Salary Cap Confidential: Startup Auction Prep

Dan Meylor

Fantasy football offers nothing as thrilling as a salary cap startup auction, in my opinion. With every nomination, each owner makes franchise-changing decisions that will affect not only how their lineup will look, but how much roster and salary cap flexibility they’ll have for as many as the next five or six seasons. Every dollar added to a bid is critical and even more importantly, every year added to a contract can either contribute to a dynasty in the making or set a franchise down a path of futility.

Absolutely thrilling!

Before the thrill of beginning your startup auction however, there’s some planning quality cap owners must do in order to be ready. Let’s cover the checklist of things each owner should do before the first player nomination.

Know Your League’s Cap Settings

The first thing to accomplish before an auction is understanding the ins and outs of your league. Having a firm handle on your league’s settings and rules is vital in a salary cap league and can change how you approach each challenge presented whether it be the startup auction, tagging a franchise player, or any other decision you – as a cap owner – may face. On top of knowing the scoring system and starting lineup requirements as you would with any dynasty startup, you also need to understand the salary cap settings.

For example, there are four variations of contract settings in cap leagues with the percentage of a player’s salary being guaranteed as the only factor differentiating them.

The first three types are relatively self-explanatory: guaranteed salary leagues, partially guaranteed salary leagues, and unguaranteed salary leagues. My favorite type of salary cap league, however, is the fourth variation, a league that incorporates all of the above. Finding out the guaranteed percentage of the salaries you offer players with your startup auction bids is crucial to getting your franchise off on the right foot.

Another league setting to know before your auction is when contract lengths are decided. Leagues that require owners to incorporate the length of the contract into the bid during the auction tend to have players with more long-term contracts than leagues that require owners to decide the length of the contract after the auction. The pressure associated with choosing if you want that 29-year old, still elite receiver for three years when time is running out for you to bid is far different from selecting a one-year contract for that player after you’ve won the auction and have had time to think clearly.

Keeping all these settings in mind throughout the startup auction is just as (and perhaps even more) important as knowing the league’s scoring rules and starting lineup requirements.

Know Your Rules

Speaking of scoring rules and roster requirements, those are still important in salary cap so I always try to ask myself the following when prepping for an auction.

  1. How many teams are in the league?
  2. What is the salary cap set at?
  3. How many roster spots does each franchise have? (Is there a minimum or a maximum?)
  4. How many starting spots will you field every week? (Is it superflex and is a TE required?)
  5. What are the scoring settings? (Is the league PPR, TE Premium, etc.?)
  6. How will players be nominated?
  7. Is the auction a live or slow auction? (This can dramatically affect how thorough you need to be in your preparations.)

The answers to these questions have always been incredibly helpful as I prepare for any auction, but again, come particularly in handy prepping for a salary cap startup.

Create a Budget

I can’t stress how important it is to create a budget for any auction, but having one in place in salary cap is absolutely vital. And luckily, it really isn’t difficult to do. Using the information you gathered above, write down each starting position as well as the number of bench spots that are required to be filled in the auction. Then put a dollar amount next to each roster spot. Those numbers should equal the total budget allowed for each team (minus any amount that you need to keep available for in-season moves). I like to build my budget in excel and it looks something like this:

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This example would be used for a $200 cap startup auction in a superflex league with 24 roster spots. As you can see, every roster spot is listed in the far left column. Note that I also placed a few positions in parentheses in the flex and bench spots. I do this in an effort to plan my roster composition the best I possibly can. Following the position column, I include a “Budget” column for the rough starting budget I put together, as well as the “Player” column which is a place for the players’ names as auctions are won. Finally, the “$” column is for the final cost of the player.

Additionally, in leagues that require owners to bid the number of years an offer is for, I add a “Years” column to track the length of the contract I offered – but we’ll have more on that later. It should also be mentioned that this budget was made for a league with very small cap penalties for dropping players, so it’s unnecessary to keep some cap space in reserve for in-season transactions. That’s another subject we’ll touch on later in the series.

Obviously, this could all be done very simply with a pen and a piece of paper and could include as many columns with as much information as an owner wanted, but this is the basic system has worked well for me over the years.

When the auction starts, it can be updated easily.

Again, budgeting is the most important part of your auction preparation. There are plenty of dynasty owners that completely ignore building a budget and while some of the best fantasy minds I know have had successful auctions without one, almost every one of the worst salary cap teams I’ve ever seen were put together by an owner that decided to “wing it” during the auction. That’s too risky of a move for me.

Create a Cheat Sheet

Building a cheat sheet is another important step towards a successful salary cap startup and again, it’s pretty easy.

It’s as simple as creating a set of rankings by position. Once again, by using the information you gathered when answering the questions above about your league’s rules, you should have a pretty good grasp on how many players you’ll need to rank to be properly prepared. For example, a 12-team league with 24 roster spots will need a minimum of 288 total players ranked.

Like with the budget, I like to create my cheat sheets in Excel or in Google Docs. This will make it easy to track the auction once it starts (which will be covered next week). Here is a snapshot of what my cheat sheet looks like at this point in the process:

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The only necessary part of your rankings is the list of players’ names but it’s also helpful to create tiers inside those rankings if you choose. The “Price” column is also imperative in my opinion as it allows updates to the information as the auction goes on. But again, we’ll get to that as we go on. If I’m taking part in a live auction I like to include an “age” column for a quick reminder of how old the player is, and a “max years” column to remind me how many years I’m willing to commit to the player. It’s far better to think about these things ahead of time so you’re not scrambling while bids are flying.

Come back next week for Salary Cap Confidential: Startup Strategies as we’ll dig deeper into some tips on how to execute the game plan you just created and control your auction from start to finish.

dan meylor