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.

Early RSO Contracts: TEs

Updated: August 16th 2017

Knowing the types of contracts given out by other fantasy teams can give the alert reader a big advantage when your own RSO free agency auction arrives.  Your league settings and available players will have a big impact on the size of contracts given out at various positions, but looking at the relative contracts within position groups provides some useful information. We move to the tight end position, probably the shallowest group in fantasy football.  There are few teams in the NFL who feature the tight end position in the passing game and many of the top options at the position have struggled staying on the field.  Let us take a deeper look at the position to sort out where we can find value.

When they are Healthy…

Two players stand out from the rest in the tight end fantasy landscape when on the field, Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed.   The problem for each player over their career is staying on the field.  Reed has never played a full season and Gronkowski has not played a full season in 6 years.

“Gronk” dominates in a way that is almost indescribable when on the field and he is used in ways unlike other players at the position.  He is a true downfield threat and incredibly difficult to tackle one-on-one by defensive backs.  The New England powerhouse leads active tight ends in yards per reception at 15.0 (the next highest is Travis Kelce at 12.8) and receiving yards per game at 69.3 (the next highest is Travis Kelce at 58.4) while also accumulating 68 touchdowns.  Antonio Gates, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Brandon Marshall are the only active players with more touchdowns and each has played 10+ seasons in the league.  Remarkably, Gronkowski accumulated his touchdown total in only 88 career games or 5.5 full seasons.

Not to be outdone, Jordan Reed firmly placed his name in contention for best at the position with his performance over the last two seasons.  The Washington tight end produces in a different manner than Gronkowski as a classic move tight end relying on beautiful separation skills and tremendous ball skills in the short game.  He owns a high 76% catch rate over his career.  Reed finished as the overall TE1 in fantasy points per game for PPR leagues each of the last two seasons despite being used as a decoy in multiple games last year after separating his shoulder (which he amazingly played with in multiple games).  Taking out those shoulder injury games last year, Reed’s 16-game average in 23 games played over the last two seasons looks like this:

102 receptions / 136 targets / 1101 yards / 11 touchdowns       Those are WR1 numbers in PPR leagues.

While not on the level of Gronkowski and Reed for fantasy purposes, Tyler Eifert is another player worth mentioning in the oft-injured group.  The Cincinnati tight end offers tremendous weekly upside as one of the premier red zone threats in the entire league.  The former first round pick scored 18 touchdowns over the last two seasons in only 21 games.

Even when taking into account the additional injury risk associated with each of these players, they are all well worth their current costs.  Each of these players displayed the ability in past seasons to make up the current average cost in only half a year’s worth of play and each will be a huge value-win if they play close to a full season.

Best of the Rest

Travis Kelce finished as the overall TE1 last season.  His reception and yardage total have increased each season in the league and he is the de facto top receiver in Kansas City with a bunch of unknowns at wide receiver.  The limitations of Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense limit his upside, particularly in the touchdown department, but he is a safe high-end starter for your RSO team.

Greg Olsen remains as one of the only reliable targets in Carolina.  There is a lot of unknown as to what the Panthers’ offense will look like after drafting two offensive weapons in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel.  Similarly to Kelce, Olsen is limited by his quarterback play which caps his upside to a certain degree.

One of the more surprising stories from 2016 was the quick return of Jimmy Graham from a patellar tear, historically one of the worst injuries for NFL players.  Graham faded in the second half of the season and will never see the target load that he saw in New Orleans, but is still a dynamic receiving threat for the Seahawks.  Look for a nice season as he moves farther from his injury and is more incorporated into the Seattle offense.

Expect some Regression

Kyle Rudolf is not what one would call a dynamic receiving weapon.  He is a slow (4.88 forty time) un-athletic tight end who averages just under 10 yards per reception and only 6.3 yards per target for his career.  Rudolf demolished his career highs in yardage (840, previous high: 495) and receptions (83, previous high:  53) thanks to a massive increase in targets (132, previous high:  93) which lead to his overall TE2 finish in PPR leagues.  This big usage increase was largely the result of an awful offensive line which could not pass protect or run block. With limited weapons at both receiver and running back, quarterback Sam Bradford was forced to dink and dunk at Rudolf throughout the year.  The Vikings addressed both deficient areas in the offseason adding offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Mike Renners, running back Latavius Murray, and wide receiver Michael Floyd in free agency.  Minnesota also drafted 2nd round running back Dalvin Cook.  With last year’s first round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell likely seeing more action, look for a significant step back from Rudolf.

The Tennessee massively upgraded the receiving core drafting Corey Davis with the 5th overall pick and taking Taiwan Taylor in the 3rd round, while also adding Eric Decker in free agency thanks to the New York Jets overhaul.  These moves are great for Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense but not so good for Delanie Walker’s fantasy prospects in a run-first scheme.

Streamers and Matchup Plays

There are some names RSO owners should keep in mind for those who like to stream the tight end position in shallow leagues or employ a cheap multi-tight end matchup based system from week to week.  Few players disappointed as much as Coby Fleener last season given his sky-high expectations last season.  He still finished as the TE15 last season.  With Brandin Cooks gone, Fleener could see 100 targets in the high-volume Saints passing attack.  He is a bargain at his TE22 cost as one of the only players in this range with legitimate TE1 upside.  Charles Clay (TE29) performed as a mid range TE2 each of the last two seasons and finished last season on a strong note as the overall TE3 in the last month.  Clay does not possess much upside but he is a useful player on a team without much in receiving weapons.  When you are looking at weekly plays an RSO owner wants touchdown upside and nobody on the low-cost list has as much as Jesse James (TE27).  He is a massive target and could see lots of red-zone looks on a Pittsburg offense which could be among the league’s best.

 

Average RSO Tight End Contracts


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.

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

Most Frequently Franchised in '16

Updated: October 13th 2016

Back in May, we took a look at the most frequently cut players in 2015 to learn some lessons in advance of our free agent auctions.  Now that we are in season, I thought it would be useful to look at which players were most frequently franchise tagged in 2016.  In my experience, Week 6 seems to be the time when struggling owners first commit to being a seller rather than a buyer for the rest of the season.  Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, you can gain some valuable insight by looking at last year’s franchise tag trends.  I personally did this in my home RSO league – I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto him, so I sent my tagged David Johnson to the second place owner for Theo Riddick, a 2017 First and a 2018 Third.

Here’s the list of the top seven most frequently franchise tagged players for 2016 and my takeaways:

  1. Thomas Rawls
  2. Jordan Reed
  3. Rob Gronkowski
  4. Antonio Brown
  5. Tyler Eifert
  6. DEN Defense
  7. Greg Olsen

Make an Offer for a Top TE

Four of the top seven spots went to TEs which shouldn’t be a surprise as Reed, Gronk and Eifert are all injury risks while Olsen is getting up there in age – offering a multi-year deal to these guys is risky.  If you’re making a championship run, take a look at the TE position of your league’s worst teams.  If one of them is holding Olsen, Reed or Gronk, make the offer now without hesitation.  It will help you this year and gives you a viable franchise tag option next year (TE tends to have the most value with so many low priced guys who bring down the average).  Olsen is by far the TE1 in PPR scoring with Reed in second.  Gronk is far down the list due to injury but if anything that might help you get him slightly cheaper.  Zach Miller, Kyle Rudolph and Travis Kelce are averaging 2-4 points per game less than Reed and 7-9 less than Olsen (I’m discounting Martellus Bennett whose 3 TD game buoys his stats and is unsustainable).  Five points or so most certainly will be a factor at some point for you in the playoff push.

Antonio Brown May Be Available in 2017

I was surprised to see Brown on this list.  In both of my RSO leagues he’s on a long term deal so part of me assumed that would be the case across the board.  If you’re doing poorly in 2016 and have an eye to 2017, check on Brown’s contract status.  If he’s franchised in your league, there is a chance he becomes available in free agency (unless of course the owner tags him again so take a look at their 2017 cap space and draft picks to determine if they can make it work) and you can pounce on him.  While others in your league are concentrating on 2016, offload some win-now players on multi-year contracts;  you’ll get picks in return and reduce their 2017 cap space to give you a better shot at the top free agents, including guys like Brown.

Don’t Franchise Tag Jordan Howard!

Granted, Howard was probably drafted in your rookie draft but the point is this: franchising a RB who succeeded as a rookie is a bad idea.  Sure you could end up like me, who used it on David Johnson, or you could end up like all of the Thomas Rawls owners.  Take a look at last year’s top ten rookie RBs in rushing yards if you need a reminder of how quickly the shine can fade:

  1. Todd Gurley
  2. Thomas Rawls
  3. TJ Yeldon
  4. Melvin Gordon
  5. Ameer Abdullah
  6. David Johnson
  7. Jeremy Langford
  8. Karlos Williams
  9. Buck Allen
  10. Matt Jones

At best, half of that list is not startable and a few are droppable.  If any of this year’s valuable rookie RBs are still available, by all means pick them up and ride them for all they are worth this season but don’t make the mistake of franchising them next year, even if they explode late in the season.

Most Frequently Franchised in ’16

Updated: October 17th 2016

Back in May, we took a look at the most frequently cut players in 2015 to learn some lessons in advance of our free agent auctions.  Now that we are in season, I thought it would be useful to look at which players were most frequently franchise tagged in 2016.  In my experience, Week 6 seems to be the time when struggling owners first commit to being a seller rather than a buyer for the rest of the season.  Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, you can gain some valuable insight by looking at last year’s franchise tag trends.  I personally did this in my home RSO league – I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto him, so I sent my tagged David Johnson to the second place owner for Theo Riddick, a 2017 First and a 2018 Third.

Here’s the list of the top seven most frequently franchise tagged players for 2016 and my takeaways:

  1. Thomas Rawls
  2. Jordan Reed
  3. Rob Gronkowski
  4. Antonio Brown
  5. Tyler Eifert
  6. DEN Defense
  7. Greg Olsen

Make an Offer for a Top TE

Four of the top seven spots went to TEs which shouldn’t be a surprise as Reed, Gronk and Eifert are all injury risks while Olsen is getting up there in age – offering a multi-year deal to these guys is risky.  If you’re making a championship run, take a look at the TE position of your league’s worst teams.  If one of them is holding Olsen, Reed or Gronk, make the offer now without hesitation.  It will help you this year and gives you a viable franchise tag option next year (TE tends to have the most value with so many low priced guys who bring down the average).  Olsen is by far the TE1 in PPR scoring with Reed in second.  Gronk is far down the list due to injury but if anything that might help you get him slightly cheaper.  Zach Miller, Kyle Rudolph and Travis Kelce are averaging 2-4 points per game less than Reed and 7-9 less than Olsen (I’m discounting Martellus Bennett whose 3 TD game buoys his stats and is unsustainable).  Five points or so most certainly will be a factor at some point for you in the playoff push.

Antonio Brown May Be Available in 2017

I was surprised to see Brown on this list.  In both of my RSO leagues he’s on a long term deal so part of me assumed that would be the case across the board.  If you’re doing poorly in 2016 and have an eye to 2017, check on Brown’s contract status.  If he’s franchised in your league, there is a chance he becomes available in free agency (unless of course the owner tags him again so take a look at their 2017 cap space and draft picks to determine if they can make it work) and you can pounce on him.  While others in your league are concentrating on 2016, offload some win-now players on multi-year contracts;  you’ll get picks in return and reduce their 2017 cap space to give you a better shot at the top free agents, including guys like Brown.

Don’t Franchise Tag Jordan Howard!

Granted, Howard was probably drafted in your rookie draft but the point is this: franchising a RB who succeeded as a rookie is a bad idea.  Sure you could end up like me, who used it on David Johnson, or you could end up like all of the Thomas Rawls owners.  Take a look at last year’s top ten rookie RBs in rushing yards if you need a reminder of how quickly the shine can fade:

  1. Todd Gurley
  2. Thomas Rawls
  3. TJ Yeldon
  4. Melvin Gordon
  5. Ameer Abdullah
  6. David Johnson
  7. Jeremy Langford
  8. Karlos Williams
  9. Buck Allen
  10. Matt Jones

At best, half of that list is not startable and a few are droppable.  If any of this year’s valuable rookie RBs are still available, by all means pick them up and ride them for all they are worth this season but don’t make the mistake of franchising them next year, even if they explode late in the season.

Press Your Luck

Updated: September 4th 2016

When I was a kid, I used to love the Game Show Press Your Luck (Editor’s Note, this is my (Stephen’s) favorite game show of all-time). While I’m sure this makes it easy to guess my age, a young me loved the days on winter break or off from school when I was in front of a television with those hilarious whammies and contestants yelling, “Big Bucks! Big Bucks! STOP!” For those of you who have never seen the show, check out a link here.

While the Reality Sports Online Free Agent Auction offers way more substance than those sophomoric whammies, sometimes it becomes necessary to go against your initial instincts and press your luck to go all in on a player. What I mean by this is like the famous saying from the WWE’s Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase that “everyone has a price”, sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone bid wise to get the player(s) that makes you the league favorite.

Today, with many of you yet to have your auctions before the season starts, I will outline how I employed that strategy in two writers/expert leagues the past few weeks and in what situations/scenarios you should consider making bold moves. I’m predicating all of these scenarios based on you having adequate cap space to carry out this strategy without overextending yourself. Of course, another good strategy that sometimes works is making trades pre-auction so you don’t have to pay market prices for players you covet if most of the best players are under contract.

Scenario #1) Only One or Two Elite Free Agent Options Available in Your League

This very scenario occurred for me in my numberFire and friends writers league a few weeks ago (I hate to call anything an “experts” league because to me there’s always someone who I don’t know who I feel is an awesome fantasy player and to this point, a non-writer won the league last year). I was coming into this 10 team, third-year league with a team that has not gotten in done in the playoffs the past two seasons in spite of a combined regular season record of 19-7 and being the highest scoring team in the league the past few years. In my mind, my starting receivers of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were solid, but didn’t offer the upside to compete with the elite receiving options in the league. Most top receivers are concentrated on a few teams that in my opinion pose the biggest threats to me-ESPN’s Leo Howell’s team (Antonio Brown,Mike Evans, Allen Robinson), FantasyGuru.com’s Graham Barfield’s team (Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery) , and numberFire’s Tyler Buecher (Julio Jones, Brandin Cooks).

So, when I took inventory of this and found that Leo Howell would not be franchise tagging DeAndre Hopkins for a second straight year, I determined that my bidding strategy on Hopkins was to win him at all costs because it strengthens my position while weakening one of my chief competitors, one who has gone 24-2 the past two regular seasons.

My $91 million in cap space and the need really to only fill two flex positions in my starting lineup helped justify the massive expense on Hopkins, who by far was the best free agent available in this league and especially so at a position of need for me. So my pre-auction plan was to win Hopkins at any cost for four years-my pre-auction budget was around 4 years and between $140 million and $150 million total. However, Howell had plenty of cap space too and was targeting a return of Hopkins as well.

I ended up signing Hopkins to a 4 year, $171.5m deal which was the biggest contract I’ve seen in any of the three leagues I’m currently in. It sent some shock waves to the rest of the league (and a few Twitter followers) and honestly pushed my comfort zone somewhat because I do think Hopkins may experience some regression this season. However, it was definitely the right move for my team based on him being the premier option in the auction and fitting a team need.

Later in the auction players who are solid starters but not necessarily difference makers fetched big prices as a result of the Hopkins auction and teams being flush with cap space-for instance Randall Cobb received 3 years, $96.5 million and Jeremy Maclin signed for 4 years, $102 million. In essence, I may have set the market on receivers by my huge Hopkins bid and based on what happened afterwards, I’m happy that I added an elite option to my team that I hope puts me over the top.

Scenario #2) You Have Very Few Roster Spots Left

Especially in leagues where you have more than two rounds of rookie draft picks and carry roster sizes in the 20’s, by the time you get to a third-year auction, roster spots may not be plentiful when your auction rolls around. So, you might as well spend your cap space and get what you want, even if some of the pricing runs counter to what you are comfortable with. Sometimes that may involve you winning a player you don’t necessarily want via price enforcing, but more often than not, it will help you carry out a strategy.

For instance, RSO President and Founder Matt Papson and I got into a slight bidding war on Arian Foster, who he ended up signing for one year, $19.5 million. I’m sure that he was probably hoping to spend less, but he only had four roster spaces open coming into the auction for a team he took over and got value where he saw it. If Foster returns to previous year’s form, he fits well into Papson’s lineup (especially since he owns Jay Ajayi also).

But the key to me is that if Foster gets hurt again, Papson is still protected with only a one year deal. This is in and of itself a strategy-Papson is a chess-player and he may already be eyeing some of the 2017 free agents and his option value on Foster is huge. It also capitalized well on his bountiful cap space for very few roster spots.

While I’m advocating for spending your money in your auction, I’m not suggesting giving risky players multiple years on a big contract, however. Sometimes it is better to have the option value, even if the upside is lacking.

Scenario #3) Capitalizing on/Extending Championship Window

Let’s face it-not every team in your league is built to win for extended periods of time. You have to strike when the iron is hot. So if you’re only a flex player away from winning the whole freakin’ thing, go get your player and worry about the contract dollars on the back end later.

For me, furthering my example from #1, I arguably have the best and cheapest starting running back tandem in the league in picking Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley in consecutive rookie drafts. Since I only have this combination again this season (before franchise tags kick in) for a combined $7.7 million, winning time is now (or worst case next year). Heading into that auction, I also had Rob Gronkowski for another two seasons (before franchise tags) for around $15 million a year.

Taking into account Hopkins and the contracts I have, I feel that adding Hopkins extended my window to contend another two years beyond this year and leverages my Gronk and running back core.

Scenario #4) Your League Employs Late Round QB Strategy

If any of you reading this are doing multiple fantasy leagues and not following my numberFire editor JJ Zachariason, he is really one of the true visionaries in fantasy football these days. Plus, he works incredibly hard, is an overall nice guy, and offers tons of strategy and podcasts in terms of how to stream positions like quarterbacks and tight ends.

While the RSO format with multi-year contracts makes it a little more difficult to “stream” QB’s than a redraft league, there are certainly leagues which devalue QB play in your auction market dynamics. My numberFire writers league is exactly that. I mean, prior to Hopkins coming up for auction, I had to sit idly by while Aaron Rodgers was signed by defending champion Rory Ryan on a 3 year, $11 million contract. That may be counter-intuitive to some of you, yet that’s the Late Round QB strategy in full effect and while I would’ve loved to hope in that Rodgers bidding, I had to stay in my swim lane in order to be able to get Hopkins.

Basically that school of thought says to pay in auctions for wide receivers and running backs as QB play is usually not that differentiated (this works differently in two QB leagues). Anyways, if your entire league or most of it employs Late Round QB dynamics (or you at least do), you’ll have tons of money to spend on other players and if you combine that with only a few elite options in free agency and having few roster spots left, you’ll start breaking the bank for guys like C.J. Anderson and Michael Floyd who went to Leo Howell for 3 years each at $88 million and $72 million respectively-not a bad combined use of the money that would have otherwise went to Hopkins.

Scenario #5) You’re Typically Conservative 

If you have been in a league for a few years or start your first year auction super conservative, sometimes you have to throw your opponents for a loop. Some of your leaguemates have certain owners typecasted on who will bid on which players and then you hit them with a surprise left. When they look at your roster and see your biggest contract is $15 million a year, they don’t think you’ll go big on someone like Jamaal Charles. And then you do and he helps you big time.

The key is mixing in risk in years when you need that extra push to contend vs. not overextending yourself with players who may be dead money in other years. Who is in the free agent pool certainly matters and so does using player’s ages, sample sizes and gut instincts when awarding multi-year contracts.


numberFire Writer’s League Likely 10 man starting lineups

So as I went all in for Hopkins, here are the likely 10 man starting lineups for each team. Curious what everyone’s thoughts are. The league is 0.5PPR and starts a QB, Two RB’s, Two WR’s, TE, DST, K, FLEX, FLEX

University of Phoenix Online (Brandon Gdula, numberFire) 

Dalton, Elliott, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Jordan Matthews, Kelce, Broncos, Crosby, Ryan Mathews, Baldwin

The Quickie Martin (Sam Hauss, numberFire)

Mariota, Doug Martin, Lacy, Nelson, Maclin, Fleener, Panthers, Walsh, Duke Johnson, Delanie Walker

Hospitable Takeover (Matt Papson, President and Founder, Reality Sports Online)

Wilson, L. Murray, Ingram, Beckham Jr., Edelman, Maxx Williams, Bills, TBD, Foster, Langford

Team: Great Odin’s Raven (Dan Pizzuta, numberFire)

Newton, David Johnson, Yeldon, Cooper, Watkins, Olsen, Texans, Tucker, John Brown, Emmanuel Sanders

Team: gingersauce4u (Tyler Buecher, numberFire)

Fitzpatrick, DeAngelo Williams/Bell, McCoy, Julio Jones, Cooks, Reed, Eagles, Vinatieri, Marvin Jones, Desean Jackson

Team: SamHerbie (Sammy Light, Reality Sports Online)

Rivers, Peterson, Jeremy Hill, Landry, Hurns, Graham, Rams, McManus, Cobb, Hyde

Team: Cleveland’s Award Tour (Matt Goodwin, Reality Sports Online & numberFire)

Roethlisberger, Gurley, Freeman, Hopkins, Decker, Gronkowski, Seahawks, Catanzaro, Demaryius Thomas, Diggs

Team: Leo Howell (Leo Howell, ESPN)

Brees, Charles, C.J. Anderson, Antonio Brown, Allen Robinson, Ertz, Chiefs, Gostkowski, Evans, Floyd

Team: Funky Monks (Graham Barfield, FantasyGuru.com & Rotoworld)

Luck, Lamar Miller, Riddick, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Gates, Bengals, Hauschka, Jeffery, Fitzgerald

Team: Loss Aversion (Rory Ryan, Baylor University Law Professor)

Rodgers, Rawls, Gore, Hilton, Marshall, Bennett, Cardinals, Bailey, Golden Tate, Torrey Smith


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) and the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally provided that reality! 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.