Offseason Cookbook

Hill

Many important offseason decisions are rapidly approaching for those of you out there in the Reality Sports Online universe. Are you in need of a recipe for the offseason?  I have you covered with a simple guide that will cover many of the most important offseason considerations to get you ready for the 2016 season.  This guide does not cover every question you will have but is a starting point for how to think about a few of the fundamental offseason topics in RSO leagues.

  1. Team Evaluation

This step is perhaps the most difficult part for both amateurs and experts alike. Every owner looks optimistically at their own roster.  Of course you did not give your favorite player a big contract thinking he would not be a key contributor!  Now is the time to make a realistic assessment of where your team is at whether your team performed beyond expectations or well below them.  You must ask yourself tough questions and answer with your head not your heart.  Were injuries a factor that derailed your team or helped it?  Have younger players progressed like you hoped or have they hit their peak?

How do we come up with an unbiased evaluation of our team? One solution is to apply point projections for your predicted starting lineup and add them up to find your projected team total.  Then compare the point total against the point total finish of teams in your league from last season.  RSO has 2016 player projections and last season’s league data readily available.  You will have to make some assumptions about players you expect to obtain for positions you do not have filled yet.  I will generally assume that I am a contender if my projected team point total is near the top of the team scoring leaders from last year.  Conversely, I will start planning for a couple of years ahead if I project near the bottom of my league.  I will rapidly try to change my team if I find myself in the middle.  RSO’s own Nick Andrews provides a more detailed article on deciding if your team is a contender or a rebuilder here.

  1. Player Drops

We all make good and bad decisions with respect to player contracts. Some gambles do not work out as we plan because of injuries, suspensions, bad play, or a host of other reasons.  Now is the time to correct some of those bad decisions.  Cutting players is never easy but is necessary when it is clear that the player will not provide the value you need to justify keeping him at his current contract level.  The decision to drop a player is complicated.  An owner should consider many factors including the player’s contract, expected production, team and league salary cap situation, and the pool of available players in the free agent auction.  You can read more about the salary cap implications of dropping players on RSO’s How It Works page.

Let me give an example from a league I am in to demonstrate a few of the considerations in determining whether to drop a player. The league has 12 teams with 1QB/2RB/3WR/1TE/2FLEX/1K/1DEF starting requirements.  I currently have Jeremy Hill on contract with one year left at almost $19 million.  Cutting Hill would save around $9.5M in cap space.  I would cut Hill in many cases given the contract and his expected production in 2016.  In this particular league, there will be about $800 million available in the free agent auction for approximately 40 fantasy relevant players coming to nearly $20 million per player.  In addition, only about twelve relevant RBs are in the FA auction and over half of the teams have significant RB needs.  The excess money available and high demand for running backs led me to keep Hill in this situation.

  1. Franchise Tag

Our next major offseason decision is whether or not we use the franchise tag. Each team may use the franchise tag on one player.  The franchise tag value is calculated as the greater of the average of the top 5 salaries at the position or 120% of the player’s previous year salary.  Table 1 breaks down the average top 5 salaries by position from RSO leagues in 2015.

Position Top 5 Average
TE $10,627,859
QB $16,228,848
RB $19,966,313
WR $20,466,396

*Table 1: Average of Top 5 Salaries per Position from 2015

Notice that tight ends are generally a solid place to use the franchise tag if you have one of the few high end options given how relatively cheap the position is. I would also not hesitate to franchise a top option at wide receiver because of the relative safety and expected production at the position, despite being the most expensive group.  Quarterbacks will not usually provide the value needed to justify using the franchise tag and there are too many cheaper options available in most leagues.  The running back position provides one of the true high risk/ high reward options when using the franchise tag.  Workhorse running backs rival top wide receivers in value when healthy but are more injury prone.

I personally used the franchise tag this year on Jordan Reed for $12 million in the league described above in the player drops section. The low value of the contract provides a low risk high reward option for a player who is the focal point of the Washington offense, outscored Rob Gronkowski on a per game basis, but who has had numerous issues staying on the field due to injuries.

  1. Rookie Draft and Free Agent Auction

We now arrive at the core of RSO leagues and what really sets the RSO platform apart from other types of leagues. This is the place where savvy owners build the nucleus of their teams for years to come.  We must address which rookie warrants a cheap multi-year contract, what free agent deserves a huge contract, and how we distribute our limited multi-year contracts.

As in the NFL, the RSO rookie draft provides teams the chance to secure players at below market prices for extended periods of time. An owner who hits on rookie picks holds a significant advantage over those who do not.  While we are always looking to acquire the most valuable player with our picks, I like to keep in mind a couple of key guidelines for RSO rookie drafts.

  1. Time is at a premium: RSO contracts are limited in length which means I place a premium on players who have better odds of contributing early. “Project” players who likely sit on an NFL bench developing move farther down my draft board.
  2. Second round value: RSO rookie contract structure favors acquiring picks in the 2nd round of rookie drafts. I will actively try to obtain as many as possible through trades due to the odds of picking contributing rookies and the low costs of contracts in this round.

While the rookie draft supplements the future of your team, the free agent auction is where most owners mold the core of their teams. Most leagues allow more multi-year contracts in the free agent auction than in the rookie draft.  This gives teams the ability to rapidly change in a short period of time.  How an owner distributes contracts can have implications that impact the present and future.  RSO owners face a complex problem of how to distribute contracts salaries across players and years.  A couple of concepts stand out when making these decisions.

  1. Player values change yearly: RSO leagues are different from yearly auction leagues in that the player pool, amount of salary cap available per team, and team needs all vary from year to year. Just as in the NFL, a player’s value likely increases significantly if he is the top available option at the position in the free agent auction.  Similarly, expect player prices to soar in a league where $600 million in salary cap is available for the FA auction vs. a league where only $300 million is available.
  2. Big vs. Small: RSO owners face one of the biggest decisions in determining if they want to put big money in multi-year player contracts or instead utilize small long-term commitments and place big money into 1 year deals. Big long-term deals allow teams to lock up the best players with the least risk.  These contracts can be a big burden on teams when they miss though.  Owners, conversely, might use their multi-year deals on cheaper, more speculative plays like players who went undrafted in the rookie draft or players caught in bad situations but are in the last year of their NFL contract.  This strategy provides owners maximum year to year roster flexibility and also reduces the consequences of missing on players but also significantly reduces the chances of hitting on contributing players.  Keep in mind players who might become available next offseason when deciding upon your preferred strategy.

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

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