Well, it's the offseason, and you can thankfully pull the plug on all of your fantasy football addictions.
Or can you?
Because once upon a time, all you had to worry about in the offseason was keeping Najeh Davenport out of your closet. Now, if you want an edge over your competition you're going to have to work for it.
So lets take a look at what's coming up on the NFL horizon.
March 2nd: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players
How does it affect you? Well, you get a first look at player movement. You get to see what teams are prioritizing certain areas. Will that new coach focus on building his O-line or does he get a linebacker locked up? Nothing major, but clues as to how franchises will operate.
March 10th: 2015 league year and free agency period begins (4 p.m. ET)
We're technically still in last year. March 10th is when everything goes buck wild. It's the end of business for the 2014 season at 3:59pm. Here's what needs to be done:
Top-51 Begins. All clubs must be under the 2015 salary cap prior to 4 p.m. ET
Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation
Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2014 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit
Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must exercise options for 2015 on all players who have option clauses in their 2014 contracts
All 2014 player contracts expire at 4 p.m. ET
What does this mean for you? It means Fantasy Football Season is underway again, baby! One of the things that separates the men from the boys is watching offseason movement. How are GMs building their teams? Which big name free agent lands where, and how can you extrapolate those moves to make your fantasy team better?
Just look at the guys last year that guessed wrong on Eric Decker.
Or remember when Robert Meachem was the next big thing in San Diego?
Or remember the people that said Emmanuel Sanders was a speed guy and not a big-body Eric Decker overlay and, thus, wouldn't amount to much in Denver?
Yeah, you don't want to be one of those guys.
It's the offseason, so you don't have to go crazy with your homework, but it's still a good time to keep one ear to the ground.
After all, you never know where the next Samkon Gado will come from.
Douglas Macarthur once said “The best luck is the luck you make for yourself.”
Well, I’m a huge believer in that, especially where fantasy football is concerned. The informed fantasy player is going to put themselves in a position to be “lucky” just by doing their homework.
Here’s an example of how I got "lucky" last season. It started out ugly and got progressively worse. I made a bunch of mistakes, but I was able to save it in the eleventh hour.
Let’s start with last year’s draft. My mistakes started there.
MISTAKE #1: LOYALTY TO A PLAYER
I make this mistake like all the time. I’m such a dummy. Every year I draft Brandon Marshall. I look in the mirror before the draft and I say to myself “BRANDON MARSHALL DOESN’T KNOW YOU, IDIOT. HE’S NOT REALLY ON YOUR TEAM. IT’S FANTASY FOOTBALL. HE’S NOT GOING TO BE OFFENDED IF YOU DON’T DRAFT HIM.”
But then, I draft him. I don’t know why that is. My team feels better to me with certain guys I can count on. Certain guys always seem to come through for me. And it happens doubly if I had them on my team when I won a championship. That was the case for me this past season with KEENAN ALLEN.
Cue the beams of sunlight and angelic music. Keenan Allen.
I had picked him up early the previous season, his rookie year. He went undrafted in my main league but right away I noticed something about him. Crisp routes, and what seemed like an ability to get open. He didn’t seem like a rookie. I paired him with another pickup from week four of 2012-- a guy I like to call ‘Alshon Jeffrey.’
---SIDE NOTE: Nothing drives me crazier than a commentator calling him “Alshon Jeffries.” Ugh! Why do fantasy footballers always know more about players than your average gameday color guy?---
Anyway, I put together a beast of a team that year. Alshon, Keenan, BMarsh and in the backfield I had Beast Mode and Frank Gore. Seattle D. Jimmy Graham. Drew Brees. It was like an 8-team-league team in a 12 team league. And they helped net me a championship.
So I got loyal to these guys. Dumb, I know.
When you put a team like that together, there’s no way you can recreate it the next season. The genie is out of the lamp. There are certain guys in every league who will absolutely pounce on the champion’s players from the previous season, hoping for a miracle of their own.
That’s fine. Because it’s another pitfall of bad fantasy play to think guys will do the exact same thing two years in a row. Except for Joe Flacco. His numbers are nuts when you look at how similar every year is. You can set your watch to those stats.
Anyway, I had “discovered” Keenan Allen in my league, like so many other guys did in theirs. And the way the pre-draft FootballGuys PPR rankings were looking, I might be able to afford to get him back on my squad.
Because I felt loyal.
Remember the scene in A Bronx Tale where C is complaining about Mickey Mantle? I should have watched that before the draft. Keenan Allen isn't gonna pay my rent! But I was high on him. He was an absolute monster coming into the league, and put the AFC West on notice that there was a new sheriff in town.
But it wasn’t all loyalty.
I had done my homework and I read the Footballguys Player Face-Off by Jason Wood on Keenan Allen on July 11th of last year. Here were the positives and negatives he listed:
Now, what I should have done was focussed more on the negatives. But I really wanted to believe that Rivers was back and Keenan would be his guy. I really bit into that “top receiving option” thing because I HAD SEEN IT. He got me to the show and I walked away with hardware. Plus, this was me coming into the season:
Duh. Everyone knew it. Guess who didn’t get that memo? Antonio Gates. Or Philip Rivers.
MISTAKE #2: PLAYERS ARE WHAT THEY ARE
As I’m doing my pre-draft research I read that Keenan Allen is working with a speed coach to get faster.
Sweet mother of God.
He’s already amazing, and already gets all the targets and now he’s going to be FASTER?
It was posted on ProFootballTalk! It was posted in the local San Diego paper! It has to be true! Right? Right? He was awesome already but now he’s going to be running some 9’s? Where do I sign?
Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Players don’t get faster. Maybe moderately. Maybe laterally. Maybe they improve their quickness, or their explosiveness, but a guy known for great route running isn’t likely to become a deep threat overnight. Or, like, ever.
These athletes are so tweaked out by the time they get to the pros that they basically are what they are physically. You might get more of what they already have, but you’re not going to turn a road grading lineman with slow feet into a guy with nimble feet. You’re not going to turn an in-the-box run-stopping safety into a magical sideline-to-sideline cover guy. And you’re not going to turn a guy named Keenan Allen who runs a 4.71 forty at his combine into Torrey Smith.
But, I draft him anyway. Because I want to believe in fairy tales.
MISTAKE #3: UM, IS THIS THE OFFENSE I ORDERED?
Cue the beginning of the season. I’m starting Keenan Allen because he’s my WR2. That’s what I thought he’d be for me. A solid WR2. And then something weird happens. He doesn’t pick up where he left off last year. I’m watching every snap of every Chargers game and Philip Rivers is not keying on Keenan Allen. He’s looking for 1-on-1 matchups and hitting whoever is open, the way Tom Brady did when he had those receiving corps of household names like David Patten.
And now I start to worry a little, because not only isn’t this going to plan, it’s going wildly off-course. The train is coming off the rails and careening down the mountain where Matt Leinart and Kevan Barlow wait for it in the fantasy graveyard.
Philip Rivers, on the other hand, is on fire. Breaking QBR records. Antonio Gates is getting singled in the endzone, and Rivers is only too happy to feed his old pal. Allen just isn’t anywhere near the epicenter of the Chargers offense.
Week One: 9 targets. He hauls in 5 for 37 with no scores. It’s kind of a gut punch coming into the season. But it’s against the Cardinals and he was wearing Patrick Peterson like a coat all night, so…
Week Two: Chargers home opener, but it’s against the world champion Seahawks. Allen reels in 5 more balls. 55 yards. No scores. He looks better, but we’re now two games into the season and Antonio Gates has three scores. Allen is behind Gates and Eddie Royal in the target department. I tell myself: don’t get worked up. We know this Eddie Royal dance. It ends up with Royal disappearing by week five. Just relax, even though Keenan Allen owners across the globe are starting to really worry.
Week Three: Keenan catches every ball thrown at him! Whoooo hoooooo! That’s a total of exactly two balls for 17 yards and of course no scores. Now this is getting real. Eddie Royal is leading the team in targets and has two scores. Gates has three. Allen isn’t even close to having one.
MISTAKE #4: DON'T LET THIEVES INTO YOUR KITCHEN
The lull between week three and four may be the saddest time in fantasy football. Because this is the time when the good teams have open season on the bad teams. Guys who guessed right dominate guys who guessed wrong.
In week one and two, you’re still getting a feel for the actual football teams. Are the Giants really that bad? Man the Falcons look wobbly, etc. And inside of those games, every fantasy expert and player is trying to make sense of the actual quality of the players inside of that.
Is my guy sucking because the team is sucking? Is it the new offensive coordinator? When did this become a pass-first offense? Is my dude just not in “football shape?” All of these things knock around in the head of every fantasy coach.
By week three you have enough of a statistical sample to start considering quitting fantasy football forever. It’s not exactly car crash sad, it’s more Crash Davis with a beer in the shower sad. Because you have no one to blame but yourself.
And that’s when the predators come out. After Keenan Allen’s week three game all the guys I had whipped in trades in previous seasons started to come out of the woodwork.
So that’s my first call. Insane offer. Insulting. Bishop Sankey, a guy who isn’t even starting for the Titans. The Titans! They’re like a JV NFL team and this dude can’t crack the starting lineup. And I’m just going to hand over record breaking rookie wideout Keenan Allen for that? Hell no.
Brian Quick. Keenan Allen was a fourth round pick in most leagues. Third round in some. We’re an auction but the song remains the same: I paid like seventeen bucks on a two hundred dollar budget. Brian Quick is an undrafted player. Brian Quick wasn’t even good enough for the dollar derby in my league.
But this is why week three is amazing and terrifying. Because you’re far enough away from the draft that you forget what you paid, exactly. Or you forget the round you drafted a certain player in. Because you studied ALL SUMMER. And you got this idea about a player in your head. And you matched that idea with a certain auction value or round value and then you pulled the trigger. And three weeks into a new season, your player has a new value that has nothing to do with what you decided during the summer. Your player is either better than that original value or he’s now valued in the same Roman Colosseum gladiator swap meet as Bishop Sankey and Brian Quick.
And the worst part of this was that I was kind of leaning toward possibly pulling the trigger on Brian Quick.
Cue the sound of a small child inside of me crying.
Because Quick was off to a killer start. 7 for 99 in week one, 7 for 74 in week two. Only 2 for 64 in week three but he had a nasty touchdown and was looking like the player to have in St. Louis. The kind of wide receiver that the offense was built around. Like, y’know, Keenan Allen was supposed to be.
The only thing that stopped me from pulling the trigger, outside of a needling feeling that Quick wasn’t going to keep those numbers up and a head-shaking reminder that there’s no reason to ever have a piece of the Rams passing game was that Quick had a bye in week 4 and Keenan was playing Jacksonville.
This is it. I thought. This is his chance.
And by then, I was already done with Keenan Allen. I knew that the Jags D was horrendous, and this was the only chance I’d have to build up sufficient stats to trade Keenan Allen away for somebody I actually wanted. I just don’t have the fantasy stomach to suffer through a 2 catch for 17 yard game. That’s not acceptable. You can’t win with numbers like that. It’s why I can’t stand drafting guys like T.Y. Hilton. Yes, you get those nuclear games, but you get those nuclear winter games, too. Not what I expected from Keenan and not what I was willing to roll through the season with.
So I started to look at players on other teams who were also having lousy seasons, but who I thought had decent upside. I made a mental list of the teams and players that I might have a shot at if Jacksonville played like Jacksonville.
And they did!
Week Four: Keenan Allen sets a career high 10 catches for 135 yards. Still no score, but he looks like the Keenan Allen of old. Wide open almost all the time and Rivers only seemed to have eyes for him. Was the Rivers-Allen bromance rekindled?
WHO CARES. GET OFF MY DAMN TEAM KEENAN ALLEN.
Armed with these stats that I firmly believed were 100% due to the crappiness of the Jags, I started to sell like they weren’t. First place is you get a Cadillac. Second place is you get a set of steak knives. Third place is YOU’RE FIRED KEENAN ALLEN. GET OFF MY DAMN TEAM.
I called up the Victor Cruz owner. The Giants had dropped their first two and looked awful, but it seemed like Eli started to grasp the new offense more in week three and four when they put together back-to-back wins. I thought maybe the Cruz owner might be asleep at the wheel, and still focussing on the early losses more than the last two wins. He wasn’t.
I’ve never been a Reuben Randle believer, but there was another intriguing piece of the Giants receiving corps that I had my eye on. And he hadn’t played a single down in the NFL yet so he might be gettable.
I called up the Larry Fitzgerald owner. Fitz was also off to a lousy start, but I wasn’t gunning for him. I wanted another WR on his roster: Odell Beckham Jr.
I knew the owner who had Fitz also had ODB, and was worried because Tom Coughlin was up at the podium barking about how Odell needed to get healthy. It’s never a great sign when your coach is calling you out like that. The other coach had started 1-3 and was kind of freaking out. First I offered him John Brown. I knew that he wouldn’t go for it because he loves loves loves Fitz and wouldn’t want to double up on Cards wide receivers, especially with Carson Palmer dinged up.
Now I know he’s scrolling down my roster and I know that he’s going to see Keenan Allen, because last year when I grabbed him off the wire he called me ten minutes later saying that I just beat him to it. I know he feels like Keenan Allen is the fish that got away.
Now, I’m giddy. Because “who else” presupposes that he’ll do ODB for Keenan Allen. The rest is gravy, so I try to max out the trade. I make sure to spell it out, out loud, so there’s no misunderstanding.
He’s a Patriots fan with an inflated opinion of Vereen. I knew he wouldn’t go for it. I really want Carlos Hyde anyway.
I say that, but if Gore gets hurt he’s going to be a top 10 back.
Once you make the deal: STOP SELLING. Get off the phone. You agreed, they agreed, it’s over. Hang up. Go about your business. Nothing to see here.
Here’s how it played out the rest of the way…
And that is how a fantasy football season is saved.
In week three.
Because the best luck really is the one you make.