Dynasty, in Practice: Investing in the Future

Practical tips for how to make investing in the future easier and more profitable.

The Big Takeaway

The future ain’t what it used to be.
-Yogi Bera

In this week’s Dynasty, in Theory, I wrote about the importance of building towards a future in dynasty so that, when it arrives, we are not left with nothing but regret.

Of course, that’s a great idea in theory, (see what I did there?), but just how does one go about trading the present for the future when the present is so valuable, so important, and so… well… present?

Thankfully, I have a series of tricks and tools to help make investing in the future a bit more achievable.

Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.
-William Jennings Bryan

Making the decision to build for the future is easy. Acting upon that decision is difficult. What is an owner to do? For starters, try making it a little bit less difficult.

Unfortunately, due to grossly misplaced priorities, scientists have yet to study good ways to get dynasty owners to trade for future assets. Thankfully, there does happen to be quite a bit of research on a broadly similar problem— the problem of how to get young people to save for retirement.

It seems that most Americans are chronically poor savers and are not currently on pace for a comfortable retirement. As a result, scientists have been quite interested in ways to trick people into acting in their own best interests, and they have come up with several promising leads.

Trick #1- Picture Yourself in the Future

Scientists have found, for instance, that if you present a young person with a form asking them how much of their paycheck they would like to devote to retirement savings, they will typically allocate a certain percentage. If, however, that young person is first primed with thoughts of themselves as an older person, that percentage quickly rises.

The means of priming can vary pretty dramatically. It can be as explicit as asking the young person to envision him or herself in retirement and write about what he or she would like to do. It can be reminding the young person that most people save too little during their working years and have to go without in their retirement.

The means of priming can even be as simple as putting a picture of an elderly person on the savings forms. Even visual reminders of aging trigger a subconscious response and cause respondents to save more.

How to put this trick to work:

The easiest way to get this trick working for you is to explicitly imagine your future self as a distinct person. Picture yourself two years from today. What does his roster look like? What decisions did you make that he is regretting as he tries to field a starting lineup? Which decisions is he eager to thank you for?

Your present self might balk at the idea of trading a short-term RB who is currently starting for you in exchange for a future draft pick, but how do you think your future self would feel about that trade? How glad would he be for that extra draft pick?

By imagining yourself in the future, you will be better able to make decisions that will benefit that future self.

Trick #2- Make Saving the Default

When faced with the prospect of getting healthy young people to invest in retirement, researchers have discovered they have to overcome two hurdles. The first, of course, is simply getting healthy young people to think about retirement.

The second is surprising, but powerful. It is getting people to overcome their own laziness and bias towards inaction.

The majority of 401k programs operate as opt-in programs. Employers make them available and give employees an option to enroll. The problem is that, however easy the enrollment process is, it is still a hurdle. And humans are notoriously bad at mustering the energy to clear hurdles— any hurdles at all, even ankle-high ones.

Researchers have discovered that, with a simple change, that bias can be exploited to work in their favor. Instead of traditional structures, some employers have begun operating their 401k programs as “opt-out” programs. When employees become eligible, they are automatically enrolled at a certain percentage, and then given the option to change that percentage, even to zero if desired.

The results are pretty predictable given our aversion of ankle-high hurdles. Most employees simply follow the path of least resistance and stay at whatever percentage they were automatically enrolled at.

How to put this trick to work:

Obviously it’s much harder to automate anything in fantasy football. I suppose you could preemptively make a non-expiring trade offer of every player on your team to every owner in your league, allowing them to accept at their leisure.

That method, of course, is prone to a lot of operator error- there’s a great chance that you’d forget to cancel an offer after an injury or increased role left it unpalatable. Perhaps more importantly, that method is unacceptably obnoxious and would rightfully irritate everyone else in the league.

While true automation is impossible, you can always work to cultivate a reputation as someone willing to trade short-term assets for long-term assets. Actively use your trading block and make it clear who you are willing to part with for picks. Post on your league message board explaining your willingness.

Most importantly, be prepared to follow through if someone takes you up on your offers. Developing a reputation is easy, but maintaining that reputation is difficult and requires a high degree of follow-through.

Trick #3- Exploit Our Love of Lotteries

This trick is perhaps my favorite, because it takes one of our biggest mental weaknesses and turns it into a strength. As much as we hate saving, we love lotteries. Most of the time this is terrible, because lotteries are a terrible deal, (so much so that they are often referred to by economists as a “tax on people who can’t do math”).

What some countries have begun doing, then, is creating “prize-linked savings accounts”, or PSLAs. PSLAs are similar to standard savings accounts, but a certain percentage of the money saved is rolled into a lottery for which you are entered every time you save.

Basically, PSLAs allow your future self to benefit from your present self’s imprudence, exactly the sort of beautiful and elegant solution to a difficult problem that we love around here.

How to put this trick to work:

This one is simple- invest in lottery tickets. I’ve discussed before that owners tend to irrationally overrate their own team quality. This means they’re undervaluing their own future 1st round picks. The best part, though, is that this error compounds over time.

People dramatically underrate the power of change, such that teams that are good today fully expect to remain good going forward. In reality, we see wild swings in team quality from year to year.

One year, Darren McFadden looks like an absolute bust and his owner’s team looks terrible. The next year, Darren McFadden looks like a superstar and his owner looks set at the position for years. The next year, McFadden is a bust again, and the owner better hope he didn’t sell his first round pick when McFadden looked like a star.

Trading for future first round picks is always a good idea, but if you really want to buy some lottery tickets, start trading for picks that are two years out, or even further if your league allows it. Target the top teams in the league specifically. If a team is 8-0, his 2015 first rounder is certainly going to be relatively late… but no such certainty surrounds his 2016 first rounder.

In fact, an 8-0 owner will dramatically underrate the possibility that his 2016 pick is going to be high. And since the further out a pick is, the cheaper it is to acquire, 2016 picks from currently good teams are one of the cheapest lottery tickets an owner can currently buy… but also one of the most valuable.

Just imagine turning your current RB2 into a top-3 dynasty pick. Imagine the feeling of success if you manage to sneak off with the #1 or #2 pick in a rookie draft for a relative pittance. Picks that are known to be high are extremely expensive, so imagine the thrill you will feel if you can get one so cheaply.

Of course, the nature of a lottery means there’s a good chance you lose. Sometimes, (often!), teams remain good and that 2016 pick is as late as the 2015 pick was. But if you want to exploit your inherent love of cheap assets with potentially huge payoffs, this should serve as small deterrent. And even if the pick winds up late, surely your future self would still appreciate it.

Trick #4- Exploit Our Love of Certainty

Our love of certainty really knows no limits. This love has been demonstrated repeatedly through experiments. Imagine we owned two lottery tickets. The first had a 50% chance of paying $1000, and the second had a 90% chance of paying $1000. If offered the choice to increase the odds of the first ticket to 70% or the odds of the second ticket to 100%, time and time again people opt to choose the latter.

Mathematically, this makes no sense at all, but our brains do not work mathematically. Instead, we tend to view all assets as either "risky" or "certain", and we make very little distinction within those particular classes based on the amount of risk. Moving from 50% to 70% takes an asset from "risky" to "still risky". Moving from 90% to 100% takes an asset from "risky" to "certain". The first changes little, as far as our faulty mental software is concerned. The second changes everything.

This is why the "uncertainty" argument is so compelling when it comes to investing in the future. Christine Michael's value will likely rise or fall a great deal in the coming years. If you are in a developmental league, buying top RB prospects is risky because they often become Jonathan Dwyer or Lache Seastrunk once the draft finally rolls around. Individual unproven players are risky.

How to put this trick to work:

If unproven players are risky, and we hate risk, how do we get ourselves to invest in unproven players? The secret is that we don't.

Draft picks, unlike individual players, are not risky. While Lache Seastrunk dropped in value the year leading up to the draft, plenty of other players moved up in value to offset, meaning the value of a top pick stayed relatively constant. Draft picks never get hurt. They never get suspended. When individual players fall, other individual players rise. There are some year-to-year variations, to be sure, but by and large future rookie picks are one of the safest, most certain investments in all of dynasty.

That includes currently proven players, too. Again, draft picks never tear their ACL. They never punch women in elevators. They never have a bad game, fumble one time too many, or get demoted. They never become toxic assets that the rest of your league lose interest in acquiring. If a fear of uncertainty is what is holding you back from investing in your future, then I would recommend building a portfolio of future draft picks, which are the T-bills of the dynasty world.

Reframe the debate in your head. When talking yourself into trading a player for picks, remind yourself that you are far more certain those picks will still be valuable a year from now than you are that the player will be.

Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.
-Nikola Tesla

Dynasties are not built by chance; they are usually the effort of consistent and dogged effort over the span of multiple years. Sometimes that work is hard, and requires overcoming our own default tendencies.

In the end, though, the fruits of that labor are worth it. While everyone else competes for the present, patient owners can buy the future.

Remember always that the lens your team will be judged is not the lens of the present. You will not look back fondly on how good your team looked at the time. Instead, you will judge success more harshly through the lens of the future. You will judge the quality of your team based on things that you still have yet to learn about it.

Building a team that stands up to the scrutiny of history requires deliberate effort.

Finally, as with my last article, I would like to leave you with one final thought from one of the great philosophers of the modern era.

The future starts today, not tomorrow.
-Pope John Paul II

Second Thoughts

Jonathan Stewart, just when I thought I was out, you pulled me back in. I mentioned last week that Stewart was one of just three players on my oldest dynasty team that I personally drafted. The reason for this is because I’ve always been higher than consensus on him. And just when I was finally ready to give up on him, he’s produced some startlingly good play the last few weeks— play reminiscent of the younger, healthier Stewart who secured titles for his owners in 2009. He’s 27, he’s dealt with injuries, and he’s frustrated for years… but he’s still a talented player. Maybe this is the time that talent finally translates into production?

On the other hand, I’ve been saying that for years now. Before you rush out to act on that recommendation, consider the source…

Given my love of injured players, this next thought is unlikely to surprise anyone, but Brian Quick has suddenly turned into a strong buy-low. He had cooled considerably from his hot start (21/322/3 over his first four games, on pace for 84/1288/12 over the full season), but that talent was still there. The former 33rd pick of the NFL draft was finally putting everything together. Now he could probably be had for a future 3rd round rookie pick.

Is Quick a better bet than a 3rd round pick? Absolutely. And more than that, he’ll be ready to produce more quickly than any WR you could select in the 3rd round next year, which means you aren’t burning a roster spot on him for years with nothing to show for it. Just compare him to this year’s rookie 3rd round WRs— Martavis Bryant, Jarvis Landry, Paul Richardson, and John Brown…

Okay, so maybe this year’s 3rd round receivers are looking pretty strong, but it’s not exactly the best comparison given how historically productive this rookie class has been.

The first 8 games are not necessarily predictive of a player’s entire career, (see: Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, Robert Griffin III… basically the entire first round of 2012 rookie drafts). How long until I’m ready to call this the greatest WR class in history? Ummm… I’m already there. Basically, if you drafted WRs in your rookie draft this year, you had an excellent rookie draft. 2014 is shaping up to be for WRs what 2008 was for RBs.

What’s the deal with Cam Newton? If you look at him statistically, he’s basically the same guy today that he was when he first entered the league. His performance against New Orleans was, charitably, terrible. It almost seems like he’s regressing. This is one of those cases, though, where I don’t think the stats tell the whole story. When I watch Newton in 2014, I see a better player than he was in 2011. Bad games happen. Don’t let it shake your confidence.

Every month, the inimitable Ryan McDowell runs a series of mock drafts to compile ADP data for dynasty leagues. This month, the top 10 receivers by ADP are Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and Jordy Nelson. I often have criticisms of the current dynasty market, but in this case, they’ve nailed it.

We can debate order among those ten all we want. We can debate whether Antonio Brown or Sammy Watkins or Calvin Johnson or Alshon Jeffery or Sammy Watkins belong in the first tier or the second. But at the end of the day, if those aren’t your top 10 dynasty WRs, I would challenge you to give serious consideration to why not. I personally believe those ten are a clear cut above the rest of the pack.

Also, speaking of Ryan McDowell, he’s @RyanMc23 on Twitter- if you’re on Twitter and you’re not following him fix that. Few in the industry are more engaged and engaging. I would say that none in the industry are nicer or more helpful.

More articles from Adam Harstad

See all

More articles on: Dynasty

See all

More articles on: Player Articles

See all

More articles on: Strategy

See all