Last Week's Question: Mid-Season Keeper League
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
(Courtesy of Matthew
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
#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