You're already aware of how fun Salary Cap Drafts are. You're probably already in a league that will do the whole bidding thing. You're just looking for an edge.
I've been doing Salary Cap Drafts for nearly 20 years including one at the Pro Football Hall of Fame for each of the past five years. They're the best. But if you just show up to one without any ideas on how to navigate them, others in your league will take advantage of your inexperience and put together a dominant team.
Let's not let that happen. But before we dive into strategies, there's also another way you can get yourself caught up for your cap draft. We streamed a salary cap draft with industry experts Tuesday night on the FFT YouTube page. You can find that here.
Before the bidding begins
1. Dream big
Thanks to countless sources of Average Draft Position, you kinda know who you're going to get before you start a regular Snake Draft. If you don't have a top pick, you're not getting Jonathan Taylor -- but you might get Ja'Marr Chase or Travis Kelce or Alvin Kamara (and maybe two of them). You could almost map out your entire team before you even make a pick. That's not fun.
In Salary Cap Drafts, every manager can get any player. If you really believe Christian McCaffrey is going to ball out, all you have to do is be willing to outbid your league mates and he's yours. If you really want McCaffrey and Derrick Henry on the same team, you can get them both at any cost (spoiler: there is a cost).
This isn't limited to the premier players. You might be a big believer in breakout candidates like Travis Etienne, Gabriel Davis, A.J. Dillon, Rashod Bateman and Jerry Jeudy. Good luck getting more than two of those guys in your Snake Draft ... but in a Salary Cap Draft you can land all five and STILL have enough left over in your budget for more stars.
Your options on how to build a team are never-ending. The players you're most passionate about are the ones you should target.
2. Make your Tiers
Find your favorite rankings source (here's a good one) and begin grouping players by position based on your expectations. For example, if you believe Derrick Henry, Najee Harris, Austin Ekeler, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon all have a shot to finish as top-five running backs but not top-two running backs, then you should group them together in the same tier.
This seems like a lot of work, so why do it? Because it actually sets you up with a roadmap to give you an edge in the bidding. Once you see what values players in a certain tier go for, you'll know what to expect to spend on a player with similar projections.
In the above example, when you see Henry and Ekeler go for 25% of a budget, you'll be prepared to spend that much on any of the other three backs. You might even get one at 20% of the budget. Maybe less! Everyone likes discounts, right? When a market is created, smart managers can figure out how to exploit it using their tiers.
3. Know your limits
The big-name talent fetches the most expensive bids. Spend heavily on one of them and you'll most likely be limited in how you spend the rest of your moolah. Nab two high-priced players and you'll probably spend the rest of the draft hunting and pecking amongst the cheaper players. Avoid blowing through the big bucks and you can field a squad with lots of quality names but no one who would otherwise be considered a top-20 player.
No Salary Cap Draft has unlimited spending, so be aware of what you'll get into when you spend big (or not spend big). Mock Salary Cap Drafts online will give examples of many roster builds. If there's one that doesn't sit right with you, don't follow it. If there isn't one that makes you nervous, then you're aware of the different ways your team can be built and can adjust appropriately.
When the bidding begins
1. The 20/50 rule
This has been the backbone of my Salary Cap Draft strategy for a long, long time: No matter what, make sure you save at least 20% of your budget for the last 50% of the nominations. When you save, you'll have some cha-ching to spend while others will be broke. This is when you will find really good bargains -- players who might be top 60 or 70 picks in a snake draft could be yours for just a couple of shekels. This is truly the best strategy I can give you. It works.
2. Nominations matter
Unless your league uses random nominations, each member takes turns nominating players up for bid. In the early going, you could use your nominations to bring up big-name, expensive price-tag players who you DON'T want. The idea is to let others in the league spend their dough.
And by the way, people tend to blow their budgets quite early on. It's an excitement/human nature thing.
After about 70 nominations, you'll want to do a 180 and start nominating players you DO want. These are players you want to be the first one to place a bid on. You'll also want to nominate them at prices you're a) comfortable with and b) reasonably sure no one else will beat the bids. For bench guys, that might mean going $2 instead of $1 to deter others from plunking down $3. For possible starters who make it to the mid-point of drafts, it might mean nominating for exactly what you want to spend. The equity you give up in trying to steal a player (which is unlikely) you get back by deterring others from outbidding you.
2b. Eisenberg's early edge
Managers almost never like spending more than 1% of their budget on kickers and DSTs. My buddy Jamey Eisenberg realized this years ago and began nominating the top DST and the top kicker with each of his first two nominations for 1% of his budget. Almost every single time, for years and years, no one outbid him. On the occasions someone else bid, Jamey shrugged his shoulders and just nominated another kicker or DST at the next chance. This strategy helps you fill starting spots with top-end legs/defenses when no one else is really thinking about it.
3. Don't be a mall cop
This isn't a store and you're only in charge of your team. Don't try to "price enforce" or "make sure bids are fair" by intentionally driving up bids ONLY because you think a player's going too cheap. If it's a player you want or a position you need, then it's okay, go bid. But if it's not, then you're hooking yourself up with a bloated roster with players you don't want at values you didn't intend on spending.
This happens a lot. Manager A gets a quarterback. Manager B is about to get a different quarterback at half the price as Manager A. Manager A, fearing he spent too much and not wanting others to get a great deal, bids on the different quarterback even though he already has one. Manager B decides it's too much for the quarterback, Managers C through L agree, and Manager A has two quarterbacks and less green to spend.
I'm not saying you should let Davante Adams go for 5% of your budget -- get in there and bid when it would obviously benefit you. But accept it as a fact that steals are part of this format. Your preparation should help you get some, but don't go Paul Blart and mess up your team by going overboard on one position when you don't have to.
4. When in doubt, spend the buck
Salary Cap Drafts are supposed to be fun but it can be a little stressful getting into the back-and-forth tug-of-war for a player (unless you're a car salesman or a stockbroker). Expect it to happen. It's gonna happen.
If you have any information about what to expect to spend on a player (rankings before the draft, Tiers during your draft), then you should be comfortable going to a certain point for every player. But if you're in a bidding war for someone who makes you happy, give yourself permission to spend the extra dollar. Maybe even spend the extra two or three dollars. The worst-case scenario is that you'll be a dollar short for a bench player later on.
When the bidding ends
1. How good should you feel?
If you want to know if your team is any good, compare your players to their Snake Draft ADPs. If you have a guy with a first-round ADP, a couple of second- and third-rounders, and a couple of fourth-rounders, you've succeeded. Your team is better than anything you could have put together in a Snake Draft.
I would argue your team could also be considered a hit if you locked up two second-rounders, two third-rounders and two fourth-rounders. You might not have a top-12 guy, but your lineup would be really sick.
You might not feel as good if you have one first-rounder, one third-rounder, two fourth-rounders and a bunch of sixth-rounders. You might have overspent along the way. Or if you went overboard and have two first-rounders, one fourth, two sixth and a bunch of dollar players, you may feel some regret.
And a sure-fire way to feel bad? If you have money left over. It's cool if you have a buck or two of your fictional budget left, but if you were able to spend $8 on your last bench player, you didn't maximize value early on.
If you're reading this before your draft and you want to make sure you DON'T do this, re-read the part of this story about making your own tiers and spending the extra buck.