I’ve noticed an increasing number of questions in the DLF Forums around Salary Cap/Contract Dynasty Leagues. People want to add even more dimensions and complexity to their fantasy football experience and I think that’s terrific.
I thought it was time to write an article laying out some of my approaches to consistent winning in a Salary Cap format. For those of you unfamiliar with the basics of Salary Cap, please take a look at my post in this thread where I lay out the foundation. I think you’ll enjoy this article more if you have some context.
Recommendation One: Check your age bias at the door
In regular dynasty leagues, I constantly see owners doing all they can to make sure they aren’t left holding the bag when a player is declining and has lost significant trade value. Generally speaking, as players age (think Frank Gore, Michael Turner, Reggie Wayne) their trade value plummets while their production is still relatively robust.
In a salary cap league, you can get the best of both worlds by managing your roster AND your contracts. I’d have no problem owning any of the players I mention above even on relatively expensive deals as long as the contract is expiring in a year or two. Let’s say that I own Reggie Wayne at 15% of my cap space and his contract expires at the end of 2012. I can ride him out this year (which I think will be a terrific one for fantasy production), then toss him back in to the free agency pool. At that point, I can redirect my funds to other free agent auctions or attempt to buy Wayne again on the open market. There’s a good chance I get him cheaper. And on top of that I’m using the funds freed up from his contract.
Recommendation Two: Embrace the notion that relative player values in your league are different than any other league
Player values in a salary cap league are based on the player himself, the salary he’s on, the contract length and the amount of his contract relative other players in his tier. This means that your league is totally unique in terms of which players are the “most valuable.”
In a regular dynasty league, it’s fairly simple to say that Calvin Johnson is more valuable than AJ Green. I doubt that statement would get much, if any, real debate. And it’s universally true across all traditional leagues. This simplifies drafting, makes getting trade advice easy and provides a common set of assumptions for dynasty owners.
In a salary cap league, this is completely different. For example, in my league Calvin Johnson is on a three year contract for 21% of his team’s cap and AJ Green is on a four year contract eating up a measly 4%. Now the debate can really ensue about who is more valuable. Do you want to pay the premium for Megatron’s awesome upside? Would you rather lock in an emerging stud on the cheap? It’s not as clear cut, is it?
Recommendation Three: Rethink how you value rookie picks
Rookie picks are a two edged sword in salary cap leagues. While there is no hard and fast rule here, in my experience the premium on top-tier rookie picks is even higher in salary cap leagues than than in normal ones. There are a few reasons for this:
- Top tier picks are gold. As I mentioned above, stud rookies (AJ Green, Julio Jones, Cam Newton) can set a team up for years of salary cap advantages. Having a weekly starter on an extremely cheap price gives you flexibility. More on this in a minute.
- Because of contract lengths, you only have so much time for a player to develop and contribute before you have to manage his expiring deal. This means that raw, developmental rookies are tougher to justify rostering because cap space is being eaten by a non-productive asset. This issue leads me to do all I can to trade out of the second round (or later) in rookie drafts. I use my seconds as add-ons in trades to move up or to get player upgrades. I’ll let someone else take a flyer on a second, thus using up his cap and a roster slot.
- Rookie QB values are depressed, thus depressing the total market for rookies. In a year like this one, mid-round dynasty picks have elevated value because we expect Andrew Luck and RGIII to go early in our drafts, thereby pushing high quality position players down the board. This won’t always happen in salary cap. The need for immediate contribution often causes owners to shy away from QBs
Recommendation Four: Don’t be stingy when you are loaded with cap dollars
One of the really cool things about salary cap leagues is that just like the NFL, owners/GMs that manage the money well are the perennial playoff teams. Managing the cap well doesn’t mean being cheap and not spending. What it means is laying a foundation of inexpensive, yet productive players and then using the remaining dollars to go after impact studs.
I see it all the time in my league: A team is in a great cap position because they’ve drafted well or maybe they got lucky on a FA pick-up. They have a ton of money to spend, but for some reason frugality kicks in and they don’t do it. A common mistake I see is owners saying Player X is only worth Y dollars. That’s simply not true. There are no universal values in salary cap. It’s determined by the market and the market is a factor of supply, demand and the available dollars people have to spend. If you find yourself in a position where you have more money than the others bidding for a FA or a targeting a stud in a trade, bully them out of the market with your bankroll.
Core players on my team (AJ Green, Hakeem Nicks, Cam Newton and Jimmy Graham) account for a total of 10% of my team’s cap. I could have sat back and trusted that Cam was a solid weekly starter and not worried about QB, but when I assessed the trade opportunities in the league, I decided to go for the brass ring and traded a cap constrained team for an extremely expensive Tom Brady. (He now accounts for 17% of my cap by himself). Because the Brady owner was cap constrained and needed to dump him, I got an excellent deal. Now I go into 2012 with the luxury of choosing between Brady and Newton each week. Plus, I’m insured against the risk that Newton regresses as a sophomore.
The fact that I have my core guys on cheap deals gave me the flexibility to make this type of move. You can’t underestimate the value of getting a legitimate weekly starter like Green or Graham on a great contract. And if you find yourself in this fortunate position, use it to your advantage!
Recommendation Five: Put your redraft hat on
As much as I loath to say this here on DLF, salary cap has some similarities to redraft. Because rosters are more transient, annual redraft rankings (or dynasty competing team rankings) tend to be more relevant than rankings for dynasty start-ups or rebuilds. Steve Smith (CAR) is a UFA in my league and I guarantee he goes for a pretty penny, then the winning bidder will slap a one year deal on him. Essentially they will be renting his production and all it costs them is money – not a draft pick, not a player in trade. And remember, all that money frees right back up the next year for them to do the same on the next Steve Smith.
Note: I have a comprehensive set of salary cap/contract dynasty rules that I make available to members of the forums. If you want a copy, private message me with your e-mail address and I’ll be happy to send them your way.
Editor’s Note: Tim Stafford can be found @dynastytim on twitter and in the forums as dlf_tims.