Working the Wire - The Importance of Effective Waiver Wire Management
Freelance Submission Posted 8/19 by Bill Smathers, Special to Footballguys.com
Look at any championship fantasy squad and focus on 'when' each player was
added to the roster over the course of the season. In doing so, I think you'll
quickly come to the conclusion that strategic changes to your roster throughout
the season plays a tremendous role in your success. I would submit that in many
formats, the waiver wire is now as at least 'as' important as the draft. In
fact, I think many might agree that the waiver wire is now the single most important
component of a successful fantasy campaign. This article will focus on how to
optimally use the waiver wire to your benefit.
First, let's establish some baselines for purposes of the discussion. The formats
used for free agent acquisitions vary greatly. The format can be as rigid as
a Survivor format that disallows any waiver wire activity, to as dynamic as
unlimited 'first come first serve' waiver wire activity. A quick word on format
before we move forward with a more focused and detailed discussion.
League and Free Agent Formats
Survivor - Most survivor formats disallow modification to a roster in
any form after the initial draft. It is after all, a format designed to assess
ones skill at drafting. In my opinion, for those owners who want to minimize
the 'luck' factor, the Survivor format is the least favorable. It is essentially
an exercise in drafting and your entire reward system is based on knowledge
at a single point in time. All future dynamics are not factored into
First Come, First Serve - For the truly obsessed, this is the format
for you. I try to participate in at least one league that utilizes this format
each year. Unlike the Survivor format which rewards knowledge from a single
point in time. FCFS formats reward those with the most current knowledge at
any given time. I remember many weeks where an injured player is being
attended to on the field and I have processed a waiver wire transaction before
the player has left the field. If you are fanatical in your research and focus,
and tie yourself to the NFL Sunday Ticket every week, FCFS formats can give
you a tremendous advantage over those less dedicated. But, unless you are omnipotent,
you can also miss some great opportunities occurring in other games.
Worst to First - This format attempts to strike some 'balance' by allowing
the teams with the 'worst' records the 'first' chance to improve their team
each week via the waiver wire. The W2F format is probably the most common waiver
format in fantasy football. It is based on a midweek drop/add process where
the team with the worst record is allowed to choose from the waiver wire first,
followed be the team with the next worst record, and continuing until the team
with the best record is allowed to execute a waiver transaction. Additional
rounds using the same format is allowed until all drop/adds have been completed.
Now, I'm all for an even playing field, but, something just doesn't seem right
to 'penalize' a team because it is winning.
Blind Bid - The Blind Bid is probably the most balanced of all the formats.
The Blind Bid establishes a pool of money that owners can use for purposes of
purchasing free agents. In my opinion, the BB process is the most fair and balanced
waiver format that rewards the informed owner, and at the same time introduces
a strategic element missing in some of the other formats. Specifically, it rewards
'early recognition' of waiver talent. Many times an owner is salivating after
watching a running back such as Domanick Davis come off the bench in the 4th
quarter in week 6 and get 10 touches. And, the next day he's proclaimed the
new number one RB in Houston. Many owners are ready to bid 10%, 25%, maybe even
50% of their entire waiver pool money in a situation like this. However, the
astute owner knew to pick up Dom Davis just in time to avoid the bidding
war, getting him the previous week for 1% of his pool money in the bargain.
The Just in Time Acquisition
The balance of this article focuses on the early recognition of the weekly
waiver wire prize; a strategy which I refer to as the 'just in time' acquisition.
The JIT acquisition focuses on the 'stock' of a player that you think (through
diligent research) is poised to jump significantly, and soon.
It happens every year. The dynamics surrounding the JIT acquisition can vary
greatly. It can happen through the demotion of a starter, ala Anthony Thomas
and Dom Davis. It can happen as a result of a player coming back from an injury,
ala Julius Jones. It can happen through a trade, ala Lamar Gordon. But, it's
going to happen. Our job is to see the likelihood of it happening at least a
week before everyone else. Why? The answer is simple. We want the prime commodity
and we want it at the best value. How do we accomplish this objective? We know
about it before everyone else. Otherwise, we have to line up with every other
schmuck and pay market price or better. We're not interested in participating
with 'the pack'. We're interested in being in 'front' of the pack.
OK. Now that we understand the nature of the discussion, let's get to the meat
of the matter. I mentioned 'diligent research' a few paragraphs earlier. I emphasize
these words again here. There's no getting around it. To reap the rewards of
a JIT acquisition, you're going to have to work hard. You have to force yourself
to focus beyond the immediate week. This is not easy. You can be so consumed
with 'tactical' thinking such as, looking at match ups and strength of schedule
and trades and trash talking
that you just run out of time for 'strategic'
thinking. If you allow this to happen, you are at a disadvantage to those that
are also thinking strategically. If this is not part of your weekly prep, then
you must change your ways. Don't let a week of the season go by where you don't
think about a horizon that looks out further than the immediate week.
Insider Information could be the subtitle of this discussion. It is
the undercurrent of the entire concept of JIT acquisitions. Let's examine for
a moment the timeline associated with a change to the starting status of a skill
position in the NFL. Obviously, the first sign of progression leading to a change
occurs in practice. And, it occurs in how the practice repetitions are spread
out among the players. If a second teamer is getting increased reps with the
starters, you want to know about it. This is the earliest indication of a potential
change. A local beat writer that is willing to share practice observations directly
with you is invaluable. Make sure you read their pieces and complement
them when you can. If you can develop a network of local contacts, take very
good care of them. A little wine or a few select cigars go a very long way with
Changes in practice reps usually are followed by an increase in the game day
workload. What you're looking for here is not necessarily overt. It might be
6-8 touches that go up to 9-12 touches. The total number is not as important
as the trend.
Frequently, insiders will either know directly, or indirectly when the situation
is approaching a flash point. If a second teamer is splitting reps with the
first team offense, the starter is on a very short leash. Insiders close to
the team will be whispering that a change is imminent. Now is the best time
to pull the trigger on the acquisition. Take a flier and see what happens. Sometimes,
the payoff is immediate. Other times, you may be surprised at the patience of
the coaching staff or your insiders were reading the signals a bit wrong. But,
there is very little risk, as it was an inexpensive gamble with potential for
I'll reiterate a point here. Because you're in front of the crowd, your investment
is very small. This minimizes the impact of a 'bad call' with the free agent.
If you know Lamar Gordon is being shipped to Miami and you can get him for 1%,
you do it. It's a no lose scenario. Get the same player for 30% of your free
agent money after the trade is announced, and you better hope the player produces.
JIT acquisitions have potential for huge upside and at the same time virtually
no risk. You can't beat that combo.
JIT acquisitions are all about timing. Done too soon, an unproductive acquisition
consumes valuable roster space. This puts you at a disadvantage to a team that
has a full compliment of productive players. Done too late, your value is diminished
because the cost of acquisition is orders of magnitude higher than it could
have been which introduces significant risk into the equation. So, these dynamics
almost dictate that the JIT acquisition is something that is better suited starting
in the second quartile of the season. Why? Teams do not usually have a quick
hook for a starter early in the season. They have typically invested a fair
amount of preseason work with the starter and this is baked into the game plan.
Most teams will be patient for the first month of the season. However, protracted
unproductive outings combined with losses will start to bring about thoughts
of changing starters.
Don't neglect the business implications associated with players. Aging starters
that are backed up by younger players are certainly scenarios that need to be
considered, especially if a team has targeted the backup via trade or high draft
choice. Many times, these players will be drafted, but not always. Derrick Blaylock
has frequently gone undrafted in mocks this year.
So, the early part of the season should be dedicated to building your 'watch
list'. Look at all the undrafted players coming out of your draft, and ask yourself
where do you think an undrafted player might surface as a starter? And from
there, begin to get much tighter with your network and start to get some insight
from those close to the situation.
Prioritize Running Backs
Like chess men, all fantasy players have value. But, also like chess, not all
players have equal value. So, I really focus on running backs when looking
for that JIT acquisition. Assuming typical scoring formats, a new starting running
back will generate the most value for your squad. Even if you own Tomlinson
and Holmes, a starting RB is a desirable free agent commodity. A new starting
QB or WR may carry equal impact to that of a RB, but even when these changes
are expected, the market will not exorbitant. The market value of new starting
running backs however will go through the roof. So, I focus almost exclusively
on running backs.
Understandably, many running backs that backup a weak starter will be drafted.
If you look at the bottom 8 starting running backs in the current 2005 FBG projections,
every one of their backups are projected to be drafted in a standard 16 round
draft. Drafting LaBrandon Toefield in the 13th round in August is the same concept
at play, just frequently absent the 'just in time' component. I prefer to not
gamble at draft time, so unless there is overwhelming evidence that a second
teamer has a good chance to be promoted early in the season, I'll go with handcuffing
my studs and getting depth at other positions. I'm going to beat others to the
punch on waiver wire FRB's, so I feel like I have the luxury of bolstering other
positions in the draft.
We're looking for a change in starter status involving a free agent in our
league. We're focused on FRB's We're aware of contractual scenarios which might
favor increased time for a nonstarter. We're looking at starters who are struggling
combined with backups who are gaining more practice and game time. We're focused
on a 'watch list' of probable scenarios. We're relying on early input from insiders.
We want to grab the new starter about a week before everyone knows about it.
2001 - Anthony Thomas
2003 - Dom Davis
2004 - Julius Jones
- Derrick Blaylock
- Anthony Thomas (again)
- Chris Perry
- Frank Gore
- William Green
- Justin Fargas
- Arlen Harris
We don't know who, and we don't know when
but we all know a free agent
will emerge and play a crucial role. Don't let the competition beat you to the
punch. If you work hard, you can be aware of the change before the less informed.
If you pull that off, you will have a giant advantage over the competition.