I started out playing in your average deep roster (24-26 players) PPR dynasty leagues. Over time, we’ve eliminated kickers, added flex positions and developmental players and made other changes, but I’ve always looked for something that was more strategic and more closely resembled acting like a real NFL General Manager. That search has led me to salary cap contract or “SC” leagues. I have my DLF Podcast partner Tim Stafford to thank for introducing me to SC leagues, and they are now the only type of new ones I add to my already-too-large roster of dynasty leagues. In this article, I’ll introduce you to the basic structure of SC leagues, describe the twists I’ve added to the SC league I recently started (the Gold Label Dynasty League) and discuss my strategy going into the startup auction and the subsequent results.
What is a SC League?
Just like any dynasty format, SC leagues come in all shapes and sizes, but essentially have the same premise: each player is assigned a contract value and length and the total of your team’s contract values have to fit within a predefined salary cap. Using that basic structure, you can customize your league’s rules in any number of ways. Some leagues limit the total number of contract years while others attempt to use salary figures that approximate real NFL salary amounts. The system I use, which heavily borrows from a set of rules developed by Tim, attempts to balance the inherent complexity of the format with a level of accessibility that allows new SC league owners to pick up the format comfortably.
Gold Label is a TE premium PPR league (1.0 PPR for RB and WR, 1.5 PPR for TE) with a starting lineup of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB/WR/TE Flex and 1 D/ST. It uses a $250 total salary cap for 24 roster spots and one taxi spot for a developmental player that doesn’t count against the cap (more on this later). This allows for the general salary cap functionality while still providing an auction budget most fantasy football players are comfortable with. In addition, while the startup of the league was conducted by auction, we first held a two-round rookie draft that was determined in this inaugural league year by a random dice roll. Rookie picks in our SC league format come with a predetermined salary structure that is much more economical to that of a comparable veteran - this makes those picks extremely valuable. While the top WRs in startup auction went in the $55 to $60 range, as you can see from our salary structure, the salary assigned to the rookie 1.01 is less than one-third of that price:
First round picks are eligible to receive five-year contracts, second round picks can receive four-year contracts and third round picks get three-year contracts. The combination of a five-year contract at a relatively affordable salary make first round picks particularly valuable commodities in this format. As I will further explain below, players in the startup auction can only be awarded up to four-year contracts, and going forward, free agents can only get up to three. So, you can see why hitting on a first round pick in this type of league really gives you a leg up on your competition.
In addition, we chose to use developmental players in our league. Developmental players, in general, are college-eligible players who you can draft and hold until they enter the NFL. To make the draft more manageable, we required each owner to nominate two developmental players who would be eligible for selection prior to the rookie draft. Those players were then added to the available rookie pool. The first developmental player a team selected could be stashed on the team’s Taxi Squad and the salary would not count against the $250 cap until that player entered the NFL. If a team chose to select two developmental players, however, one of the player’s salaries would count against the cap. A developmental player’s contract does not decrement until the players enter the league, regardless of whether they are on the taxi squad or not.
For the inaugural draft, we did a two round snake draft. As you can see from the salary structure above, in subsequent years there will be a three round rookie draft that will be linear and includes an extra pick for the Toilet Bowl winner at 2.13. After the rookie draft was complete, we had a live startup auction for all veterans and any rookies not selected in the rookie draft. Developmental players were no longer available. Owners had whatever funds were left over from the $250 salary cap after the rookie salaries to bid on players for the startup. After the startup auction was complete, the owners had five four-year, five three-year and five two-year contracts to assign to their players. The remaining players on the 24-man rosters receive one-year contracts. There was no obligation to leave the startup auction with a full roster, but teams are required to have a full 24-man roster that fit under the $250 cap by the start of Week one.
The other interesting twist is that everything is tradeable. Owners can trade cap dollars, contract allotments and almost anything else they can think of to make a trade work. For example, if you wanted to enter into a trade, but the other owner didn’t have enough cap space to take the players you were wanted to send their way, you could agree to transfer some of your cap space to the owner for any number of years to make the trade fit within each team’s cap.
The Rookie Draft
Our inaugural rookie draft took place as follows (I had the 1.03 and 2.10):
|1.01||Sammy Watkins, WR BUF||2.01||Devin Funchess, WR (Michigan)|
|1.02||Mike Evans, WR TBB||2.02||Carlos Hyde, RB SFO|
|1.03||Laquon Treadwell, WR (Mississippi)||2.03||Marquez North, WR (Tennessee)|
|1.04||Brandin Cooks, WR NOS||2.04||Davante Adams, WR GBP|
|1.05||Todd Gurley, RB (Georgia)||2.05||Leonard Fournette, RB (Louisiana State)|
|1.06||Eric Ebron, TE DET||2.06||Odell Beckham, Jr., WR NYG|
|1.07||Melvin Gordon, RB (Wisconsin)||2.07||Kelvin Benjamin, WR CAR|
|1.08||Thomas Tyner, RB (Oregon)||2.08||Jeremy Hill, RB CIN|
|1.09||Bishop Sankey, RB TEN||2.09||Mike Davis, RB (South Carolina)|
|1.10||Jordan Matthews, WR PHI||2.10||Cody Latimer, WR DEN|
|1.11||Amari Cooper, WR (Alabama)||2.11||Allen Robinson, WR JAX|
|1.12||Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE TBB||2.12||Marqise Lee, WR JAX|
As you can see, the addition of the developmental players combined with the TE premium scoring definitely influenced the way that this draft played out. Once I received the 1.03 pick, I decided to take Watkins or Evans if either made it because the luxury of having either of them on a five-year contract was too good to pass up. Once both were selected, I tried to move down and pick up an extra second round pick, but my fellow owners were too savvy for that. At that point, Treadwell, my personal top-rated developmental player, was too good to pass up. Keeping his $13 salary off my books by placing him on the taxi squad gave me a leg up in the startup auction over the others that used their first round picks on rookies that count against the cap. Of course, anything can happen while I wait for Treadwell to be eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft, but I believe his upside is worth the wait.
Many people have two 2015 draft eligible RBs (Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon) rated highly as well. In general, I tend to shy away from RBs in a developmental league for three main reasons: (1) the overall devaluation of the position in the NFL; (2) the wear and tear and injury propensity for the position makes it less likely that their draft stock will hold up, even over the course of a year (and this is even more true for 2016 eligible RBs like Thomas Tyner and Derrick Henry); and (3) the frequent emergence of RBs who were not on the developmental radar such as Bishop Sankey and Doug Martin. I’ll use this thinking to break ties within tiers.
It’s also interesting that a freshman, who is not eligible until the 2017 NFL Draft, was picked. I’ve seen Leonard Fournette go in every developmental draft I’ve participated in. Three years is a long time to take up a roster spot. On the other hand, if he truly is the next Adrian Peterson (or even a reasonable facsimile), having him on a four-year, $5 contract is going to be a huge advantage for his owner.
The inclusion of the developmental players also created a great deal of value in the second round. Davante Adams, Odell Beckham, Jr., Kelvin Benjamin, Cody Latimer, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are all high upside players who will be on cheap four-year contracts if they hit. The inexpensive nature of their contracts also minimizes any cap hits if they have to be cut in the third or fourth year if they don’t pan out as expected. Second round picks are really going to be valuable in this format going forward.
The Startup Auction
The startup auction was a live auction where teams had their $250 salary cap less any money spent in the rookie draft to bid on veterans and undrafted rookies. I employed the strategy I use in almost all of my auctions, including my other SC leagues: Acquire two-to-four studs, then sit out the middle of the auction and pick off the values at the end of the draft. The one adjustment I make for a salary cap league is not to shy away from veterans I would otherwise avoid at their ADP in a regular dynasty startup. Drafting older players like Roddy White or Wes Welker can be valuable because you can put them on one or two-year contracts, get short term production, then free up valuable cap space for the free agent auction that takes place every off-season for players on expiring contracts and unrostered players. Owners are frequently forced to make cuts or choose to cut highly paid players who are not performing up to their salaries (Trent Richardson last year, for example), so the free agent auctions in SC leagues tend to be fairly well stocked with talent. Managing your cap space and when it will become available is an important skill to develop.
We had 24 roster spots to fill under the $250 cap. Because I had used my first round pick on a developmental player, I was able to put him on the Taxi Squad and his $13 salary didn’t count against my cap. Thus, with just the $4 salary of Cody Latimer on my books, I had $246 to spend in the startup auction. I planned to use over one-third of that on my top two WRs because I try to build my dynasties through that position due to their increased longevity. I knew that one of the top tier WRs (Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Alshon Jeffery or Julio Jones) will almost certainly play up to their salary for their entire four-year contracts. I also knew these players would all cost in the $55 to $60 range. I wanted to make sure I would get one of those cornerstones, then add a second WR in the $30 range where I thought I could get either an older player like Roddy White, or a younger WR I tend to value higher than most like Antonio Brown or Michael Floyd.
I also decided to spend $40 on a TE1. This was unlikely to net me Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, who were likely to be priced as a WR1 with the TE premium scoring, but I felt like I had a good shot at Julius Thomas or, in a worst case scenario, Jordan Cameron at a slight discount. I budgeted $30 and $15 for my top two RBs, figuring I’d pass on the top tier that would be priced in the $50s. Finally, I budgeted $18 for a QB, which I thought was a little high, but gave me flexibility to move money around if I thought I could get a good QBBC (Jay Cutler / Tom Brady for example) cheaper. This left me with a pre-auction budget worksheet as follows:
QB: QB1 $18, QB2 $1
RB: RB1 $30, RB2 $15, RB3 $8, RB4 $4, RB5 $3, RB6-7 $1
WR: WR1 $60, WR2 $40, WR3 $12, WR4 $5, WR5 (Latimer $4), WR6-11 $1
TE: TE1 $40, TE2 $8, TE3 $3
Once the auction started, I employed the same strategy I always use in auctions, which is to nominate players I believe owners will pay more for than I value them in an attempt to eat up their cap space as early as possible. For me, that means nominating all of the top QBs up front and, indeed, my first few nominations were Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
Here is a link to the full auction results in order of salary:
Not surprisingly, the top ten salaries went to the top WRs who I identified above, the consensus top two dynasty RBs (LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles) and the consensus top two TEs, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. It is similarly not surprising that, in this TE premium format that Graham went for the highest salary in the league:
|Salary Rank||Player||Salary||Nomination No.|
|5T||Demaryius Thomas (me)||$58||13th|
I was happy to land Demaryius Thomas for $58 and put an extra $2 in my pocket towards my WR2. I got Thomas between Calvin Johnson and AJ Green being auctioned off. Had I known that I could have gotten Green for just $1 more, I probably would have waited, but I assumed that he would be won for the same amount, if not more, than Megatron. The extra few dollars to spend was worth it for me because I was still getting one of my Tier 1 building block WRs. I begged off on Julio Jones due to a slight concern over his foot and the guess I could get Thomas for about the same price.
Gronkowski and Jeffery were the last of the top ten to go and you can see they were gone by the start of the third nomination round. No one tried any “sneak a guy through early” picks as everyone seemed content to either force the other owners to spend their caps or set the markets (or both) right from the beginning of the auction (unless you count Christine Michael going for $20 with the fourth overall nomination). I’ve tried this tactic myself and while it can be effective, I don’t like taking the risk early where everyone has money to spend and it only takes one other owner to fall in love with your player.
Ultimately, I added Antonio Brown as my WR2 for $39 (21st nomination). I considered this to be a great value for my dynasty WR8, and 13th ranked player overall. The extra $2 I had from Thomas didn’t quite cover the extra cost, but fortunately for me I was able to add Julius Thomas for $33 later in the draft (35th nomination) to make up the difference. I gambled a little bit letting Jordan Cameron go for $24 (29th nomination), but had resigned myself to play TEBC with something like Dennis Pitta/Travis Kelce/Heath Miller if I had missed out on Thomas.
In looking at the nominations for the first three rounds and the first nomination of the fourth, after Adrian Peterson ($45, 8th nomination) and Matt Forte ($41, 14th nomination) were off of the board, the rest of the RB1s settled into the $30 range:
|Salary Rank||Player||Salary||Nomination No.|
|30T||Andre Ellington (me)||$30||33rd|
What’s interesting here is that Stacy and Morris went in about the same range as their generally higher ranked compatriots because they had the disadvantage of being nominated before the market got completely set. Their owners, seeing AP go for $45 after McCoy and Charles for over $50, probably thought they were getting good deals until Murray and Lacy set the cap at under $40 shortly thereafter. By waiting a little bit on my RB1, I was able to bring in Andre Ellington, who should be a PPR low-end RB1 right on budget, which became all the more important after I had overspent on Antonio Brown.
As the auction went on and owners ran out of money, there were definitely bargains to be had. For example, I tried to sneak through Reggie Bush as the 42nd nomination, but he went for $18, and I just couldn’t spare the extra $3 over budget after splurging on the combination of Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, Julius Thomas and Andre Ellington. Just two nominations before that, at 40, Doug Martin went for $26, which may turn out to be one of the bigger steals of the draft. The Charles Sims and Jeff Tedford RB rotation reports are definitely deflating the Muscle Hamster’s current value.
Some other values I loved include the following:
|Salary Rank||Player||Salary||Nomination No.|
|85T||Joique Bell (me)||$10||77th|
You might be surprised to see older players like Roddy White, Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Jason Witten and Tom Brady on a dynasty value list, but that goes to show you how different the SC structure can be. These players will almost certainly outperform their relative salaries in the short term and their owners will have valuable cap space in the future. Owning players like this in conjunction with other more expensive building blocks or as ammunition to obtain valuable rookie picks from contending teams as the season progresses can really set your team up nicely for a lengthy run with long-term roster stability.
Specifically with respect to Tom Brady (Jay Cutler went for double), I had won Colin Kaepernick for $15, the last of the young QB1s left, just seven nominations prior. At that time, there were still two other teams that needed a QB, so I felt confident Brady would go for higher. After seeing Brady go for just $4, I didn’t feel as good about saving the $3 off of my QB1 budget. I was ecstatic to get Joique Bell as my RB3 for $10, which was on budget for me because I only paid $13 for Rashad Jennings earlier in the auction. Bell may even end up functioning as my RB2, but in any event is an above-average Flex play. The only unfortunate part of the RB situation for me was that I ended up overpaying for Andre Williams later on ($10, 139th nomination). That combination made me sacrifice my TE2 spot, which is definitely the weakest long-term spot on my roster given the TE premium format.
Overall, I ended up with the following roster:
My projected starting lineup will be: Kaepernick/Ellington/Jennings/Bell/D. Thomas/Brown/Welker/J. Thomas with Golden Tate, Andre Williams and Heath Miller (who I am very high on for 2014) as my top backups. Floyd and Cotchery were two players who I wanted to target as cheap, decent upside $1 backups. I think they are extremely underrated in deeper leagues because both are likely to get significant workloads in the short-term. I’ve grabbed them off of the waiver wires in most leagues I’m in. Although we’ve all been through the disappointment with Jonathan Stewart and his inability to stay healthy, his injuries have not sapped his talent (compare Stewart to someone like Hakeem Nicks), and he’s still only 27. Given that he is essentially free at this point, it’s hard to find a cheap RB with more upside, even if you consider his ability to stay healthy a long shot.
In hindsight, I would not have paid $10 for Andre Williams. I got it stuck in my head that I wanted to handcuff him to Jennings, but should have revised that plan after I was able to get Joique Bell as a RB3 for $10 - that money could have been better spent on someone like Lance Dunbar, Khiry Robinson, Tre Mason or even Chris Johnson, all of whom went for $4, and then saving the other $6 for more TE depth. Similarly, had I known I could have had a QBBC like Brady and Roethlisberger for a total of $6, and added a rookie QB like Teddy Bridgewater for another $4, I would have saved the extra $6 I spent on Kaepernick/Locker for the same TE depth purposes. Even though my QB issue uses the benefit of hindsight, I could have used that $12 total to get Kyle Rudolph ($13), Travis Kelce ($8), Jason Witten ($7), or Dwayne Allen ($7). My lack of TE depth is my team’s biggest weakness.
That being said, I was very happy with how the auction turned out and I was able to stay fairly close to my pre-auction strategy with good results. I ended up with a roster that can compete both this year and in years to come, which is always my strategy in startup drafts. My team also fills out well for the distribution of the four, three and two-year contracts I have to assign:
At the end of each year, we can tag two players as “transitional players,” which essentially makes them restricted free agents in the free agent auction that takes place in the off-season. The other teams bid on those players starting at their last salary amount and at the end of the player’s auction, you have the option to match and then award up to a 3-year contract. If no one bids, you are awarded the player at his last year’s salary. Assuming I don’t keep Jennings or Welker, I should have at least $29 or over 10% of my cap available for rookies and free agents next year.
As you can see, SC leagues are inherently more complicated that standard dynasty leagues. Each player comes with his own set of issues including salary and contract length. Indeed, the league bylaws contain many more rules and considerations than I am able to discuss in this article. It is the complexity and strategy of SC leagues that has drawn me to them. If you are like me and want to play in a league that is more in-depth and has more of a GM feel, SC leagues just might be for you.