Dynasty League Forum: Should you Expand?

My last post here at The Sports Script dealt with starting a complicated dynasty league and having fun with it. Hopefully some of you are daring enough to give it a try if you have never been in a league that extensive. I would love to hear from anyone that has given it a shot to see how it went.

This article is going to touch on our recent experience of adding a couple teams through expansion. I had always thought that this league was ideally suited for 12 teams because each year there was always plenty of talent on the waiver wire able to be claimed. I felt 10 teams just wasn’t enough.

The more fantasy football I have played the more I have realized that the smaller the league the more luck is involved in the final outcome.  My impression was if everyone had a loaded team then the luckiest team (and the one that stayed away from injuries) would wind up coming out on top. The more teams in the league, the more the talent will be stretched. Thus, those who do their research and make smarter decisions are more likely to come out on top. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

Four years ago I started a push to expand our league. I wanted to expand right away because I felt it would be even for all the existing franchises (losing players, etc) so there was no need to wait. Well, most of the other league members were against that because they had crafted their franchises and made trades based on this being only a ten team league. I thought that was just an excuse so I pushed and offered up the idea of voting for expansion now with the idea we would expand for the 2014 season if we were able to find two teams willing to jump into the mix. This would clear the current contracts (3-year max contracts) and future trades (you could only trade picks up to two years in advance). That way everyone could “plan” for this expansion and craft their teams accordingly. It worked and I was able to get league approval for this great expansion.

Expansion Process:
The by-laws had some expansion rules already in place because we originally expanded from eight to ten teams in year two but at that time nobody had grown too attached to their team and we didn’t really know what we were doing anyway. This time around most of the existing franchises thought the rules we had in place were too giving and that these new teams would gain a considerable edge. I completely disagreed but I’ll let you be the judge.  Here are the basic ideas we had in place:

  1. Each existing franchise could protect up to eight players off of the current 45-man roster. The players could be any combination of positions, salary, contracts, etc. Basically the only restriction was that you could only protect eight.
  2. Since each team is able to “freeze” up to 15 players (or $250 in salary) each year the expansion draft would consist of each new franchise drafting up to 15 players (or $250 in salary). By expanding by two teams that means 30 players had the potential of being drafted. Based on that (and to keep it even) we decided that each existing franchise would lose exactly three players during the expansion draft (10 existing franchises losing 3 players each = 30 players). Hey simple math, that’s good for everyone.
  3. Since expansion franchises would be losing out on essentially the top 80 players it was decided that any player taken in the expansion draft would not be subject to salary escalation and their existing contract status would be wiped clean. This would allow the new franchise to assign contracts as they saw fit and would get players at a potential bargain since the salary would not be escalated. An example of this would be a player like Cam Newton. Newton was set to escalate from $5 to $56 based on his 2013 performance. If the existing franchise kept him protected that franchise would have to sign Newton to a 1-yr contract at $56 to keep him. If he was exposed in the expansion draft the new team could take Newton and give him a 3-yr contract at the non-escalated price of $5. Needless to say Newton was not left unprotected but more on that in a moment.
  4. Expansion franchises would get the first two picks of every round of the Rookie/FA draft. The order would be based on the expansion draft outcome. The team with the lowest combined salary after the draft would get the first pick every round and the other team would get the second pick every round. Remember our draft is NFL style based on the reverse of the previous year’s standings.

Existing Franchise Concerns:
The biggest concern conveyed going into this process was that “I built my team around this core of players and now I am going to lose a big part of that core”. My response: you are losing three players out of 45 on your roster. Plus, those three are most likely #9-11 since you are protecting your top eight players to start. Not the end of the world.

Salary cap implications were the next great advantage the new teams will have. “They get all these great players at un-escalated salaries and then can give them contracts and lock them in for three years.” The best example of this was Josh Gordon (before his suspension issues).  Gordon just completed one of the best seasons ever for a WR and was set to escalate from $1 to $40 based on finishing at the top five of his position. Thanks to Calvin Johnson ($52) and some bad investments (Larry Fitzgerald: $40) the average of the top five salaries for WR came to a whopping $40. That would make Gordon a tough decision to keep at the cost for the existing owner but a great advantage to the new team to lock him in at $1 for 3 years if he was made available in the expansion draft. Now, thanks to the suspension, the decision was much easier but I think you can get the point the existing franchise was trying to make about the new team advantage.

I was able to stop some of the complaining when I suggested that if the expansion teams had it so great why don’t you switch with them.  They could take your existing franchise and you could start over with the expansion franchise.  After all, those new teams have all the advantages. Funny, none of the existing franchises were willing to do that.

New Franchise Concerns:
“You mean I get to start my team by drafting in what is essentially the 7th round of a typical draft?  Why would I want to pay money to do that?” The answer is simple – because this league is awesome! Unfortunately that wasn’t going to be enough convincing. Now, since I have been in this league for so long (and know the awesomeness) I just needed to give them a taste for a year and they would be hooked. I also knew that there was plenty of talent to build a quality team that could compete right away.

Neither of the new franchises have ever done a league with IDP before so when they saw the list of available players (most existing franchises ended up with the same philosophy – these newbies won’t know the defensive side so maybe I can squeak some of my IDP by them and protect almost all my offensive players) they were quite depressed. A total of 20 QB were protected so they were going to be hitching their teams to the likes of Sam Bradford and Carson Palmer. Not really the best of the best. Their concerns were valid and essentially they just had to take the plunge. I stressed to them that they had some nice bargaining chips (players with un-escalated salaries and open contracts paired with early draft picks) to move in trades to bolster their offense. Essentially, this is big boy time – make some moves and don’t miss on picks and you can be fighting for a title immediately.

The reality is that there was enough talent available to be competitive but probably not for the title. Everything would have to break right for that chance but regardless it will be the best fantasy football league they had ever been in and a lot of fun working to build their franchise.

Expansion Draft:
Let’s get to the fun part – the expansion draft. The list below shows the number of players protected at each position:

  • QB: 20
  • RB: 17
  • WR: 18
  • TE: 7
  • DL: 7
  • LB: 10
  • DB: 1

The draft is a snake style draft with the winner of a coin flip choosing whether they pick first or second. Once the draft order was set the draft went like this:

1 Sam Bradford ($10) Pierre Garcon ($1)
2 Josh Gordon ($1) Andre Ellington ($10)
3 Chris Johnson ($34) Shane Vereen ($5)
4 Hakeem Nicks ($8) Michael Floyd ($3)
5 Mike Wallace ($18) Joique Bell ($1)
6 Frank Gore ($15) Jake Locker ($1)
7 Navorro Bowman ($20) Kendall Wright ($5)
8 James Laurinitus ($21) Vincent Jackson ($20)
9 Zach Ertz ($5) Derrick Johnson ($19)
10 Patrick Willis ($15) Geno Smith ($7)
11 Darren McFadden ($15) Greg Olsen ($10)
12 EJ Manuel ($10) Jerrell Freeman ($10)
13 Ndamukong Suh ($15) Andre Johnson ($26)
14 Marcel Darius ($5) Muhammad Wilkerson ($5)
15 Lamar Miller ($1) Brian Orakpo ($5)

As you can see, the offensive talent available was quite thin. Based on that the front of the draft was heavily loaded with the offensive players the expansion teams felt were best based on salary and availability. Remember, they could only take three players from each franchise. So if the first three picks were all from the same team that team was frozen and no other players could be taken. This ended up being a bigger part of the strategy of the draft then either team realized.  For example, Bradford, Gordon, and Floyd were all from the same team. Once Floyd was taken in the top of the 4th round that team was locked out leaving some good talent like Ryan Tannehill, Ben Tate, or Vontaze Burfict out of the draft.

Overall, I thought both teams did a decent job of acquiring talent that could help both short and long term. With these base teams, each owner would be able to make some trades (if they act aggressively) that will help improve their talent level because of the contract award advantages they can capitalize on from this draft. For example, they will able to give Michael Floyd a 3-yr contract at $3 per year where the original franchise would only be able to extend for 1-yr and he would then be eligible for escalation.

Final Outcome:
Both expansion teams were able to complete a few trades to help increase their options moving forward. Team B was the most active and they were able to parlay the #1 overall pick in the upcoming Rookie/FA draft, Derrick Johnson, and Mario Williams (who was obtained in an earlier trade) into Cam Newton. The tentative final roster of 15 for each expansion team looks like this:

QB – Carson Palmer ($5) – Via Trade QB – Cam Newton ($56) – Via Trade
QB – EJ Manuel ($10) QB – Geno Smith ($7)
QB – Sam Bradford ($10) QB – Jake Locker ($1)
RB – Chris Johnson ($34) RB – Andre Ellington ($10)
RB – Darren McFadden ($15) RB – Joique Bell ($1)
RB – Frank Gore ($15) RB – Shane Vereen ($5)
RB – Lamar Miller ($1) WR – Kendall Wright ($5)
RB – Stevan Ridley ($1) – Via Trade WR – Michael Floyd ($3)
WR – Hakeem Nicks ($8) WR – Pierre Garcon ($1)
WR – Josh Gordon ($1) WR – Vincent Jackson ($20)
WR – Mike Wallace ($18) TE – Greg Olsen ($10)
TE – Zach Ertz ($5) DL – Muhammad Wilkerson ($5)
DL – Ndamukong Suh ($15) DL – Trent Cole ($23) – Via Trade
LB – James Laurinitus ($21) LB – Brian Orakpo ($5)
LB – Patrick Willis ($15) LB – Jerrell Freeman ($10)
*Total Salary available for Auction:  **$56 *Total Salary available for Auction: **$51

Just to give you a comparison here are a couple of the existing team’s freezes:

Existing Team A (MY TEAM) Existing Team B
QB – Matthew Stafford ($64) QB – Nick Foles ($56)
QB – Jay Cutler ($20) QB – Philip Rivers ($52)
RB – Trent Richardson ($10) QB – Matt Schaub ($16)
RB – CJ Spiller ($20) RB – Monte Ball ($10)
WR – Alshon Jeffrey ($13) RB – Demarco Murray ($11)
WR – Percy Harvin ($20) RB – Rashad Jennings ($10)
WR – Justin Hunter ($1) WR – Brandon Marshall ($29)
TE – Julius Thomas ($1) WR – Desean Jackson ($5)
DL – Mario Williams ($10) WR – Wes Welker ($10)
DL – Chandler Jones ($10) TE – Vernon Davis ($18)
DL – Carlos Dunlap ($5) DL – JJ Watt ($11)
LB – Derrick Johnson ($19) DL – Chris Clemons ($10)
LB – Justin Houston ($1) DL – Cliff Avril ($7)
LB – Danny Trevethan ($10) LB – Brian Cushing ($3)
LB – Kiko Alonzo – $5 DB – Ladarius Webb ($1)
*Total Salary available for Auction:  **$28 *Total Salary available for Auction: **$0

*We complete an auction for anybody that has available cap space prior to the Rookie/FA draft. The only players eligible for the auction are players that were on a roster the previous year. No rookies. This is a way to set salaries and give teams with cap space a way to utilize that to their advantage by acquiring players prior to the draft.

** The total salary cap space used includes any players currently under contract that are not kept. The total value of their salary left on the contract is added as “dead money”. For example, Team B has Justin Blackmon under contract at $5 through 2015 (2 years remaining). The cap hit is $5 x 2 years = $10 against his cap this year.

As you can see these teams aren’t drastically different.  Depending on your personal preferences you could rank these teams in just about any order. Obviously the weak spot for the expansion team A is at QB while Team B might be at RB but overall both competitive teams.

The expansion process had both sides a little bitter thinking that the other team (expansion team vs existing team) had some significant advantages. In the end I think the process worked and I guess we will find out towards the end of the season. If you have any questions about the process or are interested in starting a league like this please let me know and I’ll be happy to give you any info.

Shane Gallimore is a fantasy football contributor for The Sports Script. Follow him on Twitter @Gally4!

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