Trying to Build a Champion

Updated: April 21st 2015

My favorite league that I participate in is the Matt Waldman/Rookie Scout Portfolio Experts league. Matt was an early adopter of Reality Sports Online, and was kind enough to start this Experts league two years ago when we were just getting off the ground. If you don’t know who Matt is or what the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is, take a quick tour of the site. If you love the NFL, whether you’re a Fantasy person or not, the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is worth the $20. When it comes to Fantasy, I recommend a lot of sites (there are a lot of good ones!), but when it comes to scouting and player evaluation, there are very few I would recommend. I’ve read dozens of player evaluations done by NFL Scouts, and Matt’s stuff is NFL-team caliber. I don’t follow college football as closely as I used to, and Matt’s comprehensive guide actually helps prepare me for the NFL Draft so that I’m as interested in rounds 3-7 as I am rounds 1 and 2.

The league has great Fantasy experts from many different sites:

I took over an immediate rebuilding project after both the Rookie Draft & the first year Free Agency Auction were complete. An Owner had to leave the Free Agency Auction at the midway point because of extenuating circumstances, so I ended up with a half-way assembled team. I made a flurry of pre-season moves and trades (outlined at the time by Matt Waldman here) to try to position myself for the future. Year one was rough, mostly because I ended up overachieving at 5-8, and ended up with the 5th pick in the 2014 Rookie Draft.

Entering the second year of the league, I was mostly a blank slate, returning Alex Smith (traded for) and a couple of above average Wide Receivers with Antonio Brown (traded for), Michael Crabtree (inherited), and Percy Harvin (traded for). I also had Christine Michael (inherited) and Kyle Rudolph (inherited), who at the time, still held some promise.

I had traded my 2nd round pick away, and entered the Rookie Draft planning to draft a Running Back who would get touches. I desperately wanted to select Carlos Hyde fifth overall, and was certain he was still going to be available. Mike MacGregor held two of the first four selections in front of me in the first round, and he already had a ton of depth at RB. Mike Evans went off the board first, Sammy Watkins second, Brandin Cooks third, and of course, MacGregor selected Carlos Hyde with the 4th pick. In retrospect, at #5, I could have adapted on the fly and selected a WR (Kelvin Benjamin, OBJ, or Jordan Matthews), or took a shot on Jeremy Hill (who was projecting to be in a time-share at best), but I didn’t have my crystal ball with me that day, and I took Bishop Sankey. Even with Sankey and no 2nd round selection, I was still able to salvage the draft (in my opinion) landing Lorenzo Taliaferro in the 3rd, De’Anthony Thomas and Dri Archer in the 4th, and Colt Lyerla and Jimmy Garoppolo in the 5th. Entering their sophomore seasons, I’m more excited about Taliaffero, Thomas, and Archer than Sankey.

In the second-season Free Agency Auction (first with me at the helm), I handed multi-year contracts to Nick Foles (4 yrs/$25M), Vernon Davis (2 yrs/$16.5M), Bryce Brown (3 yrs/$10.5M), Anquan Boldin (2 yrs/$9M), Knowshon Moreno (2 yrs/$8.5M), and Miles Austin (3 yrs/$5.5M). I had a handful of notable 1-year deals (LeGarrette Blount, Frank Gore, Carson Palmer) but ended up underachieving with that group, going 4-9.

Now entering year 3 of the league, I have the 2nd pick in the draft, with picks in rounds 1,2, 3, and 5. If I don’t make any trades or cuts, I’ll have about $70M in 2015 Cap Room entering the Free Agency Auction, plus the players below already on my roster. If I believed either player would be worth it, I could Franchise Tag Frank Gore or LeGarrette Blount for the friendly price of $23.7M. Christine Michael is the only player remaining from the roster I inherited two years ago.

PLAYER POS AGE TM EXP Total Guar Yrs 2015 2016

2017

Archer, Dri RB 24 PIT 2016 $1.95M $974.17K 3 $649.44K $688.41K UFA
Austin, Miles WR 31 CLE 2016 $5.5M $2.75M 3 $1.83M $1.94M UFA
Boldin, Anquan WR 35 SF 2015 $9M $4.5M 2 $4.59M UFA
Brown, Antonio WR 27 PIT 2015 $18.5M $12.15M 3 $6.54M UFA
Brown, Bryce RB 24 BUF 2016 $10.5M $5.25M 3 $3.5M $3.71M UFA
Davis, Vernon TE 31 SF 2015 $16.5M $8.25M 2 $8.42M UFA
Foles, Nick QB 26 STL 2017 $25M $12.5M 4 $6M $6.5M $7M
Garoppolo, Jimmy QB 24 NE 2016 $1.8M $899.88K 3 $599.92K $635.92K UFA
Harvin, Percy WR 27 NYJ 2015 $40.5M $26.6M 3 $14.31M UFA
Michael, Christine RB 25 SEA 2015 $10.2M $6.7M 3 $3.6M UFA
Moreno, Knowshon RB 28 MIA 2015 $8.5M $4.25M 2 $4.34M UFA
Sankey, Bishop RB 23 TEN 2016 $14.43M $7.22M 3 $4.81M $5.1M UFA
Taliaferro, Lorenzo RB 24 BAL 2016 $2.46M $1.23M 3 $820.65K $869.89K UFA
Thomas, De’Anthony RB 22 KC 2016 $1.94M $967.8K 3 $645.2K $683.91K UFA

At this moment, the only player I would consider cutting in advance of the season would be Miles Austin. I’d essentially be able to get out from his 2016 salary by releasing him prior to the season (half of his 2015 $1.83M and half of his 2016 $1.94M would accelerate into 2015). I’ll wait and see where he lands, because even if he’s on my roster Week 1, fully guaranteeing his salary for the year, he’s not a big cap hit.

Even though Austin may be the only player I cut, this is not exactly the roster I envisioned I would have after 2 years of rebuilding. While I can certainly put the $70M to good use, there are four teams with even more space than I have. Outside of Antonio Brown, this team has a lot of mediocrity. Percy Harvin and Nick Foles both have some legitimate upside in their new environments, and Dri Archer, Bryce Brown, Christine Michael, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and De’Athony Thomas are all a teammate injury away from Fantasy prominence. At the risk of one of the other franchise Owners reading this and using it against me during trade talks, I can’t say I’m very excited about Vernon Davis or Bishop Sankey, but maybe they’ll surprise me.

I’m guaranteed to land either Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon with the #2 pick, if I so choose. I will probably do so, or I can trade back. Alternatively, if they end up in a non-Fantasy friendly backfield, I’ll have Amari Cooper as a backup plan. I should be able to land either Winston or Mariota at the top of round 2, but will do so knowing I can’t expect any real production in year one.

There are 157 veteran offensive skill positions players whose contracts expired at the conclusion of the 2014 season. Here’s a look at the top 50 Free Agents (sorted by 2014 Salary). Marshawn Lynch (~$24.8M), Peyton Manning (~$19.8M), and DeMarco Murray (~$23.7M) look like the only players likely to receive Franchise Tags. Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, or Sam Bradford are all sleeper QB tag (~$19.8M) candidates. Teams will have between 18 and 24 players already under contract heading into Free Agency, so everyone will be looking to fill 6 to 12 roster spots. There are a handful of potential gems that are not on this top 50 list, but for the most part…this is it. Some of these guys are going to get a lot more than they’re worth – just like what happens in real life.

PLAYER

POS AGE TM RSO TEAM

2014 Salary

Peterson, Adrian RB 30 MIN Jason Wood $36.21
Johnson, Calvin WR 30 DET Matt Waldman $35.45
Charles, Jamaal RB 29 KC Bob Harris $30.86
Rice, Ray RB 28 BAL Jeff Tefertiller $27.80
Foster, Arian RB 29 HOU Matt Waldman $26.01
White, Roddy WR 34 ATL Mike Clay $21.50
Kaepernick, Colin QB 28 SF Evan Silva $20.91
Lynch, Marshawn RB 29 SEA Russell Clay $20.66
Cruz, Victor WR 29 NYG Mike Clay $17.60
Johnson, Andre WR 34 IND Rivers McCown $16.58
Fitzgerald, Larry WR 32 ARI Matt Deutsch $16.07
Manning, Peyton QB 39 DEN Jim Day $16.07
Brees, Drew QB 36 NO Mike Clay $15.30
Murray, DeMarco RB 27 PHI Matt Deutsch $15.30
Jackson, Vincent WR 32 TB Mike MacGregor $15.05
Crabtree, Michael WR 28 SF Matt Papson $14.03
Smith, Torrey WR 26 SF Ryan McDowell $14.03
Miller, Lamar RB 24 MIA Mike MacGregor $12.75
Bowe, Dwayne WR 31 KC Matt Deutsch $12.50
Jennings, Rashad RB 30 NYG Bob Harris $12.50
Wayne, Reggie WR 37 IND Jim Day $12
Johnson, Chris RB 30 NYJ Jim Day $11.50
Gore, Frank RB 32 IND Matt Papson $11
Jennings, Greg WR 32 MIN Mike Clay $11
Garcon, Pierre WR 29 WAS Jeff Tefertiller $10.71
Welker, Wes WR 34 DEN Russell Clay $10.71
Wallace, Mike WR 29 MIA Mike Clay $10.50
Bush, Reggie RB 30 DET Jason Wood $9.44
Jackson, Steven RB 32 ATL Sigmund Bloom $8
Jackson, Fred RB 34 BUF Russell Clay $7.50
Wright, Kendall WR 26 TEN Jim Day $7.14
Ridley, Stevan RB 26 NE Ryan McDowell $6.63
Baldwin, Doug WR 27 SEA Jason Wood $6
Palmer, Carson QB 36 ARI Matt Papson $6
Bradford, Sam QB 28 PHI Sigmund Bloom $5.87
Holmes, Andre WR 27 OAK Mike Clay $5.50
Smith Sr., Steve WR 36 BAL Bob Harris $5.50
Johnson, Stevie WR 29 SF Bob Harris $5.10
Jones-Drew, Maurice RB 30 OAK Matt Deutsch $5
Manning, Eli QB 34 NYG Evan Silva $5
Rudolph, Kyle TE 26 MIN Matt Papson $4.59
Tannehill, Ryan QB 27 MIA Ryan McDowell $4.59
Dalton, Andy QB 28 CIN Bob Harris $4.50
Roethlisberger, Ben QB 33 PIT Sigmund Bloom $4.34
Stewart, Jonathan RB 28 CAR Sigmund Bloom $4.34
McFadden, Darren RB 28 OAK Matt Deutsch $4
Amendola, Danny WR 30 NE Rivers McCown $3.50
Blount, LeGarrette RB 29 NE Matt Papson $3.50
Rivers, Philip QB 34 SD Jason Wood $3.06

Perhaps I was scarred by my real life experiences, but I’m not one to hand-out mega-contracts. As you can see, the multi-year contracts I handed out last year were relatively low dollar amounts. That means I’m not going to be competing (unless I’m helping enforce fair value) for AP, Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles, or Arian Foster.

Admittedly, at the moment, it’s hard to see an easy path to being a contender. I have two of the most valuable pieces in the league right: Antonio Brown at only $6.54M, and the 2nd overall pick – which comes with an affordable contract. Sometime here in the near future, I’m going to have to decide if it’s better to sell those pieces and make a run in 2016, or hope guys like Nick Foles, Percy Harvin, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and some Free Agent signings have big years.

What do you guys think? Does this roster have championship hope in it? Let me know on Twitter @RealitySportsMP

Look for more coverage of this league on the Reality Sports Online Football Ops page as well as on Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

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