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Week 14

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I shared the question of a reader named Jim who wants to convert his traditional redrafter league to a keeper league. On the one hand, the folks in his league appear to be concerned about the fairness of switching from one format to the other without having known in advance that they should have been thinking about keeper implications when they had their draft earlier this year. But on the other hand, they appear to be impatient to make the switch. Fortunately, I received a great deal of feedback on the question of whether there is in fact some way to pull off the transition without tilting the playing field. Unfortunately, I can’t say that there was a true consensus among those who wrote in. Nevertheless, I’ll cover the various responses in the hope that leagues facing this sort of question will be able to find the answer that works best for them.

Almost half of the folks who wrote in were unimpressed by Jim’s eagerness. The simple answer from the people who took this position was that Jim’s league should have another pure redraft in 2007 with the understanding that the league will switch to a keeper in 2008. Paul spoke clearly enough for this camp:

The dynamics of the league are changing at end of season. Despite the fact the issue was discussed at the draft, it was not resolved at the time and was only decided that MAYBE it would be turned into a keeper next year.

Strategy for a re-draft league is in many ways different than that of a keeper. There are plenty of times in a keeper, when the owner would be flip-flopping between 2 guys who should perform at the same level this year, but he ends up taking the younger guy in a keeper because he’ll get more production out of the player long-term.

Thus, if the league is switching from re-draft to keeper, wipe the slate clean and start over. Make sure everyone knows prior to the draft that the league is now a keeper league. This, in my opinion, if the fairest way to make the transition without punishing the guys who might have picked the Tikis over the S-Jax's and Ronnie Brown's in the NFL because this, in reality, was a re-draft league at the time of the draft.

Of course, I think you should also randomize the draft again and not base the draft on the results from this season. Switch the dynamics, start over again as if this is a brand new league.
A reader named John seems to agree with Paul for the most part, but adds his thoughts on what Jim’s league should do if it isn’t willing to wait until 2008 to adopt a keeper model:

I would think that some owners could have made different decisions this season if they had known that next year would be a keeper season, so the best decision may be to do a complete re-draft next season with the rule in place that the league would convert to a keeper system the following year. That would allow the owners to plan for the transition during the draft and while making mid-season roster changes. As for the Colston comparison, where an undrafted player has a breakout season and emerges as a legitimate fantasy star and potential keeper, there is the potential for that situation in any season, so that should not be of particular concern.

If you are going to keep just 3, that makes it a bit easier to do it next season, as few top 30 players would have been released this season. A compromise could be to keep one player from this season for next year, then go to the full-blown keeper system (however many you decided upon) in the following year.

Terry also responded with ideas about how to make incremental progress to a keeper league:

Our own league of some 7 or so years has adopted a keeper league from a normal league by doing it in small steps. First we don't have permanent keepers. Instead, each player drafted is kept next year by taking the round they were drafted and then subtracting 3. So a player drafted in round 10 is a keeper for next year at round 7. Anyone picked up on waivers that year is assigned a draft round of 12 so that they become a round 9 keeper for the next year. Any player drafted in the top 3 rounds is automatically added back to the draft pool. And if you have multiple keepers for the same round, for example 2 waiver wire pickups, you can keep one at the re-draft round and the next at the re-draft round minus 1. So in my previous example of 2 waiver wire pickups, the first would be kept for a round 9 pick and the second for a round 8 pick. Secondly, we only allow 2 keepers but can expand it to larger numbers as the years go on if desired. This allows us to create a partial keeper league out of a re-draft league. And it prevents any one team from building a dynasty off of one great year. Good luck.

Geiger, whose league is apparently going through the same process as Jim’s, wrote in to advocate the incremental approach and to explain how he handled a situation analogous to the one Jim reported about Marques Colston:

One of my leagues is currently going through the very same process as far as converting from entirely redraft towards a keeper league. The league is also a ten team league which I think helps make the transition a bit easier due to more talent available per team compared to twelve team leagues and greater. Jim’s situation with one of the owners wanting to keep Colston is identical to one we had as we were beginning our transition. It was Reggie Wayne, and I acquired him as a waiver wire pick up with the hope/expectation that he should only cost me my last round pick. This caused, I imagine, much the same debate that's going on in Jim’s league now.

In my experience, whether it's fantasy football or just about anything else, the biggest cause of disagreement is someone thinking either they’re not going to get what they want or something will be taken away from them. Once I agreed that yes it would be a huge advantage for me to keep Reggie Wayne and then pointed out a number of players from the previous few seasons that each of the disgruntled owners had acquired from waivers as well, I only needed to challenge whether they were good enough to do it again. It's the competitiveness and false sense of truly knowing how well a given player will perform that fuels fantasy football. As long as leagues operate with that in mind to go along with honesty and fairness most objections tend to be resolved.

This season is now our second in transitioning to a keeper league. In our particular case everyone agreed to go slowly with it and add one keeper per year for each team. What I find most interesting about the whole transition thing is that there is a renewed sense of competitiveness and community within our league and it's actually become even more fun than it was. Realizing this now, I would only suggest that anyone who is trying to bring about changes within their league and isn't alone in that desire, would benefit by offering the greater level of competition as a reason why changes should be made and why any differences need be resolved. I think most would be willing to apply some give and take to make that happen. (Geiger)

I also heard from people who question why any league would want to switch from a redrafter to a keeper in the first place. Glen begins by echoing Paul’s concerns about fairness, but ends up making an even more significant objection:

If you intend to change to a keeper league, you should start with the players drafted next year, not this year's. A rule change such as this is a significant change that should begin at the start of a season. Everyone should have the opportunity to plan for a draft with the knowledge that you will be able to 'keep' some players. You are essentially starting a new league format, not tweaking your current rules. If you were to draft this year's team over, there will probably be a significant change to your draft strategy. You may pass on a solid veteran player in favor of a rookie who may not see significant playing time until the following year. Trade strategy would also change in a keeper league. You may not trade a struggling or injured player if you knew he could possibly help you next year. You would also pay more attention to the waiver wire to pick up any possible players who would develop into quality players for next season.

Why change to a keeper league at all? The only thing it accomplishes is to reward the owners who have the marquee players on their roster. So you save time by cutting out a couple of draft rounds, so what? All you are essentially doing is 'predrafting' the first couple of rounds by keeping players from the previous year. Why reward an owner next year for drafting a player this year. Shouldn't there be some sort of competitive balance to maintain? What if you don't want any of the players on your current roster for next year? Would you drop all of your players for the chance to draft Tomlinson next year? The owners who don't have the marquee players at the bottom of the league will suffer. They will eventually begin to resent the owners who have the marquee players. League harmony will dissolve when the have-nots begin to feel cheated and taken advantage of. Keeper leagues favor two types of owners, the owners who have time to research the sleepers, and the owners who are lucky enough to draft the marquee player. Make it fair to all owners. Redraft each year. Use a random lottery to determine draft position.

Troy’s position about the importance of the draft is in keeping with what Glen has to say, but allows for a keeper element:

The key to the keeper league is one keeper per year. The draft is the most important and fun piece of the fantasy football season, so you don't want to take away from it. We went to a keeper league a few years ago. Here is how we do it: To qualify for a keeper the player must be DRAFTED in the 5th round or later. He must also stay on the owner’s roster for the entire year. To acquire your keeper you give up your draft pick two rounds earlier than when you selected him last year. Make sense? If you drafted Colston in the 14th round, you give up your 12th pick for him. We only allow a keeper for one year. This means you can't give up your 10th pick the following year and keep Colston again. After one year they go back into the draft.

The keeper adds a whole new element to the league so you must announce it prior to your draft. I'll give you an interesting strategy. Say a big time player goes down with a season ending injury in the first or second week of the preseason. We draft around the fourth week of the preseason. If he's out for the season there is no reason to draft him...not so fast! If you’re smart you'll waste a 14th or 15th on him. Say LT or LJ went down. Could you imagine giving up a 12th round pick for either of them the following year?
Just in case Jim is feeling down in the dumps about the skepticism that some folks have about whether keepers are any good or not, here’s a response from Larry that should help buck him up:

I heartily applaud anyone who wants to go keeper. All the elements that lead to that decision say you're hooked in a way that will last long term. My main money play is in a league in our 23rd year - 22 as a keeper.

The first suggestion I'll make is that converting to keeper and to an auction rather than a draft at the same moment isn't as radical as it sounds, and managing your auction cash is a most satisfying - or challenging - endeavor. If you go to an auction, at whatever amount, you can make every keeper the league average salary (ie; 20 man roster, $100 auction budget = $5 average salary), or you can do something mildly more complicated and create tiers at each position using this season's totals, assign the average salary to the middle tier, and add or subtract bucks for players in higher or lower tiers.

If you're not ready to auction, I'd say use the tiered system anyway. Top tier players would be first round picks, second tier - third round, etc. That would fit pretty well with a 16 player roster.

I agree that you should limit the change-over keepers. If your plan is to stop at three, keeping just one in the change is about right.

And discuss just how long a player can be kept. Think of it like free agency. There's nothing more discouraging than all the best players being taken before the draft even begins, and if you've got just 10 teams keeping 3 each, the talent gets pretty average pretty quickly. In our keeper/salaried league, players are only allowed to be kept out of two auctions, even if they're traded or released by one team and picked up by another. (We also have a simple escalation system for all kept players - $1 added to the current salary, plus another buck for each multiple of 5 in the new salary. $7 becomes $9, $9 becomes $12.)

There's a much more involved feel to keeper leagues, when decisions you make this year can impact the next year or two.

Lou happens to agree with Larry about the utility of transitioning to an auction at the same time that one moves to a keeper:

I am writing in response to Jim’s question as my league, 9 years, just made the switch to a keeper. And in my case, I picked up Larry Johnson as a through in to a trade 1 week before Priest went down last year. So I know what Jim is saying about a guy wanting to keep certain players. I decided that the only fair way to “start” a keeper league was to have an auction draft. I lost out on keeping LJ, but with an auction, I could have him back if I so chose. It was our first auction, so it took some talking into on my part, but it turned out to work out great. If an owner really wanted a player, he could just outbid everyone for him. We are keeping a salary cap for the years to come, and the 6 keepers salaries will carry over. I really think the only fair way to do a keeper is through an auction. I don’t feel it’s fair that a random drawing of draft order should allow certain teams to draft the best players.

Although I received a number of other responses to this question, I’ll save them for next week’s column (as I don’t want readers to have to struggle with information overload). The continuation of the discussion will also allow latecomers an opportunity to chime in with their takes on the subject. My thanks to all those who wrote in. I received lots of perfectly coherent and articulate answers that were unnecessary to include here simply because they were too similar to other responses.

This Week’s Question

If you want to write in with your advice on how to convert from a redrafter to a keeper league, I will be continuing that discussion in Week 15. You may also want to respond to the question that I will pose for Week 16, which comes from a reader named Terry, who is concerned about the imbalanced way that his league scores defenses. “Imbalance” can obviously mean at least two different things when it comes to the way defensive performances are scored. It may mean that the elite defenses score far more points than they should as compared to second-tier defenses; it may mean that defenses score far more or far fewer points than other fantasy positions. It might suggest other things as well. Whatever the case, if your league has a particularly effective way of awarding points to defenses that you would like to share, please write in to explain how your system functions and what makes it “good” in your opinion.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

[Since people who are still alive in their LMS pools are presumably running out of options,] I thought that it might be wise to use some of the teams that I still haven’t chosen.

Matt’s Picks

#3: Pittsburgh over Cleveland (9-4 Season): This game has Browns upset all over it. Hines Ward is out, Charlie Frye is probably not going to play, and Derek Anderson rallied the Browns to a come from behind win against the Chiefs last week. The Steelers are home, but this team is now only playing for pride instead of trying to defend its title. That said, this is a bitter rivalry, and the fans won’t let them forget that. This will probably be a close game, but give the advantage to the home team.

#2: Tennessee at Houston (10-3 Season): Houston we have a problem. Vince Young is coming to town, and our team doesn’t know how to game plan for him. The Titans are playing loose and free, have beaten three playoff-caliber teams in the last three weeks, and the Texans are far from a playoff caliber team. Look for them to go into Houston and have their way.

#1: San Francisco over Green Bay (10-3 Season): Both of these teams long for the days of their once great quarterbacks Joe Montana and Brett Favre. Wait, Brett Favre is still playing for the Packers, but unfortunately the cast around him is far from what it used to be. Alex Smith and Frank Gore will continue their pursuit of the post season at home this week, and the Packers’ defense should be no problem for them. The Pack will be able to move the ball, but their defense will give up way too many points.


Michael’s Picks

3 - (6-7) - 49ers over Packers - The Pack is floundering, while the Niners have steadily improved. Even in a loss last week, the San Francisco defense slowed down a hot Drew Brees. Now they should get a few turnovers from Green Bay, and if Frank Gore bounces back, I like the Niners at home.

2 - (9-4) - Steelers over Browns - This is a Thursday game, so both teams face the short week. However, the game is in Pittsburgh and I like that as a big advantage for the home team. Charlie Frye has an injured passing arm, so expect Anderson to start. Will he be ready against the Steeler defense without much time to prepare? I wouldn't count on it.

1 - (12-1) - Bengals over Raiders - I had to double check this, but I haven't recommended the Bengals as my top pick yet. This is a great week to use them as they should have their way with Oakland. It's at home, and after their Thursday win over the Ravens, there has been plenty of time to rest and prepare. The Raiders have a strong passing defense, but Rudi Johnson should be able to carry the load if he needs to. I still expect the passing game to get some opportunities, though, and Cincinatti should put more than enough on the board for Oakland to keep up with.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.