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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A
Week 9

Last Week's Question: Mid-Season Keeper League Advice

Last week's column featured a question from Nick, who is seeking advice about how he can start working now to recover from what is shaping up to be a bad season in his keeper league. He seemed primarily interested in getting the names of players who were likely to be drafted late in keeper leagues in 2011 so that he can use the remainder of the current season to acquire emerging talents who will remain on his roster for years to come.

Since the responses I received had far more to do with keeper league dynamics than with tips about which specific players to target, I should begin by directing Nick to the FFToday forums, where FFToday staffers and veteran posters routinely help people from around the world with specific fantasy questions such as the one Nick poses.

I was struck by Nick's description of his league rules, which were very different from the rules of the keeper league that I participated in a few years ago. (For anyone wondering why I am not still in the keeper league, I didn't officially quit because I wasn't a genuine member. I just filled in for a colleague who was out of the country for the fall semester and wanted someone to manage his team in his absence.)

I have participated in redrafter leagues with all kinds of different rules, so I probably should have assumed that there is just as much variation in keeper leagues as in redrafters. But perhaps because of my limited experience (or some would say my limited intelligence), I made the mistaken assumption that the keeper league I played in was far more representative of the average keeper league than was the case.

For example, in my keeper league, owners could only keep players that they themselves had drafted and retained on their rosters all season. Consequently, a star player picked up on waivers would be returned to the general pool of players for the following season's draft. There was also pressure not to cut a pine-riding rookie to make room for a replacement because even if you cut the rookie for just one week and picked him back up, he was no longer eligible for the keeper tag. Perhaps the most important distinction between my league and Nick's was that no player acquired via trade could be retained for the following season. I inferred at the time that this rule was to prevent teams that got off to a bad start from trading their most productive players away for the stars of the future, but I received arguments to the contrary from enough keeper participants in the past week to have decided that I was probably mistaken. As Michael put it:

To me, not allowing owners to trade for the future undermines a keeper league. Being able to balance the desire to win in the current year with being able to build for future success is a key component to a successful keeper league. First, it kills the trade market in the league and skews the value of all players. If you cannot keep any player you obtain via trade, then all the other players become less valuable. All of a sudden, Mark Ingram might be worth more than Cedric Benson because you can keep him moving forward. Second, it can kill parity in the league. Owners mining future value and stashing those players [on their rosters] is how keeper leagues are able to prevent dynasty franchises from forming. Finally, it is just more entertaining and fun to have more of a free market system in the works. Most of us play fantasy football for enjoyment, and just getting to think about the values of the different players and weigh all of the opposing viewpoints in your head on trades and pickups is a big part of the fun.

Caveat: I have played in a keeper league that did not allow players on IR to be traded. This league felt that it skewed the future value too much for these players and undermined the next season for the league (apparently one year an owner mailed in a season early and [dumped his players to make room] for every single good IR player he could find). I understand this sentiment, but, personally, I would allow it. If owners do not want those IR players to be stashed, then they should not let them go via trades or waivers.

Michael's sentiments about giving owners the choice (some might even say an incentive) to abandon a disappointing present in hope of a triumphant future were echoed by Omer:

I have been in a keeper league for about 6 years now. We have a lot of collective experience and consider ourselves an "expert league". In our league you can keep a player 2 rounds ahead of where he was drafted the previous year, but there is a cap of 2 years in a row that a player may be kept. If a player is ever dropped from an active roster, they are no longer available [to any owner] as a keeper. The same goes for free agents; they are not available.

The added component of these types of league is the "rebuilding" year. Last year I won our championship but only had 1 quality keeper left (Peyton Hillis as a 7th rounder). After starting this season a fabulous 1-5, I traded away Mike Vick for Cam Newton. Newton will count as my 12th-round pick next year. As I have very little shot at the playoffs, I consider this my rebuilding year. I will continue to trade value this year for future talent.

Some may find this unfair, but consider that the team I traded Vick to was wise/lucky enough to draft Cam Newton in the final round of our draft. He therefore gives up Cam Newton's future value for a shot at the championship this year.

These are just two responses of the many I received that indicate how comfortable owners in keeper leagues are with the idea of their peers engaging in trades that might look like collusion in redrafter leagues. If team A cripples itself to make team B stronger for the rest of the season, it doesn't mean that team A is doing anything underhanded. The owner of team A is very likely just doing what he can to make his team as strong as possible for next year, and the owner of team B is compromising his team's future to focus on winning NOW.

Although it seems commonplace for traded players to retain their keeper eligibility in keeper leagues, free agents are tricky. In Omer's league, any player claimed on waivers in ineligible for keeper status, but in V.U.'s league, anything goes: "I am in a 12-team 3-keeper league, and our rules are pretty simple. You can keep any players not drafted in the first 2 rounds of the draft."

Whether the cut-off is the second or third round, one rule that my keeper league had in common with most other keepers is that there is a threshold beyond which players cannot be tagged as keepers along with a recalibration that brings all stars closer to that threshold over time, as Wyatt explains:

Our general rule is that you can keep up to three players from an 18-man roster. Each player you keep in the following year counts as your draft pick at two rounds higher than the prior year's draft. Keepers can be kept for a maximum of four years (original draft plus three keeps). However, any player drafted in the first three rounds cannot be kept; this rule also applies to any player who being kept has his draft round adjusted into the first three rounds.

J. Charles, A. Foster, M. Austin, F. Jackson, D. McFadden, A. Rodgers, S. Johnson, M. Manningham, V. Jackson, R. Mendenhal, P. Hillis, R. Rice, and B. Lloyd are just a few of players kept from last year that remain on league rosters at this point in the season.

Strategy is affected at least two ways. Owners must evaluate the relative value of a player versus his draft pick cost in deciding whether to keep a player at league draft time. The other aspect is the reduced number of players available when ranking (and drafting) players for your draft. Sometimes the players that are kept will cause a serious shortage of players in a given position. Just browse through the top-notch running backs in the above list to gauge the effect the keeper list would have on a draft strategy.

Although the rules in Wyatt's league are similar to the rules in most keeper leagues, some leagues are organized along very different lines. Dave wrote in to describe 2 different kinds of keeper leagues that he participates in. The first one sounds very much like the keepers described above, but the second is unconventional:

Two of the three leagues that I participate in are keeper leagues. In what I deem the most important league, we have been using a keeper format for 8 of the 9 years we have been operating. We started with 3 keepers initially, but have been using 4 keepers per team (10 teams) for the past 7 years. In terms of the rules for keepers - they must be drafted (no waiver wire players can be kept) and that player costs 2 rounds higher than where they were drafted (a player drafted in the 4th round is worth a 2nd round pick, etc).

In my opinion, the keeper format we use has promoted trades and kept the league interesting even to those that are out of the playoff hunt. For example, a 2-8 team can look to next year by looking to trade for keepers, while teams pushing for the playoffs can mortgage their future for a run at the title. Keepers also reward good drafting and allow an owner to develop a formidable team for years to come. I drafted Wes Welker in 2007 for a 15th-round pick, and he's been on my team ever since. Also, if I know that I have certain strengths, like at WR, I can maneuver my draft picks to address my weaknesses in the draft.

This kind of a keeper league does produce turnover, especially with players of higher draft pick value, which makes it better than a true keeper league.

I am also part of another type of keeper league of 14 teams. This league allows three keepers, but all from different positions. There is no draft pick value attached to those players, and every 3 or 4 years we have a complete re-draft. This type of keeper league seems to have a harder time consummating trades (either because of the position restriction or because of the sheer amount of teams).

I highly recommend keeper leagues, it really adds another dimension to draft strategy and player transactions. I also think it rewards better fantasy players, as it takes some of the luck of a re-draft out of the scenario, since teams that have a great core have an upper hand every year.

For those who are interested in giving keeper leagues a try, a reader named Chapin wrote in with three tips that should be especially helpful for novices:

1) Know who is eligible to be kept and keep tabs on each player's performance, age, and contract status. (My own league is a true dynasty league, so anyone "drafted" is keeper eligible; some leagues have a deadline for players to be eligible).

2) Keep an eye on the "passing of the torch" and grab guys with potential and upside, but don't get married to sleepers. Be especially careful about chasing the "young" players. (I got burned by Rich Gannon for years)

3) Don't be afraid to make trades if it means your team will be better NEXT year. I'm a Cubs fan, so I'm always the optimist. sometimes, in fantasy football, we get too attached to our stars. If your team is flailing and your season appears over, perhaps it's worth putting one of your studs on the trade block to start adding depth for next season.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to write in concerning keeper leagues. Even the responses that I was unable to include in this column were extremely interesting--and quite helpful in enabling me to understand a keeper culture that I had not delved into previously. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun checking my email for responses. You might even say that I think the readers of this column are all keepers, but they deserve better puns than that.

This Week's Question: Is It Lame to Trade Injured Players?

This week's question comes from Daryl, who ran into trouble when he tried to make a trade for Andre Johnson back in Week 5 (when the hamstring injury was still fresh):

I tried to trade Dwayne Bowe for Andre Johnson in Week 5. Johnson's owner knew that he wouldn't be able to play, and he was scrambling for a decent receiver to plug into Johnson's roster spot. I had more receivers than I could use, and I didn't mind having Johnson on my bench for as long as it took his hamstring to heal.

The commissioner vetoed the trade on the grounds that Johnson is out of Bowe's league.

Well duh. I would much rather have a healthy Johnson than a healthy Bowe, but there is no way to tell in advance how long a hammy will linger, so I was giving up something of definite value (an active Bowe) for something of questionable value (a star wideout who has now missed a quarter of the season).

How can commissioners categorize an injured player as "too valuable" to be traded for another player when there is no way for them to know how much of the season the injury is going to cost the player in question?

That is a tough question. I would love to hear from commissioners with experience in monitoring trades that involve injured players. I also encourage owners who have developed their own sets of guidelines for acquiring (or dumping) injured players to share their insights with me for next week's column.

Last Man Standing - Week 9 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: Baltimore at Pittsburgh

What a difference seven weeks make. Baltimore has struggled of late, and the Steelers proved that they could win a battle of heavyweights if they are playing at home. But the Ravens seem to have the Steelers' number no matter where they are playing. This will be a battle of defenses that are ranked #2 and #1 respectively, so it will come down to the offenses. While the Steelers seem to have the edge, anything goes in this division rivalry that defines the success of each team’s season. A fake field goal or onside kick could easily be the difference maker in this game of equals for what most likely will be hailed as the game that decides the AFC Central. Stay clear of this one.

#3: New England over NY Giants (6-2, PIT, SD, GB, BUF, HOU, CIN, NO, CAR)

Those who have paid attention to my column over the years know that I am a diehard Giants fan. That said, you also know that I am one of the more “pragmatic” fans out there. The G-Men always seem to play up, or down, to the level of their competition. But going into Foxboro and taking on Tom Brady and crew is a monumental task on any day, let alone when the Patriots have lost the week before and are desperately in need of a win before playing a division rival the following week. While the Patriots' defense is abysmal (as evidenced by their dead last ranking in total yards allowed), Eli Manning is susceptible to throwing off his back foot and completing passes (when pressured) to members of the opposing defense. (We call those interceptions, Eli.) Combine that with the fact that New York’s own defense is vulnerable to the quick-strike passing attack that New England is known for, and this makes for a formula for a “Giant” debacle. Look for Belicheck and his team to exploit “blown coverages” in Perry Fewell's defense as they play action pass, and then later run against a team that hopes it will finish above .500 by year end because of their extremely difficult upcoming schedule, and this game then has all of the makings of a “redemption game” for a lost perfect season in 2008 (regardless of what each team is saying).

#2: Dallas over Seattle (5-3, SD, AZ, DET, GB, NYG, PIT, JAX, NO)

Who would have thought that St. Louis could pull off the upset against New Orleans last week? Surely not 98% of those that handicap the NFL. So while I have said that the Rams would be one of my three picks every week, this week I turn to another team that has had its struggles on offense, the Seattle Seahawks. They are ranked near the bottom in most categories and, even more significantly, are 31st in total yards per game (just 284). Unfortunately for Seattle, Dallas racks up almost 100 more yards per game. And while both teams are statistically equal in terms of points yielded per contest (23.1), the ‘Hawks will have a hard time containing Romo and company as they establish the run with Demarco Murray and air it out to Bryant, Austin and Robinson in front of their home crowd as they prove that they should be a playoff team that still hasn’t quite figured out how to win on the road. Since this game is at home in front of “Jerry’s crowd," you can confidently take “da boys.” Don’t expect them to cover the Vegas spread, but that’s not what matters here--just the win.

#1: Oakland over Denver (7-1 SD, PIT, TN, PHL, CIN, GB, DAL, NYG)

In a normal season, you would stay as far away as possible from this division rivalry in LMS pools. But this year is no normal year, and this game is no normal game. The Broncos are just plain bad, and at great risk of being “Tebowed” by Al Davis’ Black and Silver. Davis will be looking down with his harp--or possibly up with his pitchfork--and smiling. While the Raider defense is nowhere near as good as that of the Lions, Oakland won’t have to rely on its D because the potent Raider offense should have no trouble abusing a Broncos team that is ranked 30th in total defense. To make matters worse for the Broncos, they will face Carson Palmer as he is reunited with TJ Houshmanzadeh (a connection that was extremely prolific in Cincinnati prior to TJ’s departure to Seattle two years ago). Once we add Darren McFadden, one of today’s most electrifying running backs to the mix, we are just two eggs and one cup of flour away from a recipe for a blowout. Take the home team and watch the men in black and silver win this one “running away.”

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.