the hype of the auction. Make sure you are spending your big dollar contracts on players as close to birds in the hand as possible. If you ask anyone who plunked 3 years and $85 million on Trent Richardson a few years ago, they’d tell you the biggest objective in year one is basically what I tell my young kids-“don’t wet the bed”. Matt Papson’s  7 Basic Auction Principles and Bo Wulf’s Four Years of Commitment are essential reading for the rookie Reality Sports Online GM.

If you are in your third year, you have things pretty much figured out by now and are looking forward to some of the two-year studs from your rookie season being available in the auction. Teams in rebuild mode are hyped about rookies and sleepers and championship contenders are going all out to win the league for the first (or maybe even second or third) time.

To me, the second year is the most difficult year in terms of team strategy. Several of the top players are still locked into multi-year deals, so there may be slim pickings in your auction. The rookie draft is really the only way to get a player you want without competitive market dynamics but if you’re in the back of the draft that may not even be possible.

So let’s walk through some scenarios of potential challenges a second year owner may face. I won’t go too deep into rookie draft strategy, because let’s face it, I essentially did my best to drop the mic with my What’s A Rookie Draft Pick Worth? article a few weeks ago.

1) Don’t Go Chasing Quarterbacks

The best part of being one of the potential owners who doesn’t have a quarterback locked up long term is that your counterparts do. While some of them may try to price enforce to make sure that you are having to pay fair value for your quarterback, if you get into the scenario where you and maybe two other owners in a 10-12 team league is searching for a signal caller, it doesn’t necessarily matter which one you grab, so long as you get them on a good contract. Those other price enforcer owners know they don’t want to get left holding the bag on two starting quarterbacks, especially if your league doesn’t have many teams that trade often. This strategy landed me Russell Wilson on a 3 year, $26 million deal as I was one of two teams out of twelve needing a quarterback.

Additionally, if you are one of these owners who had a one year contract quarterback last year and there are plenty of suitable starters in the free agent market, franchise tagging a quarterback is essentially bidding against yourself. I don’t care if you can have Drew Brees for another year, don’t bid against yourself when Ben Roethlisberger will be just as good and a fraction of the cost.

So make it one of your top priorities to get a quarterback you are happy with on a term and contract value you are good with. There should be no shortage of those candidates this year as in most leagues, you’ll only need to start one quarterback.

2) If You Didn’t Have a Strategy in Year One, Figure Your Strategy For Year Two Out Quick

You may have taken year one to get acquainted with the platform and didn’t want to wet the bed. Year two is when you start formulating your multi-year plan on how your team can capitalize on its championship window, whenever you see that being. The offseason is the ideal time to do that and you may still have a few days left to shape that strategy with your franchise tag and before your rookie draft.

The type of moves that teams may take depends on where you finished last year and what talent remains on your team. However, there are several tactics that a team can use to rebuild on the fly. The first of which is to trade a high-priced player. Burned by Adrian Peterson last year, turn his big salary into free cap space and a draft pick and use that money to get three guys who can help you over the long term.

3) Don’t Be Afraid Of One Year Contracts

Just because Reality Sports Online leagues are customizable in the number of multi-year deals you may offer in your auction doesn’t mean you need to use them all or every one you use needs to be on a marquee player. Year two may not have that deep of a free agent pool in your auction, but I guarantee you that year three will. My upcoming third year league has 7 of the top 10 ten scoring running backs available heading into the auction. To take advantage of a similar situation next year, second year owners may want to keep their future year cap flexibility open and not overcommit on a second year free agent crop that frankly may not be that appealing.

Basically, most of the players entering free agency are players that other teams weren’t confident enough to sign to multi-year deals in your first year of the auction or guys picked up during the season on free agent deals. While some of those players like Justin Forsett and C.J. Anderson may have been franchise tagged or will be the marquee free agents this year, they do come in with question marks based on not having the proven track record others on multi-year deals may have. So the question, similar to the ABC Show, becomes “What Would You Do?” if you had to choose between signing Forsett to a two year, $30 million deal or grabbing Lamar Miller on a one year deal for $17 million. I’d take Miller (who is a 2016 NFL Free Agent), who will most likely be both more productive and give you a flexible cap for 2016 without batting an eyelash.

Another strategy on the one year players is to follow the “Old Guys Rule” strategy. Other owners may not think much of Frank Gore or Andre Johnson, but the two former teammates from “The U” are perfect one year candidates who buy you a share in the explosive Colts offense. So if you have a solid core that already screams playoff contender, you can paint the edges with older players and contend if you don’t have the budget or inclination to go after the big names in second year free agency.

4) The Franchise Tag May Be Your Friend

If you are in Year Two and the contracts doled out in year one at certain positions isn’t overly ridiculous (or even if they are), if you are one piece away from a championship in your head, go for the gold, especially in a year where the pickings are slim in free agency. I’ve already tackled Franchise Tag strategy deeply in my Giving Up the Franchise? article.

This period may have passed in some of your leagues or is rapidly approaching. Trading for someone else’s franchise tagged player is certainly a possibility as well and those teams looking to rebuild may be able to get something for a player they were planning on not getting anything for by doing this. Just make sure you hammer out your details and look into the website platform timing to execute the trade around the restrictions and trade deadlines between the period three days before the rookie draft and three days before the free agent auction.

5) Use One Multi-Year Deal on a Developmental Player

The tendency in formats like this is to grab studs on long-term deals and combine those with your rookies to have the best chance of winning a championship. However, there are multiple ways to win the championship and one strategy I really like is to use at least one of your multi-year deals (assuming an allotment of 3 two-year deals, 2 three-year deals and 1 four-year deal) on a developmental prospect who either didn’t get picked in your rookie draft or a free agent.

You’ll have to do your homework on who those players are for you. Last year, I used my second year multi-year deals on Lance Dunbar (2 years, $4.5 million), Aaron Dobson (3 year, $8.5 million) and the undrafted in our two-round rookie draft Teddy Bridgewater (2 years, $1.5 million). As I mentioned before I already had Wilson as my starting quarterback and was able to trade Bridgewater and Larry Fitzgerald early last season for a one year Alshon Jeffery rental.

While those players may not jump out at you and other than Bridgewater didn’t really pan out last year, they didn’t cost me much and both Dunbar and Dobson have potential to play significant roles in excellent offenses this year. If I need to drop them, I can do it without much hesitation, but they also offer upside.

Conversely, some of my league mates were getting into long term deals with players like Reuben Randle for 4 years and $25.0 million. While others were successful in nabbing DeAndre Hopkins on a four year deal for $28.5 million (we essentially didn’t have a rookie draft in year one so owners could get a good feel for the league, something I’d actually advise against which made Hopkins available in 2014), those home runs were few and far between in last year’s auction. That’s what happens when guys like Toby Gerhart and Shane Vereen fetch big dollars in free agency as some of the top second-year free agent players available.

These are really just some examples as full disclosure, I did not win my league in my second year as I lost in a playoff game in which Julio Jones destroyed me. I still retain a core that I’m super excited about for the next two years, years which I basically consider my championship window.

Basically, year two is about cementing your strategy and executing on it. Figure out when your championship window is and go get it! Thanks for reading and I’m really appreciative of all those who reach out to me with questions/comments on Twitter @mattgoody2

7 Basic Auction Principles

Updated: August 13th 2015

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Long before Reality Sports Online existed, I was a HUGE proponent of fantasy auction drafts. I have always had an affinity for numbers, but my passion for auctions is simpler than that. Each owner has the opportunity to buy or sign any player. There’s no “luck of the draw” for draft slot, and every owner has the same probability of winning the league entering the auction as any other. I can craft the team I want, and I’m not bound by my slot. Every minute of the “auction draft” is action packed. This is how most snake drafts go for me: Wait a few minutes, try (and fail) to trade back, make a pick that I’m not thrilled with, wait a few minutes…wait a few more minutes, get upset because the player I wanted next was selected in the spot right in front of me, sulk, make an irrational frustration pick, and repeat.  I know for a fact that many fantasy owners are intimidated by auction formats. There’s no shame in admitting it… it’s one of the biggest challenges we face when trying to get fantasy owners to try our fantasy Front Office platform.

For anybody who isn’t familiar with Reality Sports Online, it’s a platform that enables fantasy owners to build and manage their team like an NFL General Manager. The platform features a Rookie draft, partially guaranteed contracts, real salary cap management, injured reserve, a franchise tag, and more. The platform’s greatest feature is the Free Agency Auction Room, which facilitates as many as 32 fantasy owners to compete against each other to negotiate with and sign athletes to single or multi-year contracts, live-online. If you’re an active fantasy auction advocate, or you’re just somebody looking for a deeper, more engaging fantasy experience, you should try the Reality Sports Online fantasy Front Office platform.

If you find yourself among the people hesitant to embrace auctions…there really is nothing to fear.  Managing a budget isn’t hard…you do it every day in life. Fantasy is a game of statistics. Fantasy owners are an intelligent and generally well-educated breed. Regardless of education, if you’re playing fantasy – you’re smart enough to do an auction. Try it. Once you do, you’ll never go back. Now, let’s get down to business.

Whether you’re building a team for multiple years in the Reality Sports Online Front Office format, or you’re laying it all on the line in a re-draft auction, there are a few guiding auction principles that can help you win your league. Building a great team via auction takes strategy, patience, discipline, and a knack for knowing when to break the rules. You can take some or all of the principles below and incorporate them into your auction strategy.

1.    Set your own pre-auction value for EVERY player (who is going to be purchased/signed for more than the minimum)

You may very well hate (in the fantasy sense) a player, because he’s overrated, injury prone, or because he plays for your team’s archrival. But, every player has some value to you. In an auction, you’re purchasing a player’s statistics. Every player’s value is relative to the cost associated with acquiring him. You might not want LeSean McCoy in 2015 as a Bill, and maybe you don’t expect DeMarco Murray to get enough touches with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles present, but you still need to be prepared to buy/sign them. There’s some price for every player at which you should be thrilled to acquire them. It doesn’t have to be an exact science for every player, but place a number on them where you’ll be happy with the purchase or signing. It’s a little tricky when you’re talking about a multi-year contract for Reality Sports Online, so in that case, just make sure you’re only giving guys that you’re “value-signing” a one-year contract. In 2015, I’m not excited about Matt Forte (or his real-life contract situation), Brandon Marshall (who can still play, but Geno-Fitz doesn’t excite me) or Drew Brees (it’s going to take a lot of C.J. Spiller screens & bubbles for a strong statistical year), but they’re all worth a below-market-price flier.

2.    Be the value enforcer

You’ll see as you read on that these principles are all similar, but while they’re all tied together and build on one another, they’re all distinct. Being the value enforcer is not a popular position in auctions. It’s best when you’ve got genuine multi-owner bidding wars for each player, but it’s not likely to happen for every player.  I generally like to sit back and wait in auctions for as long as possible (I never nominate a player I hope to land) before getting involved, but, in order to get value later in the auction, you have to make sure that owners are paying close to full price for top players. No matter what platform you use, the experts who assign the recommended values put a lot of time and effort into their analysis. Even if the values aren’t perfect, they’re in the right ballpark. Always make sure top players are going for at least 80% of their recommended value, and 90%+ if it’s a player on your fringe list. You can’t predict the order in which players will be nominated, so sometimes you’ll be forced to sign players early, but in general, I try to have more dollars remaining than at least half of the teams for the first half of the auction. In order to be able to get your value signings late, you need other teams to blow their wad early.

3.    Pay attention to other owner’s roster composition

Every auction is a puzzle. As every piece (or player) falls into place, the total picture becomes clearer, and it’s easier to place the remaining pieces. It’s important to take in all the context clues throughout the auction so you can deduct which owners might be genuinely interested in acquiring certain players/positions. Too many times fantasy owners laser-focus on their own team and goals and can’t see what’s unfolding in front of them. It can help to know when someone is just running up the price on you because they know you need a position. And, if you’re paying attention, you can do the same thing when you know other owners are desperate to acquire a certain position or player. Every extra dollar you force another owner to spend is a dollar you’re saving for yourself later.

4.    Let the auction come to you, don’t chase

Whether it’s a draft or an auction, it’s always important to have a strategy in place in advance (if it weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this!). For drafts, some fixate on getting X position in round 1 and Y players at X position by Z round. For auctions, many build positional budgets or allocations, and others say “I’m getting A, B, and C no matter what it costs”. Whatever strategy you enter the auction with, you have to be willing to deviate from it if the situation warrants a change of plans. Be flexible and willing to improvise. One of your top targets may have gone well over your budget, forcing you to bow out unexpectedly, or you may have acquired somebody you didn’t particularly want while enforcing value. Adapt and conquer. You don’t have to abandon your original strategy completely, but the more flexibility you have with your plan the more likely you’ll be able to find value.

5.    Seek & Find Value

In auction formats, particularly on the Reality Sports Online platform with multi-year contracts and guaranteed money, I’ve found that many experts like to employ a studs and duds strategy (most of the budget dedicated to a few “stud” players with the remainder spent filling out the roster with best available). With respect to multi-year contracts, that theory certainly has merit, and even in single-year auctions, many people can still make it work. I like to be contrarian when possible, though some would just call me stubborn. I’m a value guy. I love getting bargains on players. I get about as much joy as you could imagine getting a player for 50% off. Take a look at some of the 4-year contracts (each team gets one each year in standard settings) given out in my favorite fantasy league (the Matt Waldman Reality Sports Online Experts League; platform utilizes NFL Salary Cap):

First Name Last Name Pos Pro Team Age Contract Length Value
Cole Beasley WR DAL 26 4 $2M
Brock Osweiler QB DEN 25 4 $5M
Michael Floyd WR ARI 26 4 $13M
Nick Foles QB STL 26 4 $25M
T.Y. Hilton WR IND 26 4 $26.5M
Rueben Randle WR NYG 24 4 $29M
Emmanuel Sanders WR DEN 28 4 $36.5M

 

Sure, they’re not all major hits, but there are some deals in there that look awfully good heading into 2015. The point is, experts (and these are good ones) are willing to take a shot on value plays knowing they may strike out, and you should be willing to as well. I particularly consider myself a value-seeker when it comes to Quarterbacks. I’d rather sign QBs 12, 14, and 16 for a combined $20M per year hoping one cracks the top 8 rather than invest $25M for a “Top 5” QB and still need to figure out my backup situation. I like building deep rosters and trusting myself with tough start/sit decisions each week rather than having clear-cut starters and bench players, and that’s true across all positions.

6. It’s Okay to Pay a Premium

Even though I just spent the last few paragraphs preaching value, there are also times when it’s okay to pay a premium. At the beginning, I told you to set a value for EVERY player – the amount you’d be willing to acquire the player for and be “happy” with your signing. But, I also told you that you needed to be willing to improvise and adapt. If you get beyond your happy place budget on a player that you really like, spend an extra 5-10% and trust your instincts. Last year for me it was Antonio Brown. There was no expert magazine ranking or online resource assigning a value to him higher than my own – I was getting him no matter what it cost – and owned him in every league I participated in. I “overpaid” versus pre-season values and projections, but it ended up working out okay. I’ll also say, particularly in Reality Sports Online leagues, you can afford to overspend on 1-year deals, especially after the mid-point in the auction. There may not be a better place to put those dollars to use later in the auction, so pick your spot and be aggressive.

7. Don’t click mindlessly

With everything we’ve covered so far, this may seem like a silly principle to close with, but don’t underestimate it. Auctions are fun, action-packed, and making a bid/offer is exhilarating. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Clicking is addicting. Once the bidding starts, I just can’t help myself.” It’s true, it’s always more fun being in on the action, but you know what else is fun? Winning! Be careful quick-clicking, because somebody else may have put in a manual offer/bid, and you may have absentmindedly just blown a quarter of your budget on Trent Richardson. Our auction software has safeguards for protection, like offer-rejection when there are clicks milliseconds apart and your offer would have been $1M higher than you intended, and a rewind for egregious errors, but some Commissioners are ruthless dictators that make you sleep in the bed you’ve made. Once a player gets beyond your value-enforcer level, just stop clicking and let the other owners duke it out. Only harm can come from a meaningless click.

Matt Papson is the creator and co-founder of Reality Sports Online (www.realitysportsonline.com; @RealitySportsOn), an innovative fantasy Front Office platform that lets fantasy owners emulate the experience of an NFL General Manager. Prior to launching Reality Sports Online, Matt was formerly a Junior Salary Cap Analyst and Pro Personnel Intern for an NFL team. He’s passionate about football, entrepreneurship, pivot tables, golf, and the beach. You can follow him on Twitter @RealitySportsMP