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The Three Year Plan

One of my personal goals in 2012 is to continue to promote salary cap, contract dynasty.  I received a number of requests for the Salary Cap Strategy article.  And I’ve gotten requests in the forum to go even deeper.  In particular, owners have asked a number of questions about planning horizons and developing a roadmap for their teams.  I think what’s interesting is that many of the techniques I uses with my salary cap (SC) team apply to standard dynasty.

In order to illustrate the approach I use, it’s going to be best to use an actual league and team.  Let’s go with mine!  This is a rather simple SC league.  Here are the aspects that differ from dynasty:

  • Two round rookie draft with salary slotting.  First rounders get up to a five year deal, seconds get up to four.
  • Waiver Wire (WW) and Free Agent (FA) auction pick-ups can be put on contracts up to three years.  The live FA auction is conducted in late August.
  • Teams have one franchise tag and two transition tags to help them retain players coming off contract.  The franchise tag costs the average of the top-5 paid players at the position (very expensive) and the transition tag opens bidding at the current salary and allows the owner to match the final bid (unpredictable).  Again, three year max contracts.
  • Cutting a player under contract costs 20% of the remaining contact value.

Other than that, it’s a heck of a lot like regular dynasty.

The league is 12-teams 20-roster spots, $250 cap.  My roster after the 2012 rookie draft (starting requirements):

QB(1): Tom Brady ($42,3), Andy Dalton ($1,2)

RB(1-2): Matt Forte ($65,1), DeMarco Murray ($4,4), Jonathan Stewart ($20,2), CJ Spiller ($10,3), Pierre Thomas ($1,2), David Wilson ($8,5), Bilal Powell ($1,2), Joe McKnight ($2,2)

WR(2-4): Hakeem Nicks ($10,1), AJ Green ($10, 4), Mike Wallace ($46,2), Michael Floyd ($10,5), Austin Collie ($6,2)

TE(1-2): Jimmy Graham ($2,1), Coby Fleener ($6,4), Kyle Rudolph ($1,0)

K(1)/DST(1): None – will acquire in the FA auction or via WW before week one

I hold one 2013 first, two 2014 firsts and a 2014 second, then one of each subsequently

Note: the number after the contract amount is the contract length.  A “3” means I have the player at the amount for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Okay, with all that behind us let’s get to the meat of this.

Three Year Horizon

In both SC and traditional dynasty, I advocate taking a three year approach for your team and not going beyond that horizon.  I notice in the DLF Forums that owners are tempted to have a much longer term point of view and I think that’s to their detriment.  It’s extremely hard to predict fantasy year-to-year, let alone five years out.  Even in traditional leagues, it is likely that 90% of your roster will have turned over in that period of time.  By planning too far out, you forego low cost, near term production.

Just for fun:  the top-5 guys to own according to SI.com in 2007 were LT (retired), Steven Jackson (declining), Larry Johnson (retired), Frank Gore (declining) and Shaun Alexander (retired).  You get my point.

I tend to value near term production higher than most dynasty owners in part because of my salary cap slant.  Declining players like Reggie Wayne, Gore and Michael Turner don’t scare me off in either format because I know I can get them on the cheap and get good production from them.  Example:  Wayne ($39,1)/2.09 was traded for the 2.02 this week.  The team sending Wayne had cap issues, but wow did the team getting him score value and 2012 production!  It’s not that terrible to end up cutting a washed up player.  You can’t always stay ahead of the curve if you want to contend now.  This team getting Wayne essentially rented him for a year for the difference between the 2.02 and the 2.09.  Pretty good in my book.

At the risk of offending some, I believe that a total rebuild should be an extreme rarity in dynasty and especially SC.  I like to pattern my approach after the Patriots – constantly reload while making the playoffs year in and year out.  While I see myself as a serious contender in 2012, I made sure I picked up three solid rookies in this draft (Floyd, Wilson and Fleener).  I could have traded one or more of those picks for a veteran who will certainly outproduce them in 2012, but I needed to balance near term with making sure I am teed up for a year or two from now.  Also, because I feel that my core group can contend, I buy myself a year while my rookies mature and acclimate to the NFL.  I don’t need any of them as a weekly starter in 2012.

Notice that I avoided the “project” receivers in the second round and went with Fleener instead.  I’m not too interested in wide receivers who will need years to develop before giving me any production at all.  It’s often said in the forums – “remember this is dynasty.” Okay, I remember that.  However, remember you’re trying to win your league and hopefully right now!  I’m less interested in looking really smart because I took a player in 2009 who is now emerging than I am in taking a player in 2011 that contributes to my playoff run.  Even if the player I select ends up having a somewhat lower ceiling.

Elements of my Three Year Plan

When assessing my team, I bucket players into four categories:

Franchise

These are the core players on my team who I want to retain during the bulk of the three year horizon.  The key is getting production at cheap prices.  This is critical because it allows you to over pay for disposable players who aren’t part of your long term plans.  The total cost of your Franchise players should be a fraction of the Disposable players.

This has taught me the value of a top-3 rookie pick – they’re gold.  If you have conviction about a player (like AJ Green or Trent Richardson) you need to go get that pick.  Once they are rostered and producing, good luck acquiring them in a trade.

Tom Brady

Yes he’s extremely expensive.  He is arguably a hybrid Franchise/Disposable player.  Here’s the thing – Brady anchors my team.  He’s a set it and forget player and there are so few of those.  Other than his bye week, he is in the lineup.  At the end of the three year deal, he’s probably gone.  Time will tell.  The flexibility provided by the next few players is what affords me the luxury of rostering Brady at this price.

AJ Green

AJG is the best selection I’ve made since getting Hakeem Nicks in the 2009 rookie draft.  He will be a central piece of my team due to his cheap contract and his predicted production.  It would be very difficult to pry him from my fingers.

DeMarco Murray

I essentially traded Cam Newton to get Murray and Fleener.  Like AJG, his contract is ridiculously good and provides tremendous flexibility to “overpay” elsewhere.  I’m not particularly high on Murray, but the cost/benefit ratio was so compelling.

Jimmy Graham

We all love Graham.  The beauty of him is that the tight end franchise tag is predictably very low.  Neither Graham nor Rob Gronkowski has hit the open market (and won’t), so I’ll lock him in for three more at the end of the season.  The decision to use the tag on Graham will have impacts on other players however.

Disposable

These are the players that I intend to start on an every week basis but, either due to cost or age, I am not likely to retain beyond the current contract.

Matt Forte

He’s my RB1, but I believe others will emerge from my roster making his contract unacceptably expensive.  He’s not part of my long term plan and will likely get tossed back to the FA pool rather than transition tagged.  If my team is struggling and I doubt I’ll make the playoffs, I’ll trade him to a contender during the season for a future pick (like salary dump trades in Major League Baseball).

Hakeem Nicks

As devastating as it will be, Nicks will get the transition tag, not the franchise tag.  I have to choose between Nicks and Graham and Graham gets the nod.  Currently the tag for a tight end is $18 and a wide receiver costs $53 – remember, to get a guy in to my Franchise category there needs to be good cost/benefit.  There’s an outside chance I retain Nicks with the transition tag, but it’s not guaranteed.  Nicks has moved from the Franchise category to Disposable simply because of cap management and the decision to retain Graham.

Pierre Thomas

I love him at this price.  He’s essentially a free bye-week/injury fill in.  Lost in the shuffle is that PT ended up as the RB#27 in non-PPR.  Do you want to start him?  No.  However, in an emergency there are far worse options.

Andy Dalton

I need a QB2.  I doubt he’s on my team very long.  I’ve come to believe one needs an elite quarterback to win in fantasy and Dalton is a prime example of getting insurance on the super cheap.  If Brady goes down for more than a week or two, I’m dead anyway.

Mike Wallace

He’s tough to categorize because I don’t have a clear three year vision for him.  I’m not sure I feel strongly enough to have him in my plan beyond his current contract.  It’s less about my horizon and more about my uncertainty in the player.

Bait

I want to have a few (just a few) trade bait players.  These are diamonds in the rough that I pick up on the cheap with the intent to flip, rather than use for production.  This is typically how I acquire additional future picks during the playing season.

Austin Collie

I won Collie in an in-season auction last year after his owner cut him.  I placed him on the maximum contract length and stuck him at the end of my bench.  I had no intent of playing him and knew he would stink all year.  However, for $6 of $250, what the heck?  If Collie rebounds with Andrew Luck at the helm, I will flip him for a future first.  I’ll then go get another Bait player or Disposable player off the WW.

Bilal Powell/ Joe McKnight

I want no part of the Jets backfield or the Jets as a whole, but Shonn Greene isn’t very good.  If Greene loses his job, there isn’t much else on the depth chart and people will be clamoring to acquire one of these guys (probably based on whatever the major media outlets are espousing).  Smells like an opportunity to flip the pair for a future second.  Remember – keep reloading so you don’t need to rebuild.

Developmental/Picks

I keep players and picks I know won’t give me meaningful production this year, but hopefully become Franchise or Disposable players in a year or two.  When breaking ties in the rookie draft, I’ll lean more toward near term production than many owners.  That doesn’t mean I’ll take a player I really dislike (looking at you Daniel Thomas), but I factor in three year production.

Michael Floyd

I had him ranked ahead of Justin Blackmon on my final SC board.  I think he has a decent chance to out produce Blackmon over a three year span and I was able to get value by trading down for him.  I traded the 1.02/Matt Flynn for the 1.05/Jonathan Stewart because of my three year approach.  I believe Floyd has a chance to emerge as a low end WR3 in 2012 giving me additional roster flexibility.

David Wilson

This pick didn’t fit my strategy.  I don’t particularly like his prospects within my horizon, but he fell to me at 1.07.  I tried to get out of the pick, but couldn’t.  Sometimes you just have to accept it.  I’ve mentally put Wilson in the parking lot until 2014.  Maybe I get pleasantly surprised!

Coby Fleener

Took him with a high second.  There were many talented developmental receivers on the board (Mohamed Sanu, AJ Jenkins, Ryan Broyles), but I wanted to get the high floor and near term production that Fleener promises.  I rank him as a legit TE2 in 2012.  I’ll take that with a second round pick in a league that only rosters twenty.  Worst case, I think Fleener is an above average TE2 and I know I’ll have Graham during the entire planning horizon.  Additionally, because I am confident in Fleener, I dealt away Jared Cook and will probably not transition tag Kyle Rudolph.  I’ve thus freed up roster spots for more Bait players at wide receiver and running back who I hope to flip for picks.

The overarching goals for my team over each three year period are as follows:

1.) Never miss the playoffs.

I don’t set out day one to win the championship; I set out to be in the top-6 teams so I have a chance to win the championship.  Rarely does the league leader in wins or scoring actually win the whole thing.  The dirty secret about fantasy football is that luck comes in to play more than we want to admit.  In a one and done playoff format, there isn’t much you can do other than set your roster and hope.  It takes skill and luck to make the playoffs – winning during the playoffs takes mostly luck.

2.) Never have to rebuild.

I use my Bait and Disposable players to build a war chest of future picks so I am constantly reloading and never out of contention.  This is also where constant participation in places like the DLF Forum will help.  By interacting with active owners, I feel I have an edge when it comes to selecting Bait players off the WW.

3.) Maintain the course and have conviction.

During our 2011 rookie draft, it wasn’t easy trading Greg Jennings ($39,2) and the 1.05 (Daniel Thomas) to get the 1.01 (AJG).  I overpaid massively and I knew it but only so often do you get that vision that tells you a Franchise player can be had in the rookie draft.  I think the other owner thought Christmas had come in May.  And I got some choice e-mails from other owners in the league.  I simply had to do it – conviction and trust in the plan.  Luckily I find myself with a solid WR1 on a long term, cheap contract.  I very much doubt anyone would trade AJG ($10,4) for Jennings ($39,1) and Thomas ($10,4) today.

Hopefully I’m beginning to piqué your interest in salary cap dynasty. More to come, I promise.

Editor’s Note:  Tim Stafford can be found @dynastytim on twitter and in the forums as dlf_tims.

44 Comments
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BigB
10 years ago

Another great article Tim. Maybe one day we can get as much activity on the salary cap board as the regular ones!

Joe Schmo
10 years ago

That should say Michael Floyd, not Malcom Floyd.

John Harstad
10 years ago

How do you dig up pigeons willing to part with a future 1st for Collie?
And those two duds at RB for the Jets for a 2nd?
Who’s gonna want to roster 2 terrible RBs with 20 man rosters?
I’d love to get in that league!

Sensei John Kreese
Reply to  John Harstad
10 years ago

I picked up Collie for the same reason. Remember, they can’t run the ball, and Andrew Luck is supposed to be pretty good.

Troy
Reply to  John Harstad
10 years ago

There were a couple of big IFs in that section that you might have missed.

Sensei John Kreese
Reply to  Troy
10 years ago

No, i don’t miss anything. I’ve been playing fantasy football a long time, and when you can get a wr2 or wr3 for 3 percent of your salary cap, you do it every time.

Sensei John Kreese
10 years ago

Tim, this has been my favorite article I’ve read on this site to date. I play in a 12 team/30 man roster league, with a 225 dollar salary cap. I had one year left on Jonathan Stewart for 10 dollars. Cut him and took the salary cap penalty (10 percent), In order to re-sign him now. I don’t mind cutting a player a year early, to try to re-acquire them as cheaply as I can.

I also have Aj Green for 16$, Mike Wallace for 1$, Darren Sproles for 2$, and Cam Newton for 2$.

I have friends who play Yahoo re-draft fantasy football. I laugh at these people.

Amoo
Reply to  Sensei John Kreese
10 years ago

It’s still fantasy football. But I agree. Dynasty is where its at. I just think it takes much more knowledge of the game. And I’m surrently seeking a SC league to join.

Keith Fortier
10 years ago

One of my favorite articles to date. I remember you saying Rookie QBs are devalued in this format due to near term production vs short contracts. What if you had a taxi squad? Would your opinion change? For instance, our league just added one and we now have the ability to roster a Rookie QB at $1,6 without effecting salary or them caps.

Our teams look similar, I just don’t have Brady… Traded for Luck and now need a 2012 QB. Hoping Cutler can bridge the gap.

Keith Fortier
Reply to  Tim Stafford
10 years ago

Yeah, our draft will go Rich, Martin, Luck, RG. Also, we have the ability to resign players at any time during their contract, usually for a premium.

10 years ago

Tim,
Great article. Thank you. You SC league sounds very close to the one that I run. The 20% rule for cut players is different though. It makes me wonder what other rules that you have a different. Is it possible to get more details on your league’s rules? Also, we are more and more displeased with where we run our league online, whom do you use?
Thanks again.

tstafford
Reply to  Robert Smiley
10 years ago

PM me your e-mail address and I will send you my rules file. My username in the forum is dlf_tims.

And we use MFL. I’ll send you a link to our site so you can see it as well.

chumway6
Reply to  Robert Smiley
10 years ago

My SC league has very similar rules as Tim’s, except we have a 90% penalty for cut players. It’s pretty harsh, but adds some strategy to how you bid during auctions. And also a lot of luck, which owners of Jamaal Charles and others can attest to.

Joe Schmo
10 years ago

Got one more roster spot available on my team, please help me pick one from the following :

Peyton Hillis
Denarious Moore
Jacob Tamme
Mikel LeShoure

Reply to  Joe Schmo
10 years ago

personally i’d go with hillis. he’s a rb on a running team. he’s splitting time with a guy coming off total acl injury. hillis has produced better then all 3 of the others put together. hillis has proven he can be effective, and he could be the man if charles falters at all. but most importantly he can be had for a cheaper fee because many will be scared off by the committe situation. with all the young talent in oakland at the wr spot its almost like moore is in a committee himself. leshoure may never mature enough to amount to anything, and tamme is in a very crowded te situation in denver……do what you want, but at least look the entire situation over before you rule anyone like hillis out?

10 years ago

Moore

BigB
Reply to  Bill
10 years ago

Agreed, Moore without a doubt.

Sensei John Kreese
Reply to  BigB
10 years ago

Moore.

Brian W.
Reply to  Sensei John Kreese
10 years ago

Moore

Jason
10 years ago

Tim, nice article. With a taxi squad of four, and starting two qbs in our league, would you still take Trent or Martin over rg3/luck?

I’m currently locked into the idea of luck because I have stafford 30/2, cutler 10/1, and Matthews 10/3, foster 10/2 in my league. Our league securely values qb over rb/wr, and rg3 and Trent seem pretty even to me,

What’s your chart say about choosing between them in a format like what we have?

Trey
10 years ago

Excellent work as usual, Tim. I don’t currently play in a SC league but your articles definitely haved peaked my interest. Thanks for you good work!

Robertbobson
10 years ago

I think your league should consider not allowing TE’s to be franchised. being able to lock down a TE like graham to that kind of deal indefinitely seems to go against the spirit of franchising. Or perhaps make TE/WR part of the same pool when it comes to figuring out the franchise number.

tk541
Reply to  Robertbobson
10 years ago

if you did that, in an idp league you would prolly have to do the same for players that play DE and OLB.

RobertBobson
10 years ago

I can understand why you don’t think they need to go up, you have graham locked up for 18 dollars. However, I think having Graham locked up for 18 dollars puts you at a unfair competitive advantage against the entire league. You have an elite player at an above average player’s price, and that price will never substantively go up. You know quite well that graham and gronk are unlikely to ever be out on the open market, so without those two as free agents how is the average TE price ever going to go up to anywhere close to graham and gronk’s true value? The true value of Gronk and Graham on an open market would be akin to a top 5 WR, not a top 5 TE. You might say ” oh well” and hide behind the fact that it’s “market driven” but it’s just the opposite. It’s allowing you to equate Gronk’s value with Vernon Davis’s value, and that’s patently unfair.

RobertBobson
Reply to  Tim Stafford
10 years ago

Hide behind was a wrong and abrasive way to put it, I apologize. I just think that allowing TE’s to be franchised at that number skews their value out of control. I think Gronk and graham, at 18 dollars (in perpetuity) make them the most valuable assets in your league by far, and I don’t think that’s reflective of their real fantasy value.

Phorts
Reply to  RobertBobson
10 years ago

You’re assuming no other TEs will challenge Gronk or Grahams reign. They weren’t in the top 10 of most rankings last year, and the league is turning many TE into WR types. I agree, the current tag price makes them valuable assets now, but as Tim pointed out, Graham came with that value accounted for.

One thing we try to do in our SC is to always look at the system from the players POV. In other words, would Graham sign A franchise tender at 1/3 that of the top paid WR? Probably not, which we actually have a good comparison in the NFL recently with the deal negotiate by Finley. He argue he should get the WR tag figure as he played the majority of his snaps lined up as a WR. They ended up settling on the difference between the TE and WR tag #s.

Something to think about as we move forward in this new NFL where the line between TE and WR gets muddier

Adam
10 years ago

The salary cap structure is a little more involved in my league but I would agree that if you are going to play dynasty you should be using a cap and contracts setup, of varying degrees of complexity. I can’t imagine ever playing in a serious league for money without contracts.

As an example, the contract length in our league is based on the tier the final salary numbers falls into, and the penalty rate to release a player increases as you go up the tiers. It’s a little more work but we enjoy it.

As an aside, it’s “piqué” interest not “peak”.

Reply to  Adam
10 years ago

go play in your league and stop bothering us with your pius spelling and unimportant non-understandable giberish

Pikachu
Reply to  bigD
10 years ago

It’s very hard to find typos on your article. This one, though, I found one. Last paragraph- “it’s wasn’t easy trading Greg Jennings”

Admin
Reply to  Pikachu
10 years ago

Fixed!

chumway6
Reply to  bigD
10 years ago

I two saw the spelling misteak, but desided to just lett it goe. Too air is human.

Reply to  bigD
10 years ago

thats why i said what i said. some people come on here just to critise or correct things that really dont even matter. i noticed it too, but i really didnt care because i got the point of the article. i get irritated with people when they do that, and then come back with something that is suppose to sound more intellegent then the article that was written. enough people have responded to this article, so basically it doesnt seem to be a problem for about 90% of the readers. sometimes it seems that we have to bend our way of life to accommidate to the minorities when we used to live in a world that the majority rules. weel that is what this site is all about, what works for some may not work for everyone. but the strategies are proven. sorry for the lengthy message, and thanks for letting me vent and air my opinion also. BigD

Adam
Reply to  bigD
10 years ago

Ummm, yeah, right. What you said.

Your little rant may have some merit if my comment was made as an attack on the intelligence of the author, which it was not. My assumption here is that the person who took the time to write this cares about writing and would actually appreciate knowing the correct phrase, as it is often misused. It was not a correction of a typo. I couldn’t be bothered to comment on those.

All of that said, I feel this was a well written piece that describes one sound approach (there are several) to playing in a salary cap league with contracts.

Pius? Gibberish? Indeed!

Reply to  Adam
10 years ago

even chumway6 got the same gist of your message as i did.? i have no problem with your meesage, just dont use your intellegence to talk down to someone that is just trying to find some info in a well written and meaningful article. it amazes me how someone can always find something wrong with someone elses mistakes even if there is no need for it. that is what set me off. i appologize for any rant i may have set on you Adam.

10 years ago

by the way i love this site and the info is invaluable to me and being able to build and manage my dynasty team with it. thanks for all your hard work here guys, i for one do apprieciate it.

Cyrus Miller
10 years ago

My favorite league by far is my auction dynasty. 5 year max contracts, 1 Franchise tag (Average of top 5), 3 transition tag (match winning bid at auction) and 2 extensions (Average of top 15, the best way to build your nucleus).

The big difference for our league is it is IDP and we have 32 man rosters with 7 taxi spots. It makes it really interesting, and “cutting Rudolph to clear space for bait” would never happen in my league. Rudolph was a second rounder and would probably cost a second to obtain.

What is interesting is that I have a very similar roster to you, with Brady/Dalton/Stewart/Graham and others.

To reply to what someone else said about Graham being unfairly priced at $18– in our league, we allow salary dumps to allow for flexibility with bad contracts and entice people to trade. For example, I extended Reggie Wayne a few years ago and he is about $12 (out of 150), which is too high for him based on current market value. If I traded him, the other team could dump his salary onto a scrub and cut the scrub, getting Wayne for $1. That way I still can trade him and the other owner isn’t stuck with a stupid contract.

I just traded for Graham, so I basically have him locked up for the next 7 years (players with less than 4 years experience can be renewed for 150% salary, and then I will extend him). I had to give up Richardson to get Graham and other players, but I consider him my trump card in the short term. Richardson will make me regret it I am sure.

Cyrus Miller
Reply to  Cyrus Miller
10 years ago

Note: Extensions are for 5 years, Franchise tags are for 1 year only.

9 years ago

Just want to say I LOVE this article. I read it last year and it inspired me to start a salary cap dynasty with my friends. We just had our draft last weekend and I have this article bookmarked to come back and read every once in a while. Good stuff!

I’d love to see more articles like this in the future.

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