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Establishing a Contract League

Want to spice up your fantasy football league? Bored by being able to predict the first three rounds of your draft based on last year's statistics and/or projections? Interested in becoming a wheelin' and dealin' fantasy football GM? Here's a new variation on fantasy football where drafting a good team this for this year is balanced against planning and plotting for the future.

What is it?

A contract league is similar to a keeper league in that you are able to hold over players from your current season's roster to return to your team the following season or seasons. Each team is given a number of contracts that are assigned to players on their team. Once a contract on a player has expired, the player becomes a free agent and reenters the draft pool the following season.

What do you need?

The most important thing that you need for a contract league is a strong core of owners that you can count on to play each year, as the decisions made by each owner carry over from season to season. You also need a commissioner who can keep track of each contracted player's status and returns them to the following season's draft pool once their contract expires.

The First Year

For the first season, each team is awarded two three-year contracts and two two-year contracts. A regular, serpentine draft is used to stock each team's roster. Following the draft and prior to the beginning of the season, each owner awards their contracts to players on their team. The two-year contracts allow the owner to keep the player for the following season and the three-year contracts keep the player on the team for the next two seasons.


As many fantasy football owners know, finding a trading partner and working out a trade that benefits both owners can be a truly difficult task. In a contract league, contracts travel with the player, so if a contracted player is traded to another team the contract goes with him. This adds a new dimension to the league as teams who are not having a good season can trade non-contracted players to contending teams to start rebuilding for next season.

The Second Year

At the second season's draft, all contracted players are considered keepers and are eliminated from the draft pool. Each owner is given an additional two three-year contracts that are given to newly drafted players. The draft is a serpentine draft and the draft order is determined by last season's standings (i.e. the champion drafts last). If a team has gained or lost contracts due to trades, they stop or continue drafting until they reach the roster limit.

The Third Year and Beyond

After the second season, players who were given two-year contracts after the initial draft become free agents and return to the draft pool. The draft order is again in the opposite order of the previous season's standings. Each owner is given another pair of three-year contracts each season that are given to newly drafted players. Every season a new group of previously contracted players return to the draft pool.

So, why use a contract league?

  • Draft forecasting and planning ahead are rewarded as owners continue to reap the benefits of smart personnel moves

  • The draft becomes more interesting as teams draft for need instead of simply ranking the top running backs and the occasional Peyton Manning for the first round.

  • Player projections become more important as owners must weigh the benefits of giving a contract to a young up-and-comer as opposed to a veteran who may be entering the twilight of his career.

  • Although it is a keeper league, players will become available again once their contract expires.

  • Owners who are out of the race during the current season are still involved as they still have an opportunity to improve their team for upcoming seasons.

Some additional wrinkles to consider

  • The Franchise Tag - Each team is given a franchise tag that they can place on any player (in addition to their allotted contracts) that allows the owner to keep a player on their roster until the tag is removed and placed on another player. The franchise tag can be used to keep a player whose contract is expiring and is slated to become a free agent. The franchise tag is nontransferable, so a franchise player that is traded retains no contract status.

  • The Rookie Bonus - Drafting rookies is a risky proposition, as many require a season under their belts before they become legitimate NFL threats or never reach the Hall of Fame status that Mel Kiper Jr. bestowed upon them on draft day. As an incentive to owners to take a gamble on a rookie player, an additional year is added to the contract of any rookie.

  • The Sleeper Keeper - Again, an incentive to owners to prepare for the draft and be aware of unheralded or potential breakout players. At the end of the season, owners are allowed to select one player who was drafted after a predetermined round (for example the 12th) and bring them back the following season.

  • Future Considerations - Another incentive to encourage owners of non-contending teams to remain active and think about next season. Most owners are very leery of trading their contracted players, so teams can trade players for picks in next season's draft - Keary Colbert for next year's 4th round pick, for example.

  • Trading Within the Draft - Say that you need to move up in the draft to select that quarterback that is going to put you over the top and earn your coveted championship. Put together a package and swap spots with one of your fellow owners.

The draft, any owner's Christmas morning, is no longer as predictable and surprises are abundant. For an experienced group of fantasy footballers, the additional strategies, question marks and surprises that a contract league adds to the game eliminate a lot of the obviousness that a traditional draft can hold. And last but definitely not least, having players already "in camp" can make for a lively offseason of trash talking, negotiation and preparation.

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