A Comprehensive Guide to Extension Decisions

Updated: September 27th 2017

With a ground-breaking extension feature getting rolled out next week (for more details from the league office, take a look here) Reality Sports Online GMs have been scurrying around for inside information like the Duke brothers seeking out the Frozen Concentrated O.J. insider crop harvest report in Trading Places. While this article may not have much about the “secret sauce” that factors into what offer your expiring players are receiving from Weeks 5 to 13 this season, treat this as a comprehensive strategic approach to making contract extension decisions.

These are my opinions and advice based on the information I have about extensions. Just like you, I’m not swimming in insider information. I have, however, put a lot of thought into devising the methodology to approach this decision with. Feel free to use these thoughts, critique them, ignore them and question them on Twitter . Either way, remember that the RSO guys have created something innovative based on the Moneyball mindset that may require a few kinks to be worked out early on. So if you encounter any type of issues, please be kind and patient (and refrain from social media negging) because this platform is infinitely better than what you were playing before and I’m saying that as a customer.

As a disclaimer, I’m not certain I’ll be using my one league voted in-season extension this season as I tend to be a free-market guy who would prefer to see what is going on in the auction. Being somewhat conservative, I haven’t yet been saddled with many “bad contracts” in my leagues that I haven’t been able to get out of, and ultimately that’s the biggest risk an owner faces with these extensions. The biggest risk the RSO guys face with extensions is actually the polar opposite-having the algorithm spit out too kind of a deal for extensions. Remember that when you see your initial offers.

  1. The Airline Ticket Purchase Analogy– When you are looking at taking a trip and booking flights, you don’t keep searching prices after you’ve already purchased the ticket. Likewise, you don’t get on the plane and ask the person sitting next to you how much they paid for their ticket.

So, in similar fashion, if you have extensions enabled in your league and you like the price/years offered for an expiring player the first week it is offered (note that only your team can see the offers your player is getting on your team page) and have the requisite cap space in future years to do it, pull the trigger and don’t look back.

Also, with the “everything is an asset” in an RSO league caveat-if you as an owner are transparent about what your player offers are to other owners, you may be able to work out a favorable trade with them.

  1. What’s Your Benchmark?- Since the only other viable extension opportunity for you is the franchise tag, that is a number you are now forced to know like the back of your hand for every position you have on your roster. If you haven’t calculated the Top 5 positional average for players in your league under contract for 2018 yet, you are already behind. If you are behind, don’t worry, it is not hard to calculate that average by position.

Remember, that the franchise tag for your player by position is the HIGHER of the Top 5 positional average or 120% of your current year salary for that player. The franchise tag does have a term limit of being used twice and obviously has a multiplier effect of 120% if you’ve used it once already.

That said, you should always be comparing your annual average value of your extension offer to your franchise tag cost for the upcoming year. If the extension offer is cheaper for the player of need, that may be an indication that you want to extend that player.

I’ll predict that with potentially high extension price tags and future increases to auction prices (see #3) that the franchise tag will be a more strategically used asset across leagues in the future.

  1. Predicting Future Auction Prices- I’m saying this for those who have been on the RSO platform for a short period of time where the talent in free agency hasn’t turned over much in leagues due to rookie contracts not expiring, etc. Just like you have certain expectations of what someone should cost prior to the auction via your prep, the real auction takes twists and turns and gets more unpredictable as players like Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski become free agents for the first time in your leagues. Add that into a dynamic market where several teams are coming into the auction with significant ($100m +) cap space and you get scenarios like my main league where Brown went on a huge contract for 4 years, $243.5m.

Then, when a few players trickle back into the auction and teams have bountiful cap space, you see overpayments being made for players who don’t deserve as much as they are getting. That’s where your perception of where future auction prices are headed can benefit you in looking at extending players. I’ll talk about this more in a bit, but it really is about getting over the initial “sticker shock” of the extension offers.

  1. Sticker Shock and What To Do With It- When you’ve paid a rookie that you sneakily drafted early in Round 2 of your 2014 rookie draft like I did with Devonta Freeman around $1.5m a year for four years, any contract extension offer is going to seem astronomical. Don’t let it be. Of course, Freeman’s rookie contract is well under market value and his extension offer may be more than what you perceive market value to be. Likely, it will fall somewhere in between.

So you’ll likely need to “check down” against what someone like Freeman’s franchise tag # would be in 2018 (of course that’s the summer vs. an in season extension). This is exactly what I’m going to do in Week 5 when the initial offers come out.

Here is an inside look at a spreadsheet I use in my main league to look into future use of franchise tags and extensions. If you don’t have a template like this, you don’t have to be an Excel whiz to set one up. Note that my calculation for Freeman’s tag is based on the Top 5 positional average for running backs. I’ll try to explain more about Allen Robinson later as I’ve already been approached by one owner who is trying to figure out what to do with him this season (NOTE: I have not seen any offers for Robinson and just put these salaries in as a placeholder that may not be realistic).

  1. Players with Small Sample Size (Rookies and Breakouts)

For current rookies or players without much history on their side that have performed well thus far this season, the algorithm has a very small sample size and the offers are likely to be outside of your comfort zone. If you think that someone like Tarik Cohen has league star written all over him, feel free to accept the offer coming his way. I personally would lean on a larger sample size and take my chances in an auction, but one thing you have that the others in your league don’t is current control over that player.

  1. Age Matters

From what I gather, age of player is a definite component of the algorithm that determines extension values and contract lengths being offered. If you’ve seen players like Brandon Marshall fail to separate from DB’s lately, you’ll know that you don’t want to give too many years or dollars to someone on the backside of their career.

At the same time, consider some pivotal ages for your wide receivers and running backs. I typically would view 33 year-old receivers as one year guys with few exceptions (this is when a player like Andre Johnson experienced his decline). In terms of running backs, I’m not giving any running back over the age of 27 more than two years. If you’ve noticed the running back leaders this season in fantasy points, you’ll see that rookie running backs and guys like Todd Gurley and Freeman sit atop the board and they are all 25 and under.

I know there are exceptions to every rule/player, but remember you are in essence via the extension bidding against yourself here and not the market.

  1. I’m All About Value

With likely high prices across the board for extension players, to hit a home run on one, you’re likely to be taking on significant risk or finding value in the marketplace. With that, I think creativity is important and that would include taking a look at players who were already injured this season and are out for the season. Guys like Cam Meredith and the aforementioned Robinson. Let’s dig deeper on Robinson since I’m facing this very decision.

The good: he doesn’t turn 25 until next August, has a monster season under his belt that was two years ago (80-1,400-14), already had surgery a day after his ACL injury with no other structural damage and is a potential real-life NFL free agent this offseason.  He also has no other NFL injury history. His 2017 stats were 1 catch for 17 yards before his unfortunate injury.

The negatives other than the fact that he was injured include his quarterback Blake Bortles not being able to optimize his talents, his 2016 stats being a down year (73-883-6), his Jacksonville Jaguars head coach being uber-focused on the running game, and this injury.

However, from an extension standpoint, there may be an opportunity to arbitrage here as most of Robinson’s negatives can be viewed as positives from an extension standpoint.

Taking into account that Robinson hasn’t produced at an elite level in two years would seem to mean that you could be getting him at an extension number that shows there’s future uncertainty in his outcomes. Yet, Robinson figures to be back playing for the start of the 2018 season and potentially on a new team (or with a new QB other than Bortles). He could be on a “one year prove it deal” with Jacksonville or elsewhere and based on his size, speed and skills, should be able to get back to being a top 20 wide receiver.

So taking into account the likely lack of fluctuation in his weekly offers due to his 2017 being over, his subpar 2016, and some future uncertainty, you may be able to get Robinson for way less than if he was coming off of an all-pro season. Additionally, since you can extend players who occupy your injured reserve space, you can get the benefit of not having to occupy a valuable 2017 roster spot with Robinson.

Not sure what the offers will be for Robinson, but I think anything over $20m a year starts to get me out of my comfort zone based on the fact that much of his uncertainty won’t clear up until the offseason and you have to decide by Week 13 what you are doing with him.

Other than injured players, you may want to look a mid-tier tight ends for potential extension value as well as the position is typically viewed as having less skill.

OK, folks, hopefully this methodology guide on how to approach extension decisions will be helpful to you this season and down the line. Remember, you don’t have to use the extension, so make the decision that best works for your team’s current and future success.


Matt Goodwin is in his fourth season as senior 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 (3 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 and take his side when he’s debating player value with @RobertFCowper.

Do You Just Know?

Updated: May 2nd 2016

In the Zone

College Swagger

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

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

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

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

There’s A Draft In Here…

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

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

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

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

2016 Is Not A Just Know Year

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

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

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

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

Hypotheticals-Would You Rather Have?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

My Top 5 Picks

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

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

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