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February 28, 2018

Theme and variations is a type of musical form used in classical music. It consists of a melody which is repeated several times. With each repetition, the melody is altered in some way. Bach’s Goldberg Variations are still considered one of the more impressive musical compositions. Mozart made many pieces using the Theme and Variations form including one of the most famous melodies, what we now call “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.

Needless to say, Theme and Variations has been an important part of our culture. Now, what does this have to do with fantasy football you say? Dynasty leagues showcase variations on a similar theme of keeping players from year to year.

In my last article “Types of Dynasty Leagues”, the theme was the basic outline of a dynasty fantasy football league. However, we did not go into great detail of the variations on that theme. There are countless options for how players are selected and what players are available. Part of the appeal of dynasty is the amount of variation from one league to another. In the article, the focus will be on common variations on dynasty leagues.


The auction draft exists in the re-draft world as well as in dynasty. For those unfamiliar with this concept, each owner gets a spending budget which is used during the auction to bid on players. All the owners are placed in a snake order (as seen in the previous article) but instead of simply selecting a player, during their turn, each owner nominates a player for the auction. After that, any owner can make a bid on that player.   

One of the advantages of the auction draft is the unpredictability of the outcome. No one is certain at what point any player will be nominated. In dynasty, the auction can be used in several ways.

The first auction option is to use it only for the startup. Last week, we saw that the startup is the draft in the inaugural season of a league. In an instance where the auction is only used for startup, during all subsequent years (and the first year if the rookies are separate) the incoming class of rookies will be selected using a snake order or reverse standings order draft.  

This leads to our second option, using an auction for rookies as well. In the version, there will still be separate rookie and non-rookie drafts. However, both will be auctions.

In the two preceding options, teams will keep most, if not all of their players. Some leagues however, will have a lower off season limit so that not all players will be kept. While these leagues can have similar drafting to the previous two versions, one might also see a combined rookie and non-rookie draft. With so many players becoming free agents at the end of each season, there will be enough players to go along with the entire incoming rookie class to make for an interesting auction draft.


The contract system of fantasy football deviates from what I call the lifetime dynasty (as written about in the previous article). Instead of keeping your entire team from season to season, in this format you give contracts to specific players. These contracts have term limits after which a player becomes a free agent.

To take things one step further, contract leagues can also have a salary cap. Owners will not only assign term to their players but also a salary. The only way to have this make sense is by having an auction draft in these types of leagues. However, unlike a simple auction, these amounts stay with the player for the duration of the contract. Evidently, an owner may not spend more money than the salary cap.

Contract leagues can have a variety of different rules and functions. I will now outline a particular contract style league that I participate in. To demonstrate this process, I will draw from personal experience and highlight the leagues decisions. Keep in mind that structure of this league is only one variation on the theme.

  1. Rookie draft:

The rookie draft is what officially opens the season. It is a draft of 4 rounds where the only available players are the incoming rookie class. Each pick is automatically assigned a contract value for 4 years, with the 1.01 having the highest salary and the 4.10 having the lowest. For instance, in 2017, the 1.01 (Fournette) was automatically given a 30.38 million dollar contract when his owner drafted him. The cap hit in 2017 was $6.68M and it will inflate to $8.51M in 2020.  The 4.10 (Donnell Pumphrey) came with a $3.34M value over the 4 years, ranging from $735.28K to $935.81K in annual cap hit.

The draft order is determined the same way as the NFL. The team that is lowest in the standings will pick 1st, while the team that won the championship will select 10th every round. In the first year of this league, a random order was assigned and it was a snake order draft. In that first season, I was assigned the 1.07 slot which means that my first pick was 7th overall and my second pick was 14th and my third pick was 27th.

  1. Free Agent Auction:

The free agency auction is set up like a normal auction: all the owners are placed in a random order and each take their turn to nominate a player for auction. By nominating a player, that owner is biding on him with a 1 year $500K contract (the minimum amount for a contract in the league). An owner may bid any amount that is higher and use any contract length (ranging from 1 year to 4 years). The web site has an algorithm designed so that the player will always select the best value for them. A player will select a longer term for slightly less money per year than a 1 year contract.

In this particular league, we have limits on the amount of multi year contracts each owner has for the auction: three 2 year contracts, two 3 year contracts and one 4 year contract. Every other player will receive a 1 year contract.

  1. Trades:

In this contract league, we allow player contracts to be traded as well as rookie draft picks. We decided to allow trading during the rookie draft, although the web site does not support that. So we have to do our draft off of the website, after which the commissioners manually update the rosters. This requires a great effort on the part of the commissioners, but it is well worth it as it makes the rookie draft much more dynamic. If the web site you are using allows in draft trades, all the better. If not, I recommend using a messaging app to draft; we use GroupMe in this league.

  1. Extension and Tag:

The other option that exists in this particular league is to extend or franchise tag a player on an expiring contract. The extension feature is only available to use on a player between week 4 and week 13 during the last year of their contract.  The term length and amount are subject to an algorithm on the site and cannot be negotiated.

This contract league also uses the Franchise Tag option. Up to three days before the start of the new season (i.e. the rookie draft) each owner may place the Franchise Tag on any one player with an expiring contract on their team. The Tag is always a 1 year contract where the amount is calculated similarly to the NFL. It is one of two amounts: A. 120% of the salary of that player in the final season of his contract or B. the average of the top five salaries for players at that position in the upcoming season. The option worth more is what will be chosen as the Tag amount.


In fantasy football, Devy is short for development or developing players (i.e. college). In a Devy league, owners can select players who are still in college. Usually, this is done through a Devy draft in which all college players who are not owned are available to be drafted. None of the college production counts towards an owner’s fantasy points; players will only contribute to fantasy wins once they are in the NFL.  

The advantage of Devy is that it forces owners to be more aware of incoming college freshmen. Much more emphasis is placed on players’ skills and potential. Unlike non-Devy leagues where NFL team fit is an important factor in player evaluation, Devy evaluation has none of that. A player can be potentially 4 years away from joining an NFL roster.  

That concludes this theme and variation piece. I hope that dynasty fantasy football is no longer a foreign concept to you. More importantly, I hope that you are inspired to play in various forms of dynasty. Fantasy leagues where you can keep players from year to year is a great theme. With auctions, contracts and Devy leagues, there is enough variation to satisfy everyone’s dynasty tastes.

-Kyle Senra ( Follow on Twitter )

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