Note: This series is designed to take salary cap drafters of any ability and refine their skills to that of a seasoned veteran. The articles will go from basic concepts to the most advanced salary cap draft theories. Each article is designed to build on the previous articles in the series. For best results, read each article before proceeding to the concepts in the next article.
Part 4 covered how to craft your nomination strategy. Now, you can work on what to do once the player is out there. There isn’t as much nuance in your bidding strategies as there is when picking a player to nominate, but there are still some things you can do to try and maximize your value when bidding.
As a general rule, the best way to avoid a big mistake from a poor bid in a salary cap draft is not to get fancy. While you are getting comfortable with the other drafters, their tendencies, and the unique process of a salary cap draft, you should follow the simple rule of bidding one dollar more than the previous bid. Your goal is to take as much guesswork off your plate as you can, and trying to craft the perfect bid every time you’re in the middle of a bidding war is sure to lead to mistakes until you are a veteran salary cap drafter.
The salary cap draft landscape is full of drafters getting caught up in the flow of bidding on an elite player and losing money with a poor bid. When the name Justin Jefferson is called out for $20, there will invariably be bids that proceed in $5 or $10 increments. It’s easy to see the bids climb quickly at that pace – “25..30..35..40..45…” – and at some point the bidding will slow down. You don’t want to be the one who yells “$50!” and then hears the room go silent. Perhaps on Jefferson, that number will be $50 this year, and you’ll be fine with it. But you’ll never know if you could’ve got him cheaper. If you jump $5 and everyone stops bidding, then you’ve stopped them in their tracks for one of two reasons: You got a deal because you blew everyone away with your bid, or you wasted money. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. Don’t waste your money by guessing.
Here are some things to think about when it comes to bidding in your salary cap drafts.
HAVE A REASON
Too many salary cap drafters get into the habit of throwing out bids on players they like without thinking about how it furthers their goals in the draft. It is imperative always to have a reason for bidding. Of course, you want to bid on a player you like, but if that’s your only reason, that’s not sound salary-cap draft strategy. You should ask yourself the following questions before you bid:
- Do I need this player, or do I want this player?
- Do I have the salary cap to pay for the player while sticking to my strategy?
- How many roster spots do I have left and how will landing this player affect my future in the draft?
- Is the player cheap enough that you can’t pass up a bid?
- Is the player expensive, but you need the player bad enough that you have to bid?
Two factors exist that have a push-and-pull relationship with each other. On one side is the price of the player up for bid, and on the other is your current team need. Sometimes this produces some odd results when you go through these questions, but they are important. For example, if you already have your top three wide receivers for your team and JuJu Smith-Schuster comes up for bid, you are somewhat limited in what you can do. If Smith-Schuster bidding stops at $9, you have to weigh whether or not that is cheap enough to bid or whether you have to pass on the deal. The unfortunate side effect of going through this sequence of questions is that you will have to pass on some deals along the way. You simply can’t buy every player who goes cheaper than they should. There are plenty of managers who can’t pass up a deal, and they’ll get stuck with a lot of decent players for solid prices. But this process hems them in at the end of the draft. This often leads to an unexciting roster that fills up before it should.
So all you have to do to avoid that trap is to juxtapose your need against the player's price. If Smith-Schuster is about to go for $3, or $21, the decision is much easier. You can’t afford to pass on him for the former price, and you can’t afford to bid on him for the latter. But when it’s somewhere in the middle, you have to look at price versus need while not forgetting that part of that equation is how many roster spots you have left. It can be a complicated formula that you must assess in the middle of a bidding war, but you can train yourself to quickly run through those concepts by deliberately paying attention to these principles as you draft. It takes time and repetition, but anyone can learn.
PRICE ENFORCING V. BIDDING TEAMS UP
It is tempting to equate these two things, but they are quite different. But before discussing how they’re different, there is an important caveat. Trying to run up the price on a player through price enforcing or bidding up another team is risky and can ruin your draft. Plain and simple. To do either one effectively, you need to have a strong grasp on the managers in the room, the scoring system, expected prices, and a whole list of other little things that allow you to bid with the expectation that you aren’t going to get stuck with a player. Be careful.
But if you feel comfortable doing it, one of these is inherently less risky than the other. Price enforcing is the process of bidding on a player that has stalled out well below his expected price. When you decide to bid in this situation, you are essentially saying that you are ok if you end up with the player. For example, people are bidding on Cam Akers, and his price stalls out at $16. Because of his poor showing in the playoffs, managers are not that excited about him. As a result, you’re sitting in the draft and realize his price is cratering. You hadn’t planned on landing Akers, but bidding $17 is less about trying to land him and more about making sure his price gets closer to his market value. You are still getting a nice deal if you get stuck with Akers for a price between $17 and $20. But, more than likely, you can stop bidding in the low 20s and let someone else have him. But you pulled an extra $5-$7 out of the room by getting his price closer to where it should be.
Bidding someone up to take more of their cap is a completely different concept. In this situation, more often than not, you are simply reading the player and their roster for how much they are willing to pay. If someone doesn’t have their top receiver and Michael Pittman Jr is the only one left in the Top 20, you can explore the idea of making them pay a few more dollars than they should. Pittman goes for around $21 in salary cap drafts, so when the bidding stops at $20, you have a chance to squeeze that player for a few more dollars. Trying to get the other manager to pay $27-$28 is probably too risky, but sometimes scarcity inflation will allow it. Instead, take out some of the risk and just concentrate on pulling two more bids. When you bid $21 and then $23, you are done. Hopefully, they say $24, and you have effectively cost them $4. It doesn’t seem like a lot at the time but doing that over and over during the draft has a cumulative impact that you will notice.
Part 6 of this series will focus on some human psychology and tells in a draft room, but to successfully pull off price enforcing or bidding someone up, you have to know the fantasy angle, the human angle, and the salary cap strategy angle.
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