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),’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, & 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.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

The Art of Trading-RSO Style

Updated: November 6th 2015

Danny Woodhead could be an interesting player to acquire at the trade deadline.

Danny Woodhead could be an interesting player to acquire at the trade deadline.

When you and your friends signed up to join a Reality Sports Online league, you basically walked into the corn like in Field of Dreams. You weren’t necessarily sure what your initial strategy would be, but like other owners on the platform, you needed something more challenging, more engaging, basically an NFL-General Manager experience to break from the monotony of the everyday redraft league.

That’s exactly what you’re entrenched in and winning your league against your friends who you consider to be of above-average intelligence would be sweet, very sweet. Now you are at the point where you’ve meticulously managed your roster, strategized over rookie draft picks, made a deal or two, had some injuries, doled out some long term contracts, used your franchise tag and are ready to get raise your fist in the air for your first RSO championship.

The final piece to that roster puzzle to win your league may or may not come at the trade deadline, which is upcoming for several leagues. For non-contenders, the trade deadline becomes a chance to salvage some value (particularly future rookie draft picks or developmental players) for expiring players who won’t be retained but may help a contender. For contenders, the trade deadline is the last chance of the season to add a piece to help you for your championship run and potentially in future years.

The art of trading in your RSO league is all contextual and situation dependent which makes it the most complex set of scenarios you can face down the stretch in your attempt to gain lifetime bragging rights on your buddies because flags fly forever and your championship forever becomes part of league lore.

With that, let’s discuss some scenarios that you may be facing at the deadline, with a quick primer first.

Every now and then, we get Tweets asking about trades and whether or not you should do them. Let me start with some obvious advice-context really matters. Of course I’d rather have Julio Jones than Allen Robinson all things being equal. But if Robinson is on a second-round rookie deal and Jones costs me $30 million a year, Robinson’s value and point production allows so much flexibility that he’s more valuable than Jones to me. So make sure you consider the following when making any trade deadline deal:

1) Are You a Contender or a Non-Contender?

This can be a tricky question depending on what kind of league you are in. For instance, the top four records make the playoffs in my league plus another two wild-cards based on total points scored. So there’s multiple ways into the playoffs and teams that are on the fringe of one or the other can still be chasing these up until the last week of the season. Which makes our league super-exciting, but also hard to gauge how a team sees itself.

To me, total points scored is a good barometer at this point for how your team really is performing. I know there are bye weeks and everything, but if I learned anything in business school, it is the bigger the sample size, the better and a sample size of 30 typically takes out the randomness. So if you go to your standings and to the breakdown section, you’ll see your record if you played every team in your league each week. If your record is strong (sample size is definitely bigger than 30), it means you are putting up ample total points to contend in your league. If it is below .500, your overall record may mean you are getting lucky and you should be a seller.

Every owner has to decide where they fit at the deadline, but false optimism usually leads to straddling and backfires. So if you are playing for next season, act like it and get some assets that will help you more than having a few more weeks of Jonathan Stewart.

2) You don’t always have to get the best player in the deal, but make sure you are walking away with the best valued player in the deal.

Your lineup is like a puzzle and you have to put together the best lineup possible to win. Through the auction, rookie draft, in-season free agency and trades you’ve made thus far, you have to fit the player and the cap space you are targeting into your lineup. The natural inclination as your league trade deadline approaches is to go hard after the obvious names, a bunch of studs that you think can put you over the top, even if their contracts may not be good.

Hold off on this approach, unless the capital required is reasonable. The truth is if you are contending, you probably have a lot of solid pieces already. You don’t need two more years of Adrian Peterson at $25-30 million a year, you need Eric Decker at $5-$8 million a year for the next two-three years (or even one year). Plus the trade capital required to get a player like Decker will be way less (Editor’s Note: Goody indeed just traded Kendall Wright and his 2016 2nd Round Pick for Decker).

3) If you’re trading rookie draft picks, figure out what they are worth to you. What’s a Rookie Draft Pick Worth? should help you immensely in that pursuit.

In my main league, I’ve seen rookie draft picks (particularly first rounders) move back and forth all season as teams have gone in and out of determining whether they are contenders. Meanwhile, the top two contenders (me included) have kept their picks intact and watched these teams make these moves.

Examples of these trades include Ben Roethlisberger’s owner panicking when he went down and trading his first for a one-year, $15.0 million Drew Brees deal (which so far, along with a solid cast has kept that team near the top of the standings), and a team traded a first rounder and Coby Fleener for DeMarco Murray (who was franchised in 2015). In total there have been fifteen trades so far this regular season in my 12-team league, most of which involving 2016 first-round draft picks.

I can with fair certainty say that save for myself and another top team, that most of the serious playoff contenders (and by that I mean the ones who can do serious playoff damage), don’t have draft picks to trade at the deadline to upgrade their teams. As a result, for me, it may be best to stand pat and not make moves unless this other top team does. Assuredly, assuming team health, trading first rounders seems to be out of the question when I can stand pat and still have a very good shot of being a top two team without making a deal. Thus in my particular situation, even though my draft pick figures to be towards the end of the first round, I’ve determined that it isn’t likely worth it to me to trade my 2016 first rounder to try to get a player to help ensure I win the championship this year. That doesn’t mean I don’t have other players I couldn’t move to get another piece (more on that later).

Please note that I’m more clingy to my rookie draft picks in a league with four-year rookie deals than three-year deals, especially since most owners are already one year into those deals. So if you are in the last year of an Eddie Lacy rookie deal for instance, getting something of substance back could be a coup.

4) Remember that you aren’t necessarily looking to “win the trade”, but rather get the value that propels your team to greater heights either now or later, depending on what your goal is.

So many trades don’t happen in fantasy leagues, because one owner is trying to get over on another. We’re all smart owners on this platform, so appropriate value the best way you know how. At the deadline you have two types of teams-contenders and non-contenders. Contenders want help now for the short-term (and maybe a year beyond) and non-contenders want future assets in the form of draft-picks or development players. If a non-contender decides that trading Martellus Bennett for three years of Jay Ajayi floats their boat, then other owners shouldn’t judge. The same thing goes for if a team makes a move going for the playoffs and it blows up in their face. Last year, a leaguemate did exactly that in my league and I think they’ll be way more careful at the deadline this year.

5) Throwing the farm and multiple good players for one great player doesn’t make as much sense in a league like this as it does in a redraft league.

I’ve seen some Tweets lately asking my views on multi-player trades. The one that stuck out to me was someone asking me if they should trade Jordan Matthews, Mike Evans (both on original rookie deals) and Gio Bernard for DeAndre Hopkins (3 years, $48.0 million) and a 2016 2nd rounder? Of course, I drilled in on context, but while this trade may make sense in a redraft league, no way am I give up two cheap, young assets plus Bernard for Hopkins (who I do think is a Top-5 wideout).

The upside is just too high on Matthews and Evans, plus the value given of three fantasy starters for one studly starter just doesn’t compute for me.

If I’m a contender at the deadline, I’m not looking to get back less starters than I’m giving up, unless I have a super deep bench. If making a deal like the above, though to get Hopkins means I have to start a player I can’t trust weekly in the playoffs to replace a guy I just traded while giving up multiple starters, the point differential Hopkins is giving me doesn’t matter. I’m not starting Nate Washington or Malcom Floyd in the playoffs without a serious down-the-stretch track record or injuries just to get myself a player like Hopkins.

6) Don’t be afraid of the one-year contract expiring player for several reasons.

A few weeks ago, a Twitter follower @naandrews19 sent me a few messages about how to value first year players. Nick was asking me how to value these in his league when others were so focused on multi-year players and suggested I write an article about it. First off, thanks Nick for the idea and for following me. Second, hopefully I can address the one-year expiring player, who I do believe has more value than your league counterparts think.

Nick was saying that most of his league was very afraid to trade their picks for “rental” players, guys on one-year deals. This is faulty logic to me. I know the tendency in leagues like this is to try to lock up a bunch of studs on multi-year deals. However, sometimes that blows up in an owners face. In fact, in your first few years, your best team strategy is probably to avoid getting yourself into bad contracts. Ask the owner of Charles Johnson about multi-year deals now and see what he says if he/she can get out a complete sentence without a bunch of expletives.

With that, let me be explicit. There are certain types of players worth trading your first-round draft picks for on expiring deals. Those players to me are guys that you’d consider putting the franchise tag on in 2016. If you already have an obvious franchise tag player based on your league dynamics, or the amount this newly acquired player would cost you in 2016, don’t fret. You still may be willing to part with a 2016 first rounder if you know that you will be in the bottom few picks of the first round and the player you’re getting is worth it. Logically, you’d prefer to give up a second rounder because the picks don’t snake, so you aren’t really giving up much from that standpoint with a second rounder. The happy go between may be to give up a second rounder and a player (either a mid-tier player or a devy guy if you have many of them).

In terms of examples, guys like Danny Woodhead (still currently in the Top 5 in PPR league scoring at running back) are prime examples of players who may not have a ton of future value but can make a significant contribution for your team towards a title.

7) Who is your biggest roadblock to winning a championship and what are they doing at the deadline to improve their team?

Sometimes you have to follow a game theory strategy and only make moves if you perceive your biggest roadblock is going to make them (or already has made them). As a contending team, you have a certain window to remain competitive, so keep that in mind in any deals made. That said, on my current team, I’d be more than willing to move a guy like Chris Conley and his 6’3′, 205 lb frame and 4.35 40-time on a cheap multi-year deal if it netted me the piece I needed to put me ahead of my rival. If the right player was available and the other trading partner wanted someone else in the deal with Conley, I feel like a guy like Vernon Davis could be of interest in his new Denver locale.

If the other team is doing nothing, you may not need to do anything (sometimes doing nothing is actually the best strategy), but be acutely aware of where their weaknesses are and see how you really match up with them in a one-game playoff scenario

8) Non-contending teams should be looking to unload bad contracts as well as pick up future assets.

I feel like I’ve been banging this drum all year, but non-contending teams want three things in this order: 1) future draft picks 2) to rid themselves of bad contracts 3) developmental players. If you are a team that’s fallen on bad luck with injuries or non-performance but have a wealth at a certain position, perhaps you package that wealth with a bad contract (think guys like Michael Floyd or Victor Cruz) to get a combination of assets and contract relief. Heck, if you haven’t moved a player out for the season to IR, you can even trade them if they have future years (guys like Arian Foster) if you are thinking they won’t come back at the same level or at all. Like the NFL, however, you can’t trade players off of your IR on the RSO platform.

So, those are some of my thoughts as your league deadline approaches. I find myself currently to be a buyer in both leagues I’m in (I’m a jaw-dropping 8-0 in my writers league, dominating in total points scored and searching for an area to improve in a 10 team league and I’m 5-3 in my main league with the second highest point total). I don’t know if I’ll get any deals done in these leagues, but I certainly am thinking about potential offers at this point.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @mattgoody2 to talk trade strategy, general questions, start/sit, whatever is on your mind RSO wise and good luck this week!

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

Top 5 Offseason Questions

Updated: March 4th 2015

Now that the NFL offseason is about to begin, Reality Sports Online (RSO) owners can replace the void of no football games on the tube with offseason strategy. Now is the time that you set the foundation for your team’s future and ideally make moves to build a champion. Like Alec Baldwin says in Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always Be Closing”.

Let’s face it- you joined an RSO league because you wanted something more from a fantasy platform, basically the ability to act exactly like an NFL team General Manager. You craved all the strategic decisions a GM makes, including assessing your overall roster and salary cap situation, drafting rookies, and potentially using your Franchise Tag as an asset. Except you get to negotiate with players without them being divas or dealing with potentially greedy agents who are only about “Show Me the Money!”

Being an owner of an RSO team, you hopefully have a keen sense of strategy and utilize many information sources to manage your teams in the offseason and throughout the regular season. Let me first advocate our own Matt Papson’s Off-Season Team Analysis as an incredibly valuable resource. Simply put, it isn’t often that you get free advice from someone who has worked in an NFL front office regarding your fantasy team.

To help you through your offseason key decisions, I’m writing a strategy series that outlines potential decisions you may face as an owner, regardless of when you started your league. Consider this article a primer to that series, which starts out with the Top 5 questions you should be asking when reviewing your offseason rosters. So without further ado, let’s jump in and be “About That Action, Boss”.

1) What is my overall salary cap situation?

First off, the 2015 salary cap in the NFL was announced yesterday at $143.3 million, which is a $10.3 million increase on the 2014 salary cap of $133.0 million.  What you first need to assess is based on the dynamics of your league which players will be the key free agents in your league and what they figure to command.

For instance, if you have a 2015 salary cap of $100 million committed on six or seven starters on your roster before using your rookie picks, you are likely going to be looking at getting one star in free agency  (think like a DeMarco Murray type) and “painting the edges” to fill out your roster. This means that you end up with a few starters you may not be very excited about (maybe that means starting a Tight End like Heath Miller), unless you are good at picking sleepers.

You should also know your league opponents cap situation inside and out. If they are in a dire cap situation, you may be able to take advantage. If they have a lot of cap space, they figure to be your main competition in an auction or a team that may be coming in with less talent on their roster, meaning they could be a prime trading partner.

2) Which players do I think about trying to buy/sell in a trade market?

Offseason trades won the main league I was in last year by another owner as he maneuvered with first round rookie draft picks to separately dump David Wilson and trade for Le’Veon Bell, while having lots of cap space to sign Antonio Brown at a high price. The lesson is to approach the offseason trade market as an opportunity to upgrade at a certain position or hope you can pawn off someone you aren’t high on to another owner.

A key thing to remember is that in a league like this, everything is an asset, including cap space. What I mean by this is that while you may be excited about someone like Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and can nab him at 1.03 in your rookie draft, you may be better off packaging your rookie draft pick with a high salary player that you’ve given up on just to have ample cap space in what may be a bountiful Free Agency Auction Room experience.

Along those lines, players like Adrian Peterson, who fetched a pretty penny a few years ago (average RSO contract of 2.56 years and $22.6m annually) should be packaged with first round draft picks if you are looking to unload and value cap space more than players on your roster. For instance if you gave up 1.03 and dumped Peterson’s salary on another owner in exchange for a 2015 second round pick, you essentially created almost $27m of 2015 cap space (more if Peterson had additional years on his contract).

Another thing to think about when trading a player is whether they seem like a regression candidate as well. What I mean by this is that a player who performed well above their expectation may regress to the mean, or average.

One player who I view as a regression candidate (more on him in another section too) is Randall Cobb. While Cobb had the highest WR rating of 134.3 according to Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stats (subscription required), meaning that Aaron Rodgers had the highest QB rating of all quarterbacks when targeting Cobb, it is hard to imagine that Cobb replicates his 12 touchdowns in 2015, even if he remains in Green Bay.  Cobb had 91 receptions for 1,287 yards (both career highs), which theoretically he could see again based on volume, but with Davante Adams figuring to get more looks, Cobb could certainly regress in 2015.

As such, you may want to gauge the trade market for the 5’10” slot receiver because someone else may be high on him whether or not he remains a Packer based on his 2014 season and his RSO salary cap figure.

If you are on the buy side, look for players that you think will breakout in 2015. This may be driven by your gut somewhat or based on a player who regressed last year that you may think will return to a certain performance level. This can take many forms in terms of players, so while Michael Floyd was terrible last year, you may be able to buy him cheaply this offseason if you think he’ll return to form.

Additionally an owner may be down on the upside of a player that you think will hit a new level next year. Lamar Miller strikes me as one of those players based on opportunity and at worst, he still was very consistent in 2014.

3) Is There Anyone I Should Cut Bait With?

I know that in a format like this you can get attached to your multi-year contract players. However, sometimes having 50% of their cap space is more valuable to you, especially if you are only eating one year. It killed me to drop Andre Johnson (apparently more than it killed the Texans) with one year remaining at $10.6 million after I lost in my league playoffs. However, the $5.3 million in cap space is more valuable in 2015 to me to fund other roster moves (sadly he cleared waivers and ended up on the league champion).

Remember that in Year 1 of your auction you may not have fully known what you were doing and got carried away in the auction. While dead cap money is essentially paying someone for not being on your roster, and essentially equates to admitting a mistake, the relative value of the flexibility of the added 50% of your cap money buys you all sorts of option value on how to use that money (rookie draft, franchise tag, free agent auction).

I would not advocate dumping someone who has more than one year left on their contract, unless the contract is small enough that the escalators, etc. are insignificant or it is clear this player will no longer be productive and/or playing.

As someone who was born in Cleveland and raised a Browns fan, I will say that I’d cut bait on Josh Gordon in your RSO leagues because the risk significantly outweighs the return unless you priced Gordon’s risk in your winning auction bid and can wait him out.

4) How Can I Most Effectively Use My Franchise Tag

 While the prospect of paying a Top 5 average salary to one of your players may seem outrageous, especially if your auction got out of hand, the Franchise Tag is a very useful asset in RSO. In a format like this, the perception is almost always that locking up good players on multi-year deals is the best strategy. However, there are misses along the way, which make one year deals or option value like the Franchise Tag pretty valuable as well.

In my mind there is a certain type of player who is an ideal candidate for use of the Franchise Tag. Personally, my prototype example is Rob Gronkowski. When I originally signed Gronk to a 2 year, $26.0 million deal, it was known he’d miss some time at the beginning of the 2013 season and then he tore his ACL at the end of the season. However, for $13.3 million in 2014, Gronk ended up being a steal. Given his injury history, it is nice to have two separate one-year options on a player like Gronk, especially given the positional fantasy point differential he will earn me.

Running back and wide receiver positions typically have the largest Top 5 contracts that serve as the average for the Franchise Tag. These numbers may seem outrageous to you- probably around $25 million and up a year. However, if you are in a scenario where your team has one of the best rosters/cap situations in the league and keeping someone like Jamaal Charles for another year works under your cap, you have to think about it.

You should also think about using the Franchise Tag based on what potential free agents are available. If there are seven of the top ten fantasy running backs in terms of scoring available in your auction, franchising your guy is essentially bidding against yourself and causing you to overpay. So then, it is best to see what the positional need is of other owners in the league and franchise the more scarce option if the players are somewhat equal.

Speaking of bidding against yourself, if you are a Peyton Manning owner, I would (and will not) use the franchise tag on him for 2015. While I like the one year option value for a player with injury risk who is a known top producer, I view franchising Manning as bidding against yourself, especially if his salary numbers escalate based on high dollar quarterback values.

Since you only need one starting quarterback in most leagues, the salaries of quarterbacks may be way less than Manning would command. This is the case in my writer’s league. I have the ability to franchise Manning for around $20 million in a league where most quarterback salaries are $5 million because these owners believe in the “Late Round QB” strategy. So for me to franchise Manning would be stupid, especially with Tom Brady on my roster at $3.0 million in 2015 (got him price enforcing in my auction).

Don’t sleep on Tight Ends or Defenses for use of the franchise tag. Their price tags will be significantly less than running backs or wide receivers. I know that tight ends were incredibly inconsistent in 2014 and you may want to wait for the auction to get yours, especially if your options are somewhat boring. As for defenses, if you have the ability to protect someone like the Texans or Seahawks who have most of their core defensive players locked up and defensive scoring is worth solid value in your league, you can probably franchise tag a defense for $2.0 million or less which could be valuable.

5) How Does “Real” NFL Free Agency Impact the Analysis Above?

When you were in the heat of the auction and someone like DeMarco Murray’s name came up, you were high on the guy and had to have him. Last season he made you look smart. But wait, you signed him to a three year deal (no time to really check this in a fast-moving auction) and now he is an unrestricted free agent that the Cowboys may not be able to afford.

This scenario means that you have a real NFL free agent whose value is mainly tied into what offensive system he plays in (same goes for Cobb, my friends). Meaning that if these players moved to an unfavorable situation on a new team – think Cobb leaving the cozy security blanket of having Rodgers throwing him the ball and then Cobb getting his best offer from the Raiders or Chiefs. As they said in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, welcome to “Ouchtown, population you, bro!”

So if you have someone in your league that is a speculative buyer for productive free agents and can make a trade with that owner at a high price, but not necessarily a ceiling price, you may be smart to go for it. Otherwise you could be facing 2014 Eric Decker on the Jets.

Peripherally, you also want to check and see if any stalwart offensive line changes happen in free agency. Not that you’d be giving up on Rodgers if his tackle Bryan Bulaga left, but if you are an Eddie Lacy owner perhaps you’d try to see what value you could get for him if losing a key lineman is something that you think would be detrimental to Lacy’s future production.

That’s all for now, folks, but we’ll continue this throughout the offseason. You can find me on Twitter @mattgoody2

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

Time for Some Auction!

Updated: June 25th 2014

If you’re a returning Reality Sports Online user and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been studying potential free agents since your last game of 2013.  Some of you may already have had your rookie drafts.  The typical RSO user is pretty strategic and dedicated, so most owners who are going into their 2nd Free Agent Auction are probably looking for guidance on who to target and how much to offer up for potential free agents.  If you are a new user, the last piece I wrote “Drop ‘Em Like It’s Hot” should help give you a feel for contract values in existing RSO leagues for your first action-packed Free Agency Auction.

To further analyze the database of league data I sifted through in my last article, I’m preparing Free Agent Rankings and analysis for your benefit for players who are owned by less than 50% of 2013 RSO users on multi-year deals.   I will have two lists, the first being Top 25 Free Agent rankings in this article and the second being a 26-50 Top Free Agents list in an article coming soon.  Either way, these rankings and analysis represent players, which depending on your team needs and salary cap situations, should be available in most leagues and who I believe should be targeted most.

Before we jump into my rankings and analysis, I do want to share a little bit of auction strategy for you. First off, you’ll see some quarterbacks on my lists. You may say, well, I already have that position taken care of.  The point is, someone else in your league may not, and just like the NFL, you want to have valuable pieces on your team no matter what your relative need may be.  Plus, don’t let someone get a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger for $1M a year just because you have RGIII wrapped up for 3 years and you are high on your incumbent.  Bid up quarterbacks as much as you can without overextending yourself to a point you are uncomfortable with if that player landed on your team.  Basically, don’t give your rival owner a free pass to talent on the cheap because you already are taken care of at a certain position.

When the 2014 RSO Recommended Contract Values came out, I was floored to see someone like Matt Ryan at a 3 year, $4M contract and went back and forth with the RSO guys on that one, while begging to get into their league this year if that’s how little they value Matty Ice. Remember, a few owners will be desperate in season for talent, and when you have the surprise QB or the well known one who turned his game around on a friendly contract or that they can’t live without, you will get value for them in a trade assuming you are in a league with rational decision makers.   Also, some owners may have approached last year’s inaugural auction like an NBA lottery pick that just got his first paycheck, so they may be capped out. In essence, don’t let the owners who spent wisely get every available talent on the cheap. It also never hurts to have a good backup as owners of Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick found out last year.

Additionally, consider how the NFL values a position before you are throwing premium dollars at the wrong player or a player at the wrong position. Remember that the shelf lives of running backs tend to decline around the 2,000 carry landmark (which players like Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster are rapidly approaching).  All things being equal, a premium wide receiver is among the most valuable players to target for multi-year deals.  They play a position valued in today’s passing league and can at a high level deeper into their 30’s.  If I’m paying premium dollars for a running back and putting three years into him, rest assured I want someone young and at least slightly proven.  Otherwise, I’m comfortable just being somewhat conservative at running back and finding value wherever I can on a budget.  Think players like Rashad Jennings and Danny Woodhead, etc.

You definitely need to consider your league scoring system and how many players your league starts at certain positions as well.  I’m in a league with three flex spots and only one starting running back required out of 10 starters.  It is also a full point PPR and a league in which quarterback sacks and incompletions are punished with negative points and interceptions are worth -5 points.  For perspective, I currently may be entering 2014 with no running backs on my roster, which I know I’ll need to address, but with only one starter spot potentially to fill, I don’t have to overpay for the best free agent running back available if I value someone else more.

Look at the player’s real contract too.  If you are targeting a “system” guy, make sure he’ll be in the system for the length you are signing him up for, or if he’s a pending free agent, that he stands to benefit from being a free agent.  The RSO Free Agent Auction moves lightning quick and you don’t have time to check on a player’s real life contract status in the middle of the auction.

Last disclosure before I dive into my rankings-there are no kickers or DST’s listed in these rankings as essentially all of them were owned by less than 50% owners on multi-year deals.  If you’ve read my previous pieces, you know I love the Seahawks DST and there a few others that maybe worth holding onto or getting on a two year deal.  I wouldn’t recommend going more than two years on a DST as these tend to shift quickly production wise with free agent moves.

Rank Player POS % Owned Rec Contract Value
1 Alshon Jeffery WR 26% 3yrs, $60m
2 Andre Ellington RB 19% 3yrs, $50m
3 Josh Gordon WR 48% 2yrs, $30m
4 Nick Foles QB 6% 2yrs, $32m
5 Julius Thomas TE 5% 2yrs, $38m
6 Jordan Cameron TE 22% 3yrs, $35m
7 Michael Floyd WR 33% 3yrs, $33m
8 Shane Vereen RB 33% 2yrs, $25m
9 Joique Bell RB 3% 2yrs, $20m
10 Rueben Randle WR 24% 2yrs, $18m
11 Pierre Thomas RB 8% 2yrs, $18m
12 Julian Edelman WR 5% 2yrs, $22m
13 Jeremy Maclin WR 26% 1yr, $10m
14 Emmanuel Sanders WR 12% 2yrs, $20m
15 Toby Gerhart RB 1% 2yrs, $15m
16 Kendall Wright WR 27% 2yrs, $16m
17 Terrance Williams WR 26% 3yrs, $20m
18 Jordan Reed TE 23% 2yrs, $18m
19 Kyle Rudolph TE 40% 2yrs, $15m
20 Rashad Jennings RB 1% 1yr, $9m
21 Philip Rivers QB 14% 2yrs, $14m
22 Dennis Pitta TE 11% 2yrs, $15m
23 Zach Ertz TE 34% 3yrs, $24m
24 Khiry Robinson RB 0% 2yrs, $12m
25 Anquan Boldin WR 18% 1yr, $8m

1.  Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears

The prize of the free agent class.  He’s in the best duo in the league arguably and one of the best offenses, even if Jay Cutler has history with Brandon Marshall.  Jeffery shows amazing timing and fights for the ball with corners and his best is yet to come.  Also in his third year, where most wide receivers show the biggest improvement.  Way less downside risk and injury risk than running backs.

2. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Exactly what I look for in a fantasy running back, Ellington is young and electric, flashes excellent pass catching ability and can make the big play.  He’s also on a loaded offense with an established receiving corps and the team addressed their offensive line needs in the offseason.  The contract value is based on potential and how much speed he has.  Should put up Top 15 performance at his position for the season and get plenty of activity in a really good offense in spite of his diminutive size.

3. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns

Obviously his value takes a hit if he’s suspended for all of 2014, but talent wise he’s a Top 5 wide receiver and did so much with so little offensive support or quarterback play in 2013.  $15m a year for Gordon is a bargain if he doesn’t get a full year suspension and the two years are factoring in he’s on his last strike with both the Browns and the NFL drug policy.  Worst case if you get him and he’s out for the year is that you put him on injured reserve and get 50% of your value back.  I wouldn’t give Gordon more than two years based on the suspension risk.

4. Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Already tackled Foles in a franchise tag article, but I’m highest on him of all the QB’s who may be available via free agency.  Foles has tons of weapons and benefits from Chip Kelly’s offensive system and pace.  He also seems to have the tools and makeup to succeed over time.  I wouldn’t give him more than 2 years, just in case Foles regresses significantly this season if other defenses figure him out.

5. Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning loves targeting the Tight End when he has one worth throwing to, especially in the red zone.  Thomas was highly efficient with 65 catches on 89 targets in 2013 with 12 TD’s in 14 games. He also had two games with over 100 yards and 2 TD’s in the same game.  Tight End is a relative value position and Thomas is a Top 5 option for certain.  My only hesitancy here is that he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015 and nobody knows how much longer Manning will remain a Bronco.

6. Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns

Cameron’s value for 2014 is somewhat tied to Josh Gordon playing, but let’s assume that the Browns resist the urge to start Johnny Football and Brian Hoyer wins the starting job.  In two full games with Hoyer, Cameron was a beast with 16 receptions on 23 targets for 157 yards and 4 TD’s.  Cameron will benefit with or without Gordon as Head Coach Mike Pettine’s plan with OC Kyle Shanahan is to feature a running based attack and if the defense throws an extra man in the box, Cameron, like many Shanahan coached tight ends in the past will exploit that matchup every time.  He is a 2015 unrestricted free agent, but word out of Cleveland is that he’s a prime candidate for the Franchise Tag, so I feel pretty good about a 3 year RSO deal.

7. Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Was a star in 2013, but many fantasy owners didn’t even notice.  Made the most of his targets and had 17 catches over 20 yards in 2013.  Has the size and speed to be targeted more in the red zone and Arizona’s offense as noted above in Andre Ellington’s synopsis will be much better.  Floyd is in his third year and expected to break out as his teammates have showered him with praise this offseason and Larry Fitzgerald becomes more of a possession receiver in 2014.  A free agent in 2016, but a star in this league in 2014 who has Dez Bryant type upside.

8. Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots

A PPR league’s dream running back.  Vereen had 21 catches for 162 yards and a TD in the three games he played together with Rob Gronkowski, and then had 12 catches for 153 yards in the game Gronk went down with his ACL injury.  With LeGarrette Blount now in Pittsburgh, perhaps Vereen gets more of an opportunity to run the ball too, especially if Stevan Ridley continues his fumble issues that has landed him in Coach Belichick’s doghouse. Vereen is expected to see more snaps this season and flashed his rushing potential in Week 1 last season vs. Buffalo with over 100 yards rushing and 58 yards receiving on 7 catches.  Vereen is a 2015 free agent, but is worthy of a short multi-year deal as his versatility is a differentiator.

9. Joique Bell, RB, Detroit Lions

Bell is an underrated back from 2013 who figures to be more involved in the Lions rushing game.  With so many passing weapons taking the pressure off of Calvin Johnson, Bell also figures in the screen game as well.  He did miss OTAs with a knee injury, but figures to be ready for training camp.  Also benefits from being in same backfield as the brittle Reggie Bush.  He just signed a three year contract in 2014 offseason.

10. Rueben Randle, WR, NY Giants

Figures to be the touchdown maker for the Giants receiving corps this season and figures to build more chemistry with Eli Manning, as he has been talked up in OTAs.  Will benefit heavily from OC Ben McAdoo (formerly of the Packers) offense.  Free agent in 2016.

11. Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints

Seems boring, but his production is not.  Rumored to be in the role vacated by Darren Sproles.  His 77 catches in 2013 were huge and he did have 147 carries in 2013.  Don’t expect that type of workload necessarily, but the Saints did just sign Thomas to a three year extension in spite of his missing the playoffs last season with a chest injury.  Rumors also have the Saints moving to more of a balanced offense as well.

12. Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots

Was a PPR stud who the Patriots re-signed in the offseason. His value is somewhat tied to how the other wide receivers perform and mostly to Rob Gronkowski’s recovery from injury.  You still want to own the slot WR in the Patriots offense, but tread carefully.

13. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Should probably be on the “comeback” list, but I like Maclin enough on the regular auction list on a one year RSO deal. While Jordan Matthews could contribute right away as a rookie, Maclin is the most talented wideout on the Eagles and remember, he was a first round draft pick in 2009.  Should bounce back and intentionally signed a one year prove it deal to highlight his value in free agency.

14. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos

Call this a good situation. I don’t love Sanders, but I love how the Broncos could use his versatility in the next few years.  Remember, he’s not Eric Decker, but he should be used frequently and could occupy Wes Welker’s slot position if he leaves after this season.

15. Toby Gerhart, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

As a general rule, I usually don’t draft Jaguars as I can’t stand watching their games (just too boring). However, Gerhart was brought in for a reason-to be the bell-cow of the Jags’ offense.  They like his leg drive and ability to gain yards after contact and Gus Bradley seems to be trying to build a version of the Seahawks in Jacksonville.  Maybe Gerhart’s low mileage could make him a poor man’s Marshawn Lynch.

16. Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans

Another PPR machine.  Had 94 catches for 1,079 yards in 2013, but only 2 touchdowns.  Perhaps Ken Whisenhunt can turn him into the Keenan Allen of the Titans, but he will need better QB play to make that happen.  A free agent in 2016, so a two year play is smartest.

17. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Had a very solid rookie campaign and flashed big play ability and consistency, as well as ability to get into end zone. On a very talented Cowboys offense who figures to be in a lot of shootouts again in 2014 with a weak defense.  Will make teams pay for double-teaming Dez Bryant and fits in well with new OC Scott Linehan’s scheme.  Under contract through 2017, so plan accordingly.

18. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins

Has top 5 tight end potential if he stays healthy.  Should benefit from a healthy RGIII and Desean Jackson free agent signing.  A serious red zone threat who opens up the middle of the field and gets chunks of yardage.  Big concern is concussion and injury history, which tempers enormous potential. A two year, $18m deal best balances the injury risk and the upside.

19. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings

Yes, lots of tight ends on my list, so you could get the right one as a value if you wait to grab one that you like. New OC Norv Turner loves using the tight end position and Rudolph provides a big target with good hands for whomever starts the season at QB.  He’s in a contract year, so don’t overextend yourself.

20. Rashad Jennings, RB, NY Giants

The best option on a team that likes to run the ball and was outstanding in 2013 for Oakland.  Solid in pass protection and currently working with the first team offense.  Only threat is if David Wilson comes back fully healthy.  I wouldn’t go long-term on Jennings because he is 29 and has been a career journeyman, but for 2014 he could make you a smart owner.

21. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

Was a top 5 QB in many leagues last season.  Showed poise and better decision making and has plenty of dump-off options and better young talent than he’s had in years with Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green expecting to have prominent roles in 2014.  Represents a great value and I’d even consider paying $7m a year for him to be my backup or spot starter as he is a rhythm QB who can be scorching hot at the right time in your fantasy season.

22. Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens

His big contract extension in 2014 shows the Ravens’ need for a middle of the field receiving option. New OC Gary Kubiak loves throwing to tight ends and Pitta has a solid track record and appears to be fully healthy.  Solid production expected.

23. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

Most tight ends in recent history have had their breakthrough in Year 2.  Ertz didn’t see many snaps in 2013 namely due to his blocking deficiencies.  However, most within the Eagles brass are assuming a prominent role for Ertz this season and that could have been part of the decision to rid themselves of Desean Jackson.  Has Gronk like upside and a huge 6’5, 250 lb. frame, so get on board on the ground floor and enjoy the ride.

24. Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints

I could have put more obvious guys here like Ladarius Green or Ben Tate; however, Robinson is type of runner you want to have in a New Orleans offense that is trying to be more balanced in 2014.  He runs angry and hard and Bill Parcells said he reminds him of Curtis Martin.  He really impressed me with 13 carries for 57 yards and a TD vs. Seattle in the playoffs.  With Mark Ingram potentially on the way out after the season, Robinson holds future value too.

25. Anquan Boldin WR, San Francisco 49ers

I know the 49ers get Michael Crabtree back for a full season and have added Stevie Johnson, but I don’t really care. Boldin is a game-changer, plays aggressively and the team wins when he sees the ball.  85 catches for 1,179 yards and 7 TD’s in 2013 as a 32 year old receiver, followed by a strong playoffs.  Boldin still figures to see 8-10 targets a game and does the most with them.  I could even justify an extra year on the contract if you wanted to get the average value down a little as he is a free agent in 2016.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin