League Contract Settings

Updated: July 23rd 2017

As we round the final turn heading into training camp, let’s get into the final segment of the League Settings article series.  If case you’ve missed them, the first two articles focused on League Scoring Settings and League Configuration and Settings. As Alec Baldwin emphatically states in my favorite movie, Glengarry Glen Ross in reference to executing contracts, “there’s only one thing that matters: get them to sign on the line that is DOTTED!”.

The Reality Sports Online platform is unlike any other with respect to contracts. The Free Agent Auction Room and the online rookie draft allow for all sorts of both fixed priced contracts (rookie wage scale) and dynamic market-priced deals (free agent auction). Therefore, when a commissioner is creating or tweaking contract settings in their league, there are a myriad of things to consider so let’s dive in head-first.

1) Don’t Go Too Crazy With Long Term Contracts

I know, I know. You joined this platform because you actually wanted to use your brain. All the other keeper leagues feature roster keeper decisions that anyone can make. Keep Mike Evans for another year? Sure, can I have more steak with that? The RSO element of a league or commissioner-elected quantity of multi-year contracts enables maximum strategy on how you prioritize who gets long-term deals and manage yearly salary cap space.

Each year, you get the same allotment of contracts elected by your league (I know this is a question I get from newbies all the time so I wanted to address this). However, post-auction you can make any type of roster moves and trades to acquire whatever long-term or short-term talent you want as long as you have the cap space and roster slots to do it. If you want your team to consist of all four-year contract players, it may be difficult to amass, but it can happen.

When folks join a league like this, the inkling is to keep your studs in perpetuity. Talent and value constantly change, and making a multi-year contract mistake in your first year is crippling. My inaugural year had teams splurge on Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller. It took a lot to get out from under those deals.

As a result, my recommendation is to start your league with the following contract allotment: 4 year contracts: one, 3 year contracts: two, 2 year contracts: three. The good part of this approach is it focuses your four year deal on someone you really value or the possibility of hitting a developmental home run at a cheaper price.

One year deals can be incredibly value in RSO leagues, assuming you strategize them well. For instance, in last year’s RSO Superflex writers league, I picked up Melvin Gordon on a one year, $8.0 million deal coming off an injury. I loved his talent and figured that his zero touchdowns scored in his rookie season was an anomaly. I was right, and now I have used my franchise tag on Gordon for the upcoming season for one year, $20.3 million.

I personally like using at least one of my two year deals on a quarterback and tend to like wide receivers for long term deals. It is rare for me to give a running back more than two years, based on how frequently that position changes and the short life span of most high-end backs.

2) Have A Two or Three Round Rookie Draft; Have Them Offline

If you’ve read some of our offseason pieces, the rookie draft has been a huge focus. I love the fixed price of rookies, especially at the top of the second round where the contract costs drop precipitously. To keep the rookie pool from getting diluted (like in a five round rookie draft), I recommend having two to three rounds of rookie drafts for most leagues that have 10 to 12 teams. That way there are a few coveted rookies who spill into the auction (think Jay Ajayi two years ago), but enough talent to not have rookies get dropped from rosters for weekly moves.

In terms of having the rookie draft offline, this is a mindset shift for me after having our writers league draft over email this year. I was astonished by how many trades occurred and how efficiently we could still pick rookies. I adhere to the more strategy the better, so I loved all the trade activity that occurred in the rookie draft.

Rookies remain incredibly valuable, especially if you can hit on your draft picks. Those who don’t like rookies can maximize their value by trading these picks for prime assets either at the trade deadline, throughout the offseason, etc.

3) The New Normal: In-season Contract Extensions

In April, Reality Sports Online released details on in-season contract extensions here. In general, I’m a fan of this as it adds another element of strategy to the league. However, I would recommend that owners proceed with caution on banking on in-season extensions or making trades with limited knowledge of how this will work in practice (it is all theory now) this offseason.

For starters, I would recommend that all leagues vote on how many in-season extensions they want to adopt each season (and potentially revisit this decision after the first year of this feature). My main league voted on one extension for transparency purposes with the thought being that we love the auction and want the player pool to be as deep as possible in the auction, but still allowing the opportunity to exercise the in-season extension for one key player per team.

One thing is obvious from all the guidance in Kyle’s release and my interactions with Stephen and Matt on the in-season extension. Players will not be taking pay cuts. So if you franchised tagged a player last season and the breakout season never came, that salary still serves as the base for a potential extension in season. These will be difficult decisions to make.

Further, until you see what the algorithm spits out in Weeks 4 through 13 of the 2017 season, it is a totally crapshoot. Especially with the famed rookie class featuring Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and Sammy Watkins. Those rookies have a low base salary by virtue of the rookie wage scale but figure to jump to what they’d command in the auction if they were free agents on the in-season extension market. For instance, I paid 4 years, $169 million for OBJ in an auction last summer.

Both historic player performance and current year performance will factor into player salaries as well, so you really would be making a decision with imperfect information if you were basing 2017 offseason moves (including franchise tagging a player in hopes of extending them next summer) or trading for a player who could be extended.

4) An Outside-the-Box Thought

As you all know, I’m a huge fan of RSO and it is currently the only league platform I play on. That said, there are inherent limitations of any start-up which has to weigh the costs and benefits of making platform changes. For me, one sticking point is the fact that any player thrown out by an owner in an auction has to be thrown out at a minimum bid. Often towards the end of the auction, there’s a developmental type player I have my eye on and unless someone else throws that player out or I do and ensure that someone else bids on that player, the player I’m targeting may end up on my team as a one-year guy, which wasn’t my intent.

As a result and based on a conversation I had with Stephen this offseason, our league has adopted an off-platform workaround to that issue. Basically, every team in our league has the ability to convert a 1 year, $500k minimum contract to a multi-year contract of the length of their choice (two, three, or four years) within 24 hours of the auction by notifying the commissioner in writing. The commissioner would then have to use the edit contracts feature to alter the contract length. The intent would be for this player to be of the devy type, so ideally defenses and kickers would be excluded but your league could decide on that as you see fit.

By implementing this option, your league would be adding another layer of strategy without impacting the overall contract allotment that you have elected for your auctions.

5) Franchise Tags

The franchise tag is a super-valuable strategic piece that has been in RSO leagues since inception. Basically any expiring player can be extended for the higher of 120% of current year salary or the Top 5 positional average of your league for players under contract.

Since the salary of these players can get fairly high, I recommend that each league allows one franchise tag per team. A player can be franchise tagged and traded if the “Finalize Franchise Tag” button is selected in the offseason.

I personally have used my tag before and it typically pays off if you signed an oft-injured player who produced on his deal. For instance, I turned a two year, $26 million deal for Rob Gronkowski from our inaugural year into to franchise tags at 120% raises. Gronk is now out of franchise tags and will return to the player pool this offseason.

Positionally, depending on your league, there are some leagues where significant value can be found in using the franchise tag for positions like quarterbacks (those late round QB types), tight ends and DSTs. Wide receivers and running backs typically command a prettier penny.

6) Trades/Waivers

I think trades and waivers are fairly standard in RSO leagues. For trades, we let our commissioner review and make the decision. In a format like this, almost every deal has some form of long-term strategy, so something would have to be egregious or somehow demonstrate collusion (which frankly is super rare) for a deal to get rejected. To ensure that teams that are trading draft picks are invested long-term in our league, we make teams trading future year picks kick in at least 50% of next year’s league dues upon trade execution.

In terms of waivers, the FAAB system prevails for one year players. It is fairly standard.

 


Matt Goodwin is entering his fourth season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year five of his main league. He also contributed for numberFire for several years. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a Cleveland Indians World Series victory a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (7 year old son) and Lainie (2 year old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

FA Expectancy: Brandin Cooks

Updated: July 16th 2017

Throughout the offseason, I will be preparing a collection of articles that will focus on free agents and trade candidates. The articles will discuss the player in question, and what the move does to their value, as well as what their landing spot means for their new and old teams.

Brandin Cooks – WR, New England Patriots

The talk so far of free agency didn’t come from a free agent but rather a trade that sent Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints to the New England Patriots. Many people have been touting this as the greatest move the Pats have made since acquiring Randy Moss in 2007. Fantasy fanatics need little reminder of the 23 touchdowns Moss put up in his first year with the team. But should owners expect the same level of production from Cooks in 2017 and beyond?

Those who speak against Cooks have quickly pointed out that he played eight of his games in the dome with New Orleans along with three more games in Tampa, Charlotte, and Atlanta each of the last three seasons. The AFC East, save for sunny Miami, is not a forgiving environment to play in weather wise and people question how Cooks’ blazing speed will translate into the cold and snowy region of Foxborough. Even Michael Fabiano posted a tweet showcasing the split between Cooks’ games indoors and out over the last two seasons.

Fabs Tweet

This is a classic case of throwing out a fact without much context. Yes, the points per game are lower but there’s no understanding as to who the opponents were or who Cooks was matched up against. Cooks actually average more catches outdoors based on this infographic. Needless to say, people are asking the wrong questions about what Cooks means to the Patriots.

So what does Cooks mean to Patriot players?

The Patriots needed a player who could stretch the defense on the outside away from Edelman in the slot and running backs out of the backfield. Having said that I don’t see him being a DeSean Jackson, lid popping, type receiver in the scheme on a frequent basis. Go routes will always be a part of his route tree but I see Josh McDaniels moving him around more to be the intermediate/crossing route receiver; especially on 2nd and mid or 3rd and short downs to pull the safeties away from the middle of the field opening up the underneath for other receivers and backs. Other than Gronk this definitely deflates the number of targets available for other pass catchers. I don’t see Edelman being forgotten this year and he should still put up low WR2/high WR3 points but he could be let go after this season similar to his predecessor Wes Welker. The big hit goes to Malcolm Mitchell owners who are disappointed that they didn’t get a chance to see what he could produce in his second year. Barring a long injury next season to one of the other receivers it will be hard to have Mitchell be anything more than a bye week/flex play.

So what is Cooks’ value?

As painful as it would sound based on what he produced for fantasy purposes last year I see Cooks being in 2017 a slightly better upgrade at what Hogan was in 2016, but with 4.3 speed. The Patriots and specifically Bill Belichick don’t care about your fantasy teams and will use whatever players they think will help them one game at a time. What that means is that there will be games where Cooks will push double digit catch and have multiple touchdowns and then he will be less than stellar for the next two games. The one difference that will save Cooks owners will be that based on the capital the Patriots invested in him his floor will be higher than Hogan’s was on a week-to-week basis with the hope that he replaces Edelman after 2017. If he’s on a decent contract for multiple seasons and is available for a mid-1st or a package for lower picks and players he would be an interesting buy.

So what does it mean for Saints players?

One person leaves so that means more food at the buffet for the rest right? Not exactly. While Cooks did account for 117 targets last season Michael Thomas was actually targeted more with 121 (even Willie Snead got 104). While it is possible that Thomas pushes into the Mike Evans, Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown range of 180 targets it’s more likely that Thomas has a mild increase in 2017 while a new receiver is integrated into the offense with 70-80 targets. Based on this expectation it is probably not worth trying to acquire Thomas who will be at his peak price right now. Instead, scribble in your auction journals to try and acquire Willie Snead on a savvy 2 or 3-year deal. He’s already an early sleeper to push WR2 numbers next season and should have a good couple of years left with Drew Brees. I was lucky to grab Snead in a few of my leagues last year on multi-year deals that would likely cost double this season. As well, keep an eye on any receiver that is brought in either late in free agency or through the draft. Drew Brees loves to spread the ball around and any day two or three drafted receivers that the Saints add could be fed the 70-80 targets previously mentioned. That would be tremendous opportunity value for a player that could be a 3rd round rookie pick this season.


Make sure to continue to read more Free Agency Expectancy articles throughout the offseason to be prepared for your summer Auctions. Have a player that you want me to evaluate? Send me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

2017 Top 25s: WRs and TEs

Updated: July 16th 2017

Since RSO has rolled over to 2017, now’s the perfect time to revisit your rosters and start planning for the next season!

Do you have any players on your team that warrant a franchise tag?  Is it time to shop a player who’s 2016 didn’t meet your expectations and now burdens you with a high salary contract?  My “way too early” PPR rankings, known as my 2017 Top 25s, are here to help with those decisions!

If you missed part 1, I explored quarterbacks and running backs.

In part 2 of my 2017 Top 25s, I’ll finish by examining the wide receiver and tight end positions:

 

Top 25 WRs for 2017

While several of the top WRs didn’t pan out in 2016, I wouldn’t shy away from a WR-heavy strategy in 2017. The top 7 in my rankings have shown year-over-year consistency, which should ease the minds of those recently burned by Hopkins and Robinson. In 12 team leagues, I’d want to leave the auction with at least 3 WRs from this list. since the depth from 13 to 25 is much stronger at WR than it is at RB.

 

Top 25 TEs for 2017

In 2017, I plan to target Gronkowski, Kelce, and Reed with AAV (average annual values) over $10 million per season. If I strike out on the three of them, I’m likely to wait and select 1-2 TEs from the 9-18 range of my rankings and hope that one can turn into someone I’m comfortable starting on weekly basis.

My Recommendation

Take an hour this weekend and send out personal emails to all of your fellow owners. Get the trade conversations started because they likely won’t come knocking down your door to acquire one of these players you’re looking to vanquish from your roster. Explain what you’re looking to accomplish, who interests you on their team, and provide an idea of how a potential deal could be reached. If you’re in an active league, you’ll be surprised at the quality of responses you receive.

I followed this recommendation last year, revamped one of my teams almost from scratch, and ended up winning the league.  Have a few minutes?  Read my article on Pressing the Reset Button to find out more about how this strategy can work for you.


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

2018 Player Rankings

Updated: August 7th 2016

You’re probably thinking, “Did I read that right? 2018 rankings?”  Yes, yes you did.  In dynasty leagues, we often project a player’s long-term upside by evaluating the perceived ceiling for that player.  But rarely do we give much thought to when that career year may occur.

When participating in a start-up draft or auction, I’ll typically target players that should have at least 3 production left or will enter their prime within the next 3 years  – call it my “Rule of 3”.  For example, I’ll rarely draft or bid on a running back over 30 years old like Adrian Peterson, but likely also won’t target a quarterback like Carson Wentz who may not even start in the NFL during his rookie year.

Having a three year plan in dynasty is as important as planning for the upcoming season. Having your team projected to finish .500 is not where you want to be.  If in contention, I’m always going to seek opportunities to buy.  If I realize by-mid season or before that a championship isn’t probable this year, I’ll reach out to each owner in my league and shop the players least likely to help me in future seasons.  Taking a small step back could result in your team take a huge step forward in the years to come. With all that said, let’s dive into my WAY TOO EARLY rankings for the 2018 season…

Quarterbacks

1) Andrew Luck
2) Russell Wilson
3) Cam Newton
4) Derek Carr
5) Aaron Rodgers
6) Jameis Winston
7) Marcus Mariota
8) Blake Bortles
9) Jared Goff
10) Matthew Stafford

*We’re seeing the dawn of a new era for the elite fantasy quarterbacks.  For plenty of years, we grew familiar with seeing Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees occupy the top tier of quarterbacks.  It’s now time for a similarly prolonged stretch for Luck, Wilson, and Newton.  Baring injury, I don’t see anyway these quarterbacks aren’t top 10 in 2018.

Running Backs

1) Ezekiel Elliott
2) Leonard Fournette
3) LeVeon Bell
4) Todd Gurley
5) David Johnson
6) Nick Chubb
7) Derrick Henry
8) Lamar Miller
9) Dalvin Cook
10) TJ Yeldon

*What is there not to like about Ezekiel Elliott?  He’s one of the best running back prospects to enter the league in a long time, plays behind the best offense line in football, and excels as a receiver and in pass blocking.  He should be a true three down back for an offense that will give him as much work as he can handle.  See, DeMarco Murray‘s workload in 2014.  Derrick Henry should take over for DeMarco Murray as the Titans‘ primary ball carrier in 2017, if not sooner.  He should immediately become a top 10 RB once given 250 carries in a season as a potential touchdown machine.  However, Henry won’t be too involved in the passing game and should be lowered slightly in rankings for PPR leagues.

Wide Receivers

1) Odell Beckham Jr.
2) DeAndre Hopkins
3) Amari Cooper
4) Sammy Watkins
5) Allen Robinson
6) Keenan Allen
7) Julio Jones
8) Mike Evans
9) Brandin Cooks
10) Donte Moncrief

*This group of wide receivers is special.  Pay what it takes to acquire any of them…you won’t regret it while they’re filling up the stat sheet for the next 5+ years.

Tight Ends

1) Rob Gronkowski
2) Jordan Reed
3) Tyler Eifert
4) Zach Ertz
5) Ladarius Green
6) Travis Kelce
7) Coby Fleener
8) Clive Walford
9) Hunter Henry
10) Austin Hooper

*It’s Gronk and everybody else.  I’m a huge fan of Jordan Reed who’s basically a 6’2″ wide receiver playing the tight end position, but his injury history scares me.  He could be #1 or #2 on this list or could just as easily fall completely outside of the top 10.

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO!  Would love to hear who you think I am too high on or should have included in my Top 10s!

My next article will explore the likelihoods that rookie QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs put together a top 10 season within their first 3 years in the NFL.  Look for that to drop later this month!

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

FA Auction: Lessons Learned

Updated: June 18th 2016

Last time in this space, I took a look at the most frequently cut players from each offensive skill position.  My hope was that an analysis of where we went wrong last year could help steer us in this season’s free agent auction.  After all, nothing could sink a promising franchise faster than dead cap space.

For each position I picked a few players who I think that you should avoid spending big money on in your 2016 free agent auction.  Every player can be valuable with the right contract, this is not to say the below players should not be owned, I am arguing you should avoid splashing the cash on them.  First, let’s start with the obvious caveat: every league is different (size, scoring, roster size, etc.), so your mileage may vary, one league’s trash could be another’s treasure.

QUARTERBACKS:

  1. Tyrod Taylor
  2. Brock Osweiler

The biggest take away after looking at last year’s most frequently released QBs was that you should not overpay for a small sample size.  I am not advocating skipping these two altogether, but I think prudence is the key.  Taylor went 8-6 and only threw 6 INTs (3 of which in one game) but he also had five games with less than 15 completions and five games with less than 200 yards passing.  The x-factor for Taylor, of course, is his rushing ability but that is the part that worries me: it will either lead to injury, it could be game planned away by the defense or be removed from his own game plan as preservation (see: Robert Griffin III).  I’m staying away from Taylor this year, I would rather be the guy who missed on him rather than have to eat his salary later.

For Osweiler, the sample size is much smaller and his rate stats were lower than Taylor’s (completion percentage, rating, yards per attempt, etc).  So, why do I think you should avoid Taylor more so than Osweiler?  Osweiler’s value is not so heavily influenced by his rushing ability, or lack thereof.  Osweiler is a “prototypical” quarterback and has 7″ and about 20lb on Taylor.  Still, though, I am concerned what a change of scenery will mean for Brock and can’t help but see him as the next Matt Flynn.  I wouldn’t avoid him at all costs but I would only offer him a one- or at a maximum, a two-year deal.

RUNNING BACKS:

  1. Chris Ivory
  2. Matt Forte
  3. Demarco Murray

The theme with last year’s most frequently cut RBs was that you should avoid the hype of the veteran who was changing teams.  Despite some niggling injuries last year, both Ivory and Forte had decent seasons in 2015.  Ivory broke 1,000 yards for the first time in his career (1,070) and had more receptions (30) than he had the rest of his career combined (23).  Forte missed three games but was on pace for another 1,000 yard rushing season if he played the full campaign; he also pitched in with 44 receptions which was down on a per-game basis from 2014 but is still more than most RBs see in a full season.  Ivory has left the Jets for Jacksonville and Forte has taken his place.  Unless I can get them for just $2 or $3 million, I am probably skipping both Ivory and Forte.

Murray is interesting after what could not have been a more disappointing season in Philly last year.  He joins the Titans and could be at a point where his stock is so low you could actually get him for a song.  The ultimate post-hype sleeper.  He’s burned me once though, so I’m going to sit this year out.  I might let another owner take him, and if the contract is small enough, try to swing a trade once training camp starts and we see how the Titans backfield will work out.  Or maybe that’s the Cowboys fan in me talking.

WIDE RECEIVERS:

  1. Jordy Nelson – Jeff Janis
  2. Michael Crabtree – Seth Roberts
  3. Brandin Cooks – Willie Snead

The lesson to be learned last year was to not spend too much money on the up-and-coming WRs who may unseat an established veteran.  So, for this position, I thought it would be useful to look at both the old and the new at the same time because I would actually avoid picking both sides of these pairs.

Jeff Janis had a memorable playoff game for the Packers against the Cardinals (7-145-2) but is it enough to make everybody forget about Jordy Nelson who missed the season due to injury?  Probably not, but I have just enough doubt to avoid Nelson this year.  Nelson is now 31 and has had two serious injuries – an ACL and a hamstring – which forced him to miss significant time.  Dynasty players know Janis well but I don’t think his brief flash is enough to warrant anything more than a minimum contract – many of us have been fooled by his potential already.

Amari Cooper is obviously the top Raiders WR to own, but who should you target second?  After all, Derek Carr does like to air the ball out.  I’m not biting on Crabtree’s 85-922-9 and instead think that Seth Roberts will emerge.  Roberts was an unheralded rookie out of West Alabama whose line was 32-480-5.  Like Janis, his sample size is too small to spend on, but his presence means I will not sign Crabtree this offseason.

Chances are that Willie Snead was snagged off waivers by somebody last year rather than being signed to a long term deal.  I cannot imagine there were too many owners who were holding Snead futures so he’s likely up for free agency.  I’d bite in a PPR league but there weren’t enough TDs there for standard scoring, in my opinion.  Snead’s emergence dented Brandin Cooks’ potential.  Cooks didn’t score his first TD or surpass 100 yards until Week 5; ultimately he had six sub-50 yard games versus just four over-100 yard games.  His strong suit was supposed to be the volume of receptions but even that was lacking – just 84.  The saving grace for Cooks fantasy-wise was his 9 TDs but I would take the under for 2016.  Snead and Cooks are too similar in their playing style and so cannibalize each other’s opportunities to succeed.

TIGHT ENDS:

  1. David Johnson
  2. Alex Smith
  3. Coby Fleener
  4. Ladarius Green

In my last piece, I noted that David Johnson and Alex Smith were two of the most frequently cut tight ends.  Originally I attributed it to their deep, deep sleeper status but after further thought I think it was definitely because they share a name with another position player.  Whether it was an honest mistake or an unscrupulous nomination, I think some owners ended up with the wrong guy and immediately cut bait landing them on the list.  Don’t make that mistake again this year, folks.

Last year, we should have all held off on anointing Josh Hill the Jimmy Graham heir apparent, and I think this year you should similarly avoid Fleener.  Green is likewise joining a new team, the Steelers, and while he has shown flashes, he’s never been the go-to tight end for an extended period of time.  Ultimately, I think both are so close to replacement level that I wouldn’t bother.


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

Four Years Of Commitment

Updated: August 10th 2015

Luck Big

Remember when you showed up to campus for your first day of college? Remember how innocent you were? How utterly naïve? And remember how different you were on graduation day? A piece of clay molded by the years, and beers, of the college experience, somehow formed into a worldly and self-assured individual.

Four years is a long time. You weren’t the same person upon entry to college as you were upon exit. You wouldn’t sign a four-year lease for an apartment. Four years is a commitment. That’s why, in the RSO world, four-year contracts are the most dangerous game.

So much can change for a player over four seasons. Four years ago, the three leading rushers in the NFL were Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Michael Turner. Now, they’re all out of the league. In order to trust a player enough to sign on for a four-year deal, you need to fully trust that despite all the variables – teammates, off-field issues, the slow, crippling grip of father time – your guy will still be performing at a high level in 2018.

The list that follows pertains only to the bigger-ticket long-term contracts. Personally, to alleviate the risk of such a commitment, we might choose to allocate our four-year contract to lock in a cheap deal on an upside play like Packers wide receiver Davante Adams or Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson. Maybe you want to bet on a long-term bounceback from a player like Keenan Allen or maybe you think Tre Mason will end up somewhere else and thrive in a post-Todd Gurley world. If you’re a Travis Kelce truther, maybe he’s your man for the long-term deal.

But if you wait to fish in the deepest waters, here’s one ranking of the safest of the best veteran players in your RSO free agency auction.

10. Detroit Lions Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson (29)

As you’ll see, this list is dominated by wide receivers. Running back production is simply too volatile and short-lived to earn a four-year contract. Quarterback production is predictable – and if you want to lock 31-year-old Aaron Rodgers into a long-term deal, there shouldn’t be too much argument – but quarterback production is also easy to find. Elite wide receivers, though, tend to produce consistently over time, and there’s no better example than Johnson, who has topped 1,000 yards receiving each of the last five seasons.

Now, Johnson’s numbers did dip last season, thanks in part to three missed games, but that’s part of the ageing process. His career also serves as a best-case scenario – if you had locked Johnson up to a four-year deal after his third season, a pedestrian 984 yards receiving at 24 years old, you would have reaped the benefits of one of the best four-year stretches for a receiver in league history. At 29, Johnson is probably a little too old for our taste, and if the players listed ahead of him are off the board in your auction room, perhaps the prudent course of action is to use your long-term deal on one of those lower-level upside plays. But compared to the other options, we trust Johnson a little more. Demaryius Thomas (27) is great, but what happens when Peyton Manning retires? Jordy Nelson (30) is older than Johnson. If not for Megatron, this spot probably would have gone to Sammy Watkins, but with such an unsettled quarterback situation, with no end in sight, it’s tough to trust him much either. After all, there’s never been an athlete like Johnson before, who’s to say he can’t still be dominant at age 33?

9. Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver A.J. Green (27)

Perhaps Green is underrated here. After all, he’s topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his four seasons and has never caught fewer than the six touchdowns he caught last season while playing in only 13 games. But the doubts about Andy Dalton affect our outlook compared to some of the other options.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown (27)

It’s possible that slotting Brown over Green is a benign case of recency bias considering Brown’s league-best 129 catches for 1,698 yards last season. But the two are the same age and Brown has a far superior quarterback throwing him the ball for the foreseeable future. The flipside would be that Brown’s game is more dependent on speed, and if the two both lose a step, Green is better suited to still be successful. A fair argument, and the call is close, but we’ll stick with Brown for now.

7. New Orleans Saints Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks (21)

This is a leap of faith, to be sure. Cooks only totaled 550 receiving yards in 2014, good for only 10th among all rookies. But with Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills deported this offseason, Cooks is now Drew Brees’ main weapon in the passing game. Brees, though, is a concern. At 36, Brees’ arm showed signs of diminishing strength last season and, with a potentially volatile franchise structure, there’s no guarantee that Brees and Cooks will be together for more than the 2015 season. We’re close to talking ourselves out of this ranking, but the potential rewards of a high-target player in Sean Payton’s offense with this kind of dynamism with the ball in his hands is too good to pass up. That he’s not yet 22 years old makes us feel even better.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide Receiver Mike Evans (21)

Evans probably won’t be as dominant in the end zone as he was last season for each of the next four years. But for the former Aggie to do what he did last year, as a raw route runner with terrible quarterback play, it would be negligent to rank him any lower. Jameis Winston is not a personal favorite, but even we can acknowledge that he’s an upgrade over what was in place last season. Theoretically, Winston should also provide some semblance of continuity for Evans over the next few years.

5. Atlanta Falcons Wide Receiver Julio Jones (26)

Coming off his best season (104 catches for 1,593 yards, both career highs), Jones is already in the prime of his career. We won’t fault you for locking in a second-year receiver like Evans, Cooks or Watkins instead of Jones, but there’s still a small risk in trusting breakout rookie seasons from receivers. Michael Clayton (80 catches for 1,193 yards in 2004), Mike Williams (65 catches for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010) and Eddie Royal (91 catches for 980 yards in 2008) all serve as cautionary tales. There’s no such risk of fluke with Jones, who is locked in with a reliable quarterback for the foreseeable future. This one won’t come back to bite you.

4. New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski (26)

Can you believe Gronk is only 26? The real difference-maker at the tight end position, Gronkowski would be ranked even higher if not for the constant fear of injury. But even if you get only two fully healthy years and two partial years over the next four, the case can be made that the difference between Gronkowksi and every other tight end is still worth the value.

3. Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant (26)

The consensus top-ranked receiver heading into 2015, Bryant is as good a bet for dominance over the next four years as anyone. He’s been incredibly consistent over the last three seasons, topping 1,200 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns each year, and, at 26, he’s still very much in his prime. We’re splitting hairs in having Bryant here and not all the way at the top of the list, but if there’s a Cowboys fan in your league who really, really wants to overpay for Dez, there are some other options.

2. New York Giants Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (22)

Concerns about rookie receivers aside, Beckham is a generational talent with little in his way in terms of reasonable skepticism. Will his targets drop a bit with Victor Cruz back? Perhaps. Will Beckham still excel if and when Eli Manning moves on? Probably. But when you lead the league in receiving yards per game (108.8) and top 1,300 yards and catch 12 touchdowns in only 12 games, most doubts can be fairly cast aside. The thought that Beckham did that all as a 22 year old and that his prime is still ahead of him is pretty intimidating and, in your auction room, worth the high price tag.

1. Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck (25)

Yes, this is the safe play. The copout. The “you-have-no-marbles” move. But it’s also the decision that takes away all the risk. Unlike the receivers and tight ends, Luck’s success is not really tied at all to his teammates. The production curve of a quarterback also starts later and lasts longer than other positions. Yes, you can find starting-caliber quarterback play much easier than other positions, but is there any doubt that Luck will be no worse than the third-best fantasy quarterback in each of the next four seasons, when healthy? It’s fathomable, hyperbolic as it may be, that Luck will eventually join the inner circle of the best quarterbacks in league history. There’s no foolproof four-year bet, but Luck is as good as it gets.