Waldman profiles his auction plan and execution from this week’s RSO Writers’ League free agent auction.
My favorite fantasy drafts are auctions. It’s the one format where you get to target the players you value the most rather than hope that they fall to you. Free agent auctions offer a different twist. The limitations of an existing salary cap make annual team-building more of a project in puzzle solving.
That’s what happened last night with the 2015 RSO Writers’ League. Now entering its third season, our 14-team league of mostly football writers (and one real writer) has settled into a groove with a core group of owners comfortable with the league rules, the auction process, and their teams. If you’re new to the RSO format, here’s a brief list of bullet points about the format:
- RSO is a salary cap format with contracts of 1-4 years in length.
- The salary cap is in millions of dollars and modeled after NFL-like conditions by the founders of RSO, who worked in the Eagles’ front office.
- RSO offers traditional and IDP formats.
- The first year set up involves a rookie draft (non-serpentine and rookie salaries set by draft order) followed immediately by a free agent auction.
- The auction is a fast-paced format:
- The realistic salary amounts of the contact types are calculated by the auction room, which makes the process easy.
- The commissioner has the ability to pause and roll back the auction one pick in case there are any screw ups.
- The site gives you a tour of the auction room and the ability to try it before drafts, which makes acclimation to the process easy.
- The first auction may take a little longer depending on your league’s comfort level with the app, but our free agent auction that was stacked with good players only took 2.5 hours with no rollbacks or stoppages.
- Teams are allowed to franchise one player each season at the market rate for a top starter.
- Even with a more realistic-looking salary cap and contracts, executing trades and waivers is easy.
Learn more about RSO and when you create a league, use promo code RSP10 for a 10 percent discount.
My Team and Auction Plan
Here’s my team prior to the auction:
- QB: Teddy Bridgewater
- RBs: Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, Michael Dyer and Charles Sims
- WRs: Calvin Johnson, Keenan Allen, DeSean Jackson, Albert Wilson, Chris Conley, Cecil Shorts and Justin Hardy
- TEs: Heath Miller and Blake Bell
- PK: Nick Novak
- DEF: Rams and Seahawks
After surveying the free agent list, I made a short list of priority players with the hope of acquiring the following:
- 1 QB among: Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer and Sam Bradford
- 1-2 RBs among: Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, Justin Forsett, Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount, Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, Lamar Miller and Rashad Jennings
- 1-2 WRs among: Alshon Jeffery, Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, Terrelle Pryor and Duron Carter
- 1 TE among: Antonio Gates, Jacob Tamme, Kyle Rudolph, Larry Donnell and Virgil Green
I had $43 million in cap space and based on my valuation of the free agents I had little chance of getting a running back to my liking unless extreme patience paid off, I caught the group napping, or I won a back early in the auction at a ridiculously low price when everyone is tentative about throwing money around. I won Matt Forte this way last year.
Here’s a list of my values (dollar amounts in millions) for some of the more prominent free agents according to projections I’ve created for their 2015 seasons:
|Peterson, Adrian – MIN||$47|
|Forsett, Justin – BAL||$45|
|Murray, DeMarco – PHI||$37|
|Jeffery, Alshon – CHI||$36|
|Johnson, Andre – IND||$36|
|Gore, Frank – IND||$34|
|Jennings, Rashad – NYG||$33|
|Miller, Lamar – MIA||$32|
|Manning, Peyton – DEN||$30|
|Stewart, Jonathan – CAR||$29|
|Roethlisberger, Ben – PIT||$28|
|Blount, LeGarrette – NE||$27|
|Jackson, Vincent – TB||$27|
|Stafford, Matthew – DET||$25|
|Wallace, Mike – MIN||$25|
|Bowe, Dwayne – CLE||$24|
|Brees, Drew – NO||$24|
|Smith, Steve – BAL||$22|
|Donnell, Larry – NYG||$20|
|White, Roddy – ATL||$19|
|Rivers, Philip – SD||$19|
|Wright, Kendall – TEN||$16|
|Tamme, Jacob – ATL||$15|
|Rudolph, Kyle – MIN||$14|
|Martin, Doug – TB||$14|
|Cutler, Jay – CHI||$13|
|Smith, Torrey – SF||$13|
|Hill, Josh – NO||$12|
|LaFell, Brandon – NE||$11|
|Thomas, Julius – JAX||$10|
|Garcon, Pierre – WAS||$10|
|Johnson, Steve – SD||$9|
|Kaepernick, Colin – SF||$9|
|Gates, Antonio – SD||$8|
|Fitzgerald, Larry – ARI||$7|
|Baldwin, Doug – SEA||$7|
|Daniels, Owen – DEN||$7|
|Dalton, Andy – CIN||$7|
|Bradford, Sam – PHI||$6|
|Williams, DeAngelo – PIT||$6|
|Palmer, Carson – ARI||$6|
|Bush, Reggie – SF||$6|
|Fleener, Coby – IND||$5|
|Floyd, Malcom – SD||$5|
|Crabtree, Michael – OAK||$5|
|Streater, Rod – OAK||$5|
|Royal, Eddie – CHI||$5|
|McFadden, Darren – DAL||$4|
|Jennings, Greg – MIA||$4|
Remember, these values aren’t equivalent to a re-draft auction league because there are only a limited number of players available. These values also reflect my projections, not ADP. After examining this data, I made that short list of 28 players that I shared earlier with bullet points.
What I need to remember about these auctions is to be aggressive early, because it’s the one point where money isn’t flowing as freely as it should. By the time owners get warmed up, they begin spending with abandon on lesser players. I didn’t keep this in mind and it may have cost me an opportunity to turn this team into a major favorite.
I do bake contingencies into my auction plans. One of them is building on my roster’s strengths if I cannot address a weakness. My strength is clearly wide receiver and I decided if I didn’t land another starter or contributor at running back that I’d acquire receivers as attractive trade bait or high-upside developmental projects.
My Auction Winnings
I had to add 9 players to my roster to finish the auction with a roster requirement of 30. With my cap room around $43 million, here’s my haul:
- Andre Johnson 1 year, $25.5 million
- Carson Palmer 4 years, $22.5 million
- Steve Smith 2 years, $13.5 million
- Virgil Green 2 years $2 million
- Terrelle Pryor 3 years $9.5 million
- Shaun Hill 1 year, $500,000
- Sebastian Janikowski 1 year, $500,000
- Kerwynn Williams 1 year, $500,000
- Ahmad Bradshaw 2 years, $1.5 million
I valued Johnson at $36 million, whether it was a one-year deal for that total or a two-year offer at around $18-20 million per year depending on the structure of the first and second years. I preferred a one-year deal because there will be younger players available next year and I don’t want that kind of money tied up in an older player.
I also didn’t want Johnson at $25.5 million as much as I didn’t want Sigmund Bloom to get him as cheaply as he was about to land the Colts receiver. What I realized as soon as I won Johnson is that while I was trying to goad Bloom to bid a little more so his total cap value would come down enough for me to win other players, Bloom was baiting me back so he didn’t have to worry about me battling him for his primary running back target: Lamar Miller, one of the few proven players at the position truly worth of a 4-year deal.
“Winning” Johnson dropped my cap value to $18 million and meant I was no longer in the market for Peterson, Murray or Miller. If I wanted one of the other backs, I would likely be stuck with even worse options at quarterback and I might not land another starter at receiver or tight end.
I like having Johnson on my team. It’s likely both Calvin and Andre Johnson finish as top-15 options and I could have 2-3 top-20 receivers in Steve Smith, Keenan Allen, and DeSean Jackson. The fact that the Ravens have stated that Smith will not see his opportunities reduced this year should have fantasy owners increasing his value.
I wanted Smith as my second receiver from this auction all along. Using a two-year deal on a player with limited shelf life wasn’t an optimal choice, but it made my bid competitive enough to win and at a cost that was reasonable to live with even if he retires in 2016.
Another deal where I sacrificed future cap room for the good of this year, and hopefully next, is my 4-year deal with Carson Palmer for $22.5 million. The $7-8 million per year cost was more gentle on me this year so I land other players but defrayed the future costs across a longer span that would be manageable for my team even if Palmer retires midway through the deal. It also helped me beat Bob Harris in a bidding war for the quarterback.
I can’t say Bob arguably didn’t do better with Jay Cutler for 2 years at $14.5 million.
After Johnson, Palmer and Smith, I sought cheap veteran deals for depth or developmental options. I lost in a bidding war with Matt Harmon for Duron Carter, a player I nominated late, but not late enough. The response to my nomination of Carter and the number of owners bidding on him surprised Russell Clay enough that his response in the chat room was simply, “wow.”
Terrelle Pryor was a nice consolation. I don’t anticipate Pryor to become a starter in Cleveland this year. I’m investing in the idea that Pryor becomes a contributor now and becomes a more consistent factor next year. With a three-year deal, I hope Pryor plays well enough in 2018 to reap the dividends at a cheap price. If he really takes off then I can consider franchising him, assuming that Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson are no longer worth that kind of decision.
Virgil Green offers contributor production this year, but I’m looking towards Owen Daniels leaving the game next year and Green earning the job full-time just as Heath Miller’s career draws to a close. If it doesn’t work out, Green is cheap and I can afford a bigger name next year.
Shaun Hill gives me a solid backup with a much better offense around him than the Rams last year. If Teddy Bridgewater gets hurt, I’ll take my chances with Hill for a couple of weeks before I decide on possibly trades for a quarterback–if Palmer is also struggling.
Kerwynn Williams is a cheap investment with some proven production and youth on his side and Ahmad Bradshaw is that cheap lottery ticket that I hope pays off with the current issues we’ve seen with injuries in Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston.
Quarterback has potential for top-12 production, but I foresee this as a committee approach to the position. I really wanted Doug Martin so I could at least corner two NFL backfields. Forte and one of the Cleveland backs should provide steady production for me. I’m hoping Michael Dyer continues to perform well enough to earn a roster spot. If he does, I could see him finding his way onto the field within another year.
Heath Miller will have to hold it down for me or Owen Daniels’ health has to falter. My pick of Green is a bet against Daniels staying injury-free.
I have six starting receivers and nine of them have no worse than contributor rotation with fantasy relevance. With the Johnsons, DeSean Jackson, Keenan Allen, and Marquess Wilson playing with one-year deals or one-year left, I may have difficulty with appealing deals for those seeking long-term help, but I’m hoping I’ll identify owners contending for playoff spots who are willing to trade for a one-year need.
I’m not as confident about my team as I was the past two seasons, but I believe there’s enough here for me to create a squad that contends for a title if some of my lesser names don’t out-perform their current value.
Complete Auction Results
*Due to a draft day trade that wasn’t completed, Adrian Coxson and Joe Don Duncan were dropped immediately after the auction to make room for the player I selected after that trade, Michael Dyer.
Learn more about RSO and when you create a league, use promo code RSP10 for a 10 percent discount.