Contributed By: Dan Duff
After a few seasons of playing Fantasy Football, almost every player begins to think about participating in a league where you get to keep some of your players from season to season. If you snagged some sleepers who turned into Fantasy studs, it would be great to have their services next year too without spending a top pick to get them. In this article, we will look at the advantages of redrafts and keeper systems, and discuss some of the variants that you could employ in designing your keeper system.
Anyone who has played fantasy football will tell you that on draft day, almost everyone believes his or her team is championship material. The problem starts once the games begin, and injuries begin to mount. There is always at least one team that ends up devastated by injuries to key players. By mid-October, they are buried in the cellar, spending Sundays anywhere they can avoid football, and doing whatever their significant other suggests (“Yes, Dear, I’d love to go shopping for new carpet. All that’s on TV is the Eagles-Steelers game”). It is hard to put in the effort to try to improve your team when you know that no matter what, your season is toast. This is especially true in leagues that charge for transactions, where any further effort would not make financial sense.
The problem with this stance is that it makes your league less of a challenge for the remaining players. If you are not grabbing the newest starting RB off the waiver wire, he is going to a higher ranked team, and this is affecting your fellow players in a big way. You are also cutting yourself short, losing a significant portion of the season.
If you were playing in a keeper league, however, you would be camped in front of your big screen, surfing your NFL ticket coverage in search of players who could improve your 2005 prospects. With your low standing, you would be able to grab players who are thrust into a starting role off the waiver wire, and then try to package them in trades to upgrade your team for the next campaign. You can then target young players with significant future upside in your trade offers. Suddenly, your league no longer has a dull November where only the top teams still have interest.
How do you make the switch? First, if you are considering converting your league from a redraft to a keeper, the time to begin discussions is during the off-season. This gives all owners a chance to develop their draft strategy, and to think about how the rules change will affect the way they will approach trades and waivers. The time NOT to convert is mid-season, when a few teams mention the concept (usually because they have a nice group of players to keep). This mistake is almost guaranteed to cost your league some of its members, as players without obvious keepers-usually the ones who would have drafted high the next season-feel they are being ripped off. Start after the season by speaking to each member, and building a consensus. Try to show the reluctant players the advantages of the keeper system, rather than just forcing the issue with a majority vote. Again, that course is likely to cause resentment, and lost members.
How many players should each team be allowed to hold? Well, that is up to the owners in your league. Keeper leagues vary greatly in the number of players that teams may protect from year to year. I have seen anywhere from one to ten keepers per team. Most players will find that allowing teams to keep just one player is too little, even if you are using the one-man rule as part of transitioning from redraft to keeper. Essentially, you are eliminating the first round of your draft with this system. The teams that own the top backs are going to keep them, so your keeper list will be a close match for your first round in a redraft-with one big exception. The teams that have these players are unlikely to be the worst teams in the league, so you have prevented those poor teams from getting the top players on the board. This could cause hard feelings, and you want to avoid that to make your transition successful.
You should also stay away from a large keeper count-the leagues with 10 keepers are essentially turning their keeper league into a Dynasty league, but without the advantages of a pure Dynasty system. You do not want to turn your draft into tight end and kicker selection day. That would take a lot of the fun out of the best day of the fantasy year. If the idea of keeping the majority of your players interests you, check the out our next course, FB 305: Keeper vs. Dynasty.
Work with your fellow owners to find a comfortable number to start, and then revisit it after you get some experience in the system. I find that the maximum enjoyment comes when you have a reasonable ability to take a chance on a young player. If you are only keeping one or two players, there is no way that young WR or QB that are still being groomed for a starting role will make your list. But guessing right on guys like this can be very rewarding, as well as giving you some great bragging rights.
One of the biggest objections to keeper systems is the fear that teams will get stale over time, as the best players are always on the same team every year. To prevent this, some leagues also put rules in place to limit the number of years that a team can hold a player. Three years is a common limit for leagues that use this system. Leagues using an auction instead of a draft have the ability to add in a salary escalator for kept players. Typically, a set amount is added to the player’s prior year salary. Players who cost $50 at auction would cost $55 to keep the following season, $60 the year after that, and so on.
One side note-if you are going to convert to a keeper league, consider converting to an auction system. Owners picking last in a draft will not be pleased to see the best young running backs long gone before they have a chance to grab one. In fact, there are many good reasons to consider trying an auction system before looking at converting your league to a keeper. For more information on auctions, see FB306: Auction vs. Re-Draft Leagues.
Given the advantages offered by keepers, why would you stick with a redraft system? Well, redrafts offer a fresh start. Have a poor team one year? No matter, you get another chance next year, and have the chance to get one of the top players in the game. In a keeper league with a large number of kept players, it can take a few seasons to turn a bad team into a contender. Fantasy players can give up and leave if faced with too bad a team, leaving your league with the problem of finding someone who wants to take ownership of a bad team, and take on losing for a while in order to rebuild the squad.
Because of the threat of losing members, it is better to stick with a redraft unless you have a solid core of players who will stick it out, even if they lose a couple of years.
In addition, players without a lot of fantasy experience are better off cutting their teeth in a pure redraft. It is hard enough to learn about the relative value of players, and developing a draft strategy, without having to factor in potential free agent affects, coaching changes, retirements, and the thousand other things that can affect player performance in the future. Finally, there are owners who simply enjoy redrafts. To them, it just is not fun when the top 60 players are gone before the first beverage is cracked. Trying out new strategies, reaching for a QB early, and trying to guess when someone will crack and grab the top TE will not be there in a keeper league.
So to recap, keeper leagues are an excellent choice if you are looking to maintain interest among all your league’s owners throughout the year. They also are a way to give some continuity to a league, and can help to keep players in the group through the feeling of ownership. They can also reward players who have a good eye for young talent, if the number of keepers is set high enough.
Pure redrafts offer the chance to start fresh, and allow the teams that finished worst to get first shot at the best players in the game. They also cause turnover of rosters, helping to keep the league from getting stale. Less experienced players are usually better off in the redraft system.