It only makes sense that with the continued popularity of Fantasy Football, owners get antsy on finding new and creative ways to play. In fact, the longer a person plays this incredible game, the more likely they want to get "closer to the game."
Fantasy Football is about being the head coach. Keeper leagues turn you into a general manager.
The basic gist of a keeper league is that a devout Fantasy owner can hang on to the most valuable players on his or her team from season to season. While the Patriots are referred to as a dynasty in today's NFL, Fantasy Footballers who partake in keeper leagues can create their own dynasties.
Seems simple enough, right?
You don't know the half of it. Keeper leagues are as varied and unique as the football players drafted into them. Some are simple and just a pinch more challenging that your standard yearly league, others are nearly as complex as the NFL itself.
I've been playing Fantasy Football with the same group of guys for years, probably since 1997. In 2002, we went from a seasonal format to a keeper format. The difference was (and still is) amazing. The rules we have set up for ourselves actually engulf every owner in a gushing Fantasy Football tidal wave. It sounds extremely nerdy to my wife, but as a fellow Fantasy geek, I am sure you understand how I feel.
Setting it up
The key factor in starting a keeper league is making sure you have dedicated owners (read: friends) who not only love playing Fantasy football but will play with the same owners for the forseeable future. There's nothing worse than cutting a sore-loser owner in a keeper league and having to fill his or her spot because the new person coming in will have to play with what the old owner left behind -- not the scenario most Fantasy fans like.
When pitching the idea to friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers and whoever else will listen, mention that no matter what, they will have a Fantasy league to play in year after year. Plus, if they draft wisely, they can keep their best players year after year.
Once you have your owners set up, elect one or two of them to be commissioner. Pick people who are fair and honest, and who the majority of the league respects. The commissioner(s) should create the league's rules and scoring system, as well as the basis for how to keep players. While it's fun to be the guy who organizes the league and keeps things as fair as possible, know that there are headaches that come with it. Not everyone sees a trade or a scoring rule the same way. Sometimes two owners will make a trade that the rest of the league will deem unfair, and the commissioner has to help decide what to do about it. If you're not good with conflict or angry friends, then let someone else do the dirty work.
Setting up the keeper rules
This is it -- the difference between a one-year league and a keeper league. These rules will determine not only who everyone will keep, but how long they will keep them. Make sure that your keeper by-laws are established well ahead of time so that there's no arguing or loopholes that could come up down the line. And in case you've never played in a keeper league, or want some suggestions on how the players should be kept, here are some ideas:
• The no-frills rule
You can keep any player(s) you want on your roster, and it will cost you nothing. No draft picks, no draft order slots, nothing. Some keeper leagues out there allow each owner to keep only one player without any penalty. Others will let owners hoard their entire roster if they want to.
Example: I had Adrian Peterson 2007. I can keep him in 2008. The end.
Thoughts: While this rule is great for those who build successful Fantasy teams, it could end up draining the player pool for the draft, thus taking away one of the best parts of the Fantasy season. It's strongly recommended that if this rule is adopted, make it a minimum of one player kept per owner.
• Keep a player, lose a pick
I think that the majority of keeper leagues follow this simple system: If you choose to keep one player, you lose your first-round pick; if you keep two players, you lose your first- and second-round picks, and so on.
Example: I had Peterson and Drew Brees in 2007. I can keep both of them and give back my No. 1 and No. 2 picks in 2008.
Thoughts: It works because even if a team has great players to keep, they lose their top picks, thus creating a balance among all the teams. It also means that there will only be a select few players kept, most likely those that would be first-round picks anyway. A team would have to have three or more really great players in order to lose picks into the third round and beyond. Limiting teams to three keepers per year is a good policy.
• The two-round rule
This is easy, and it makes drafting more important than ever. In this idea, you can keep any player on your roster but it will cost you a draft pick two rounds higher than the original draft round of that player.
Example: I drafted Peterson in the third round last year, Brees in the fourth round and Marion Barber in the sixth round. It would "cost" a first-round pick to keep Peterson, a second-rounder to keep Brees and a fourth-rounder to keep Barber. Those who are kept would then be considered drafted in the round in which he was kept for next year. So using the above example, Barber would be a second-round pick in 2009.
Thoughts: There needs to be specific rules for those players picked in the first two rounds. Either have them cost multiple picks, or don't allow players from the first two rounds to be kept. There also needs to be guidelines for keepers snared off the waiver wire (Selvin Young might be an example from last season). Do they cost nothing to keep because they weren't drafted?
• The vulture system
This one is not only fun, but you can harm your opponents' teams in the process. And let's face it, nothing's better than chop-blocking a pal! The worst team in the league can either keep one player from his team or one player from the team that finished in first. The same goes for the second-to-last place team and the second-place team, and all the corresponding teams in between in the standings. Once the lower-half of the league decides their keepers, the top half gets to return the favor with those bad teams.
Example: I finished in last with Peterson, but the first-place team has LaDainian Tomlinson. I can steal Tomlinson from their team or keep Peterson.
Thoughts: This one is tough to prepare for because you have to look at two rosters for potential keepers. Moreover, if you finish well, you could lose one of your best players to a competitor. This makes for a very challenging and very personal long-term league.
• Dynasty leagues/Salary-cap systems
Break out your Fantasy Football cheat sheets, depth charts, roster grid, lucky rabbit's foot, a calculator and a bottle of Advil. If you use a salary-cap system, you're going to acquire your players via an auction, then "sign" them to contracts based on how much you spent to get them (most leagues use a point-spending system for auctions). Once that player is "signed," he must stick to his contract. Furthermore, each owner must stay below the league-mandated salary cap. It's a funny-money version of the NFL -- you could even use franchise tags and sign-and-trades. Once a player's contract expires, he gets auctioned off again. The auction process repeats itself every year with the incoming crop of rookies (a draft is also an option).
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Example: I spent 50 points on Marshawn Lynch, then signed him to a four-year deal at 50 points per year. Every year, he will cost my salary cap 50 points (assuming no escalating salaries) unless I trade him or release him.
Thoughts: Your head might be spinning by now. Think of it like a real NFL team complete with a salary cap except you use points instead of dollars (because $100-plus million is too much to spend on Fantasy Football). You can't overspend, you must consider using balance to keep your team competitive and you have to decide whether you want to keep a player for a few years or a long time. Of course, the real cha-ching is made in this league when you win the rights to a player like Ryan Grant for one point and sign him to a 10-year deal. Then you're hopefully set at one position for a long time without it straining your salary cap. And trust me, Grant won't come to you for a "raise."
A final word on rules for keeper leagues: Ultimately, every league can cast their own guidelines on how many players can be kept and for what price. Any or all of these ideas are solid foundations for Fantasy leagues, even if you make your own guidelines.
You're in the right place
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the best place to play out your keeper leagues would be at CBSSports.com. In addition to our award-winning Commissioner service that lets owners customize their Fantasy experience, we can cater to keeper leagues as well.
• Our Commissioner League product gives full keeper-league functionality, from the important stuff (how many keepers, and at what cost?) to the minutia (pulling the draft picks forfeited for keeping players). And if you're doing a dynasty league, the site can keep track of your salaries and contracts.
• We save all rosters and rules from season to season, so there's no tedious set up for someone to do year after year involving weeding out keepers or reformatting the scoring system. You only need to make changes if your league warrants them.
• We provide a historical online league record book, complete with past standings, rosters, transactions and schedules. There's always good fodder there (remember when I won 11 games in a row only to lose back-to-back games to my 16-year-old brother-in-law who won the league in 2005?).
Cons of keeper leagues
So why would anyone not want to partake in a keeper league? As a diehard Fantasy Football fan, I have no reasons personally, but I do know why others are not as crazy about it as I am:
No clean slate: Every year, there are repercussions from both good picks and bad picks. Imagine if you drafted Shaun Alexander, Marc Bulger and Marvin Harrison last year. You'd want to lose those picks as soon as possible.
Not as "into" it: Some people choose not to be consumed by Fantasy Football (don't ask me why) and don't want to deal with the logistics of maintaining a keeper league.
Too complicated: Not everyone is as smart as you and me. People might not "get" the concept of a keeper system and would rather play in a one-year league.
Fortunately, Fantasy Football has become popular enough for people to dedicate themselves to a keeper league. It removes the problem of finding a Fantasy league to play in every year and completely changes the way you look at Fantasy Football. No matter how you slice it, playing in a keeper league is an elevated version of your standard annual Fantasy league. The stakes are higher -- one or two bad keepers could set your franchise back -- but the rewards are much sweeter.
Ready to draft for a keeper league? Don't do it before checking out our keeper-league rank list for 2008, highlighting the prominent players at every position!
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