The offseason is the time of year when many fantasy leagues hold their annual meeting - or at least open a discussion about updating/changing their league's rules. Footballguys.com's staff are all also avid fantasy players and many are league commissioners, so we are undergoing this same process in our various leagues across the fantasy landscape. This article series will highlight will highlight rules that our staff, almost unanimously, agrees are bad rules for any fantasy league, and will also present arguments that our customers can use to try and persuade their league-mates to change for the better.
The first bad rule we'll discuss is sometimes called First Come, First Served/Free for All Free Agency or Anytime Waivers - it is a feature of leagues that allow any owner to exercise a waiver claim for the upcoming week at any point in time after the previous week's lineup "locks". As long as the owner makes room on his or her roster, a free agent can be signed immediately to fill the opening.
There are a plethora of reasons why this type of free agency, in the estimation of Joe Bryant and our other staffers, "sucks all the fun out of leagues". They include but are not limited to the following:
- Frustration on the part of owners who had another obiligation on Sunday. Of course it is big news when a player like Aaron Rodgers breaks his collarbone during a game, and most fantasy owners will find out about this circumstance fairly quickly, but let's face it - not everyone obsessively watches the NFL news on Sunday afternoon. People have family reunions; weddings; funerals; or other unavoidable obligations that necessarily force fantasy football to take a back seat on occasion. The hapless fantasy owner who rostered Rodgers has to make a move at quarterback - she or he should have the opportunity to make a selection from the available free agents. In leagues with anytime waivers, that person is unlikely to be able to sign Brett Hundley after the wedding (or whatever) festivities have kept them from logging into their fantasy league and posting a claim. This discourages fantasy owners who are penalized for having a life away from fantasy football.
- The gloating of the free agent troll - inevitably, in leagues with anytime waivers, the guy who has fantasy alerts from multiple sources on his smart phone and NFL Sunday Ticket blaring from several screens at home every Sunday is the person who loves anytime waivers. This is because he is almost always in position to claim the "next man up" when a major injury occurs on Sunday afternoon (like when Carson Wentz tore up his knee ligaments in Week 14 during 2017). Once this person has claimed Nick Foles, they will often taunt the unfortunate owner at little Cindy's piano recital who missed out on the Wentz injury news - "I can't BELIEVE you left Foles on the waiver wire for three minutes!". Of course, enduring such ribbing through no fault of one's own leaves bitterness behind in the owner who was denied any chance at Foles.
- Competitive imbalance in the league - after a few weeks of free-for-all free agency, there will often be a few teams that have built up a deep bench of free agents snatched off the waiver wire, while other owners (who may otherwise be solid owners who conduct good drafts and so forth) have been largely stripped of viable fantasy starters due to a rash of injuries/suspensions, etc. Owners of the "failing" franchise will often lose interest in the league, concluding (correctly) that they just can't compete this season. They may even decide to leave the league, forcing the commissioner to find a replacement owner (for a bad team) in mid-season. It is not fun to play in a league with one or more "zombie" franchises that don't/can't put up a fight or (even worse) simply don't care enough to submit a current lineup from week to week.
While there is no way for any owner to protect herself from injuries/suspensions and etc., there are better ways to conduct free agency which allows some chance for an owner with a run of bad luck to stay competitive (other than staring at a waiver page on the league website for hours on end, waiting for another owner to have a misfortune on any given Sunday).
During the Footballguys' staff discussion, it became apparent that most of our fantasy owners prefer some sort of two-event system, wherein players appearing in the Thursday Night Football game (or on Thanksgiving, games) are available for a waiver period sometime Wednesday afternoon or evening, while the players on the other NFL teams playing on Sunday/Monday are available for waivers transacted on Friday evening or even Saturday morning. Then, after the second batch of waiver claims are processed, owners who have to deal with "game time decision" players are usually allowed to transact first come/first served waiver claims right up to the time that lineups lock on Sunday. Given the high level of flexibility on the various league hosting websites these days, there is no reason to avoid a multi-phased free agency process each week of the NFL season.
There are various other questions that will have to be settled when a league moves away from the free-for-all free agency paradigm - how will the league handle waiver claims? Will there be a set order based on current record; or total fantasy points scored; or will the league institute a bidding system where each owner receives a certain budget of "dollars" to spend on free agents each season? There are a lot of ways to conduct waiver wire transactions, but one thing is certain - a system designed to enhance competitive balance in your league will be vastly superior to suffering through the trials and tribulations caused by unlimited, first come/first served free agency.
No waiver system is perfect, but none are worse than anytime waivers.