After the fantasy draft is over, teams need a way to adjust their team roster (pick up or drop players), which means either through trades, free agency or off of waivers.
Fantasy veterans know that this is an important step in building a fantasy champion: Winning the transactions war.
Most commissioner services allow for all of these types of transaction systems, but check yours to make sure. Here are some of the variations each league can use for adding players:
Free Agents & Waivers
Basically, you determine a time each week that's going to be the “waiver deadline” – usually Tuesday or Wednesday – and the different fantasy owners put in their own secret priority claim for the free agent(s) they want to grab for that week.
Most leagues prefer to divvy the talent from worst-to-first, although, some leagues prefer to make teams go to the back of the line after they have a claim filled. This is the most common system of adding players.
Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB)
This method turns every free-agent period into a silent auction, and it’s derived from fantasy baseball. Before the season, each team is allotted a certain number of FAAB funds specifically for the waiver process (say, $1000, usually fake but it can be played with real money in high-stakes leagues). If six different teams bid on Eli Manning, the owner who put in the largest bid gets him. Ties can easily be broken by current standing or cumulative points scored to that point in the season.
Once the FAAB process is concluded – usually on Wednesday – the remaining unclaimed players become unrestricted free agents until their games kick off that week. The process restarts the next week.
A lot of commissioner software has FAAB incorporated into it, which eliminates a lot of headaches. Without this software, the commissioner needs to be trusted by everyone, or you're potentially going to run into problems.
This is generally considered to be the most “fair” way to conduct the waiver process, and it can be very strategic as owners have to plan ahead with their FAAB funds. Once an owner runs out of FAAB money, he can’t participate in the waiver process beyond bidding $0 and hoping no other owner puts in a claim, or he simply waits until the FAAB process is over for the week to pick up free agents. In some leagues, FAAB funds can be traded.
One of the most intriguing ways to add players is to have supplemental drafts at different intervals during the season. This eliminates the "race to the keyboard" for any player who has fallen into sudden value because of breaking news.
In theory, you could have as many Supplemental Drafts as you like – weekly, biweekly, once a month, one in the middle of the season. Most leagues seem to prefer the worst team picking first in a supplemental draft.
Some leagues give first pick to the teams who didn't pick in the last draft. Some leagues give the weakest team in the standings unlimited reign to pick up as many guys as it wants. Some leagues determine draft order with a random draw. Some leagues start off with the opposite of the order at the draft proper.
A supplemental draft before Week Five, before Week Nine, and before Week Thirteen (especially in keeper leagues), makes for three very exciting points of the fantasy season. A 1-3 team could have picked up players like Michael Vick, Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, and Keenan Allen in recent seasons, turning their team into a much stronger one than the first four weeks.
This system certainly helps with league parity, but while there is certainly some strategy with regards to deciding when to use a supplemental pick, it may not be considered as fair or balanced as a straight waiver or FAAB system.
Some leagues feel the best free-agent rules are no free-agent rules. This means you can pick up anyone you want, at any time (although most veterans would agree that it's a good idea not to have free-agent pickups allowed while games are in progress Sunday).
The upside to these free-for-all leagues is that they reward aggressive owners, but the downside is that they also give the people with constant computer access a major advantage over anyone who's not at the keyboard 24/7.
A good compromise is to have some sort of free-agent priority (either FAAB bidding, a waiver process, or a supplemental draft) for every week, and then allow free pickups to be made after the process is sorted through for that week. For example, once waiver claims are submitted early in the week and processed on Wednesday, then every player who remains unclaimed becomes a free agent. In this system, players typically revert back to waiver status once their games kick off for the week.
No Pickups Allowed
Some commissioners might dodge a number of headaches by going with this type of system, but it definitely limits the excitement in-season. If you do go this route, make sure you have a huge draft, so that owners are able to fill their rosters with plenty of backups at each position.
Fixed Number of Add/Drops
This adds a good amount of skill to the free-agent process, as you need to make sure your moves "count." If you waste them all early, you may not have enough bullets left in the gun when a new running back emerges in the final month of the season.
If you do a money league, you could also set it up so that there are a fixed amount of free transactions, but each owner can pay $1 or whatever for every transaction after the free ones. That money could then go into a pot for either the eventual fantasy champion, or for the “Owner of the Year” as voted by the rest of the league.
A big part of the fantasy football fun is actually getting to run your team like a real NFL general manager would. Of course, that involves making moves to get your roster in the best possible shape.
We’ve already discussed free agency, but trading is the method that’s probably a bit more exciting. In any sport, fans will throw out hypothetical trades that they feel might help their team, but are often ignored and/or unjustifiable. However, when you are running your fantasy team, those proposals don’t fall on the deaf ears of the sportstalk radio world or Internet message boards.
Hammering out deals with other owners is commonplace in the fantasy world, and the best part is that trades are often worked out in many different forums, whether it’s in an online chat, text message, or maybe over a few adult beverages on a night out at your local watering hole.
Trading brings leagues together and generates a ton of excitement. It is the quickest way to make a great improvement or diminishment to your fantasy team, so it’s often one of the toughest to pull off.
Unfortunately, any trade usually affects multiple teams since one team could be perceived to make huge improvements that would affect the standings. So owners not involved in the trade are often quick to complain about it.
Collusion sometimes happens in fantasy football, so steps need to be taken to handle a trade that will cause the league to cry foul. Make sure you have some protocols in place to avoid these problems.
Some leagues will see questionable deals get made that wreck the competitive balance of things. Any team is allowed to challenge any trade it feels is obviously lopsided or an act of collusion. Ultimately, the challenge can get sorted out by everyone in the league (except for the teams involved in the trade) casting one vote.
If a majority of the league wants to turn the deal over, then turn it over (some leagues prefer a two-thirds vote to overturn, some prefer three-quarters, and some prefer unanimous). Come to a consensus before the season, and stick to it.
To be fair, any owners involved in a trade that's challenged should get a chance to explain themselves. Approach these situations with an open mind, and let the owners in question be heard.
As a commissioner, you must be sure to recognize whether or not a ruling or trade is being challenged for the right reason. We would suggest that you have the challenge submitted to the commissioner, who then decides if it is worth voting on as a league. Otherwise, you might have challenges being made for the smallest of problems or, even worse, for no legitimate reason other than it hurts the challenging party.
My favorite way to handle any controversies in a fantasy league is to take all of the power out of the commissioner’s hands and put it in a three-headed Competition Committee, made up of three of the most involved/responsible fantasy owners in the league. These players need to be the types who understand the decisions need to be for the better of the league, not just for their individual teams. The commissioner can still be part of this committee, but he doesn’t have more power than the other two, if he’s outvoted 2-to-1.
The Competition Committee is a great place for trade disputes to end up, when some owners feel like there might be collusion involved or that a completely unbalanced trade took place.