Fantasy Football 101: Beginners Guide to Auction/Salary Cap Leagues

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If you’re new to Fantasy Football, you have likely only experienced the traditional snake drafting method, where each fantasy manager is assigned a draft spot that remains static throughout the draft. This draft method awards the best player to the manager with the number one pick. If you have a draft pick at the end of the first round, you have no chance at rostering the top players.

To level the playing field, the “auction draft” was initially created to allow all managers the same access to each player. Over the past two seasons, the term auction league is being phased out and replaced by salary cap league. The principle is simple: each manager in the league is given a salary cap, often $200, to be used during the draft to pay their chosen player. By assigning each manager an equal salary cap, they have the same ability to acquire the services of their preferred players, based on their willingness to pay the highest salary for those services.

Throughout the draft process, fantasy managers spend their allotted salary building their fantasy football rosters, much like a traditional draft, but instead of a fixed pick each round, fantasy managers can choose to spend their funds at their own discretion.

Let’s dig into the key aspects of a Salary Cap Draft.


A salary cap league draft starts off with the nomination process. Unlike a traditional snake draft, a salary cap league starts off with the first fantasy manager in line nominating a player to the league. Once nominated, each fantasy manager can propose a salary for that player. Each manager can increase the salary until no manager is will to pay that player a higher salary. At that point, the player is assigned to that manager’s fantasy rosters. The next manager inline then nominates another player for the league to propose salaries.

With the nomination process, you are not required to go in any kind of order or nominate specific positions. When it comes to your turn to nominate a player, it can be anyone that is available, from any position. For more advanced managers, there is plenty of strategy around the nomination process, but many first-time managers are unaware that they can nominate any player from any position.

Proposing (formerly known as Bidding)

When this form of drafting was first created and called an auction, fantasy managers would bid on the nominated player, similar to how one would bid on an auction on Fantasy Footballers sponsor site, Pristine Auction. As Fantasy Football continues to evolve and the auction title has been replaced with Salary Cap, the Bidding process is being referred to as proposing. Each fantasy manager can propose a salary for the player’s services. Other managers can then increase that salary by $1 or more. Typically, there will be a timer, usually 10 seconds, that counts down. Each time the salary is increased, the timer resets. This process continues until no more salary increases are recorded.

“Winning” A Player

As the timer counts down, most fantasy draft platforms will begin an audible countdown at 3, and if no other manager increases the salary before the timer hits zero, that fantasy manager who proposed the highest salary is recorded as the winner, assigning that player to their fantasy roster. The winning salary is deducted from the manager’s overall salary cap.

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Roster Construction

As the salary cap draft progresses, each fantasy manager builds out a traditional fantasy football roster. Rosters are the same as any other league, but instead of each manager getting one player per round, aggressive managers may have multiple players rostered while another manager may only have one or two. The entire process of building your team is at your discretion. If you want to acquire multiple players who would typically be drafted in the first two rounds, you can do that, knowing that it will cost you the majority of your salary cap to secure the services of those players. It’s possible for the same owner to acquire the top two players, while another owner will choose to pursue a roster filled with mid-round players.

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In traditional snake draft leagues, many managers fall into the ADP obligation trap. Managers will feel obligated to draft a player based on his average draft position. Salary cap league managers will feel that same pressure, feeling they must propose a salary simply because their going salary is below the average value. This is called “price enforcing” and can lead to a manager winning player they did not intend to win.

Salary Management

One of the biggest mistakes that rookies to the salary cap format make is either being too aggressive or too conservative with their salary spending in the early stages of the nomination process. It’s important to recognize the league’s spending patterns and adjust. If multiple managers are being aggressive early, it can make the rest of the league start spending higher salaries as well. In this situation, it may be beneficial to be more conservative and let those other managers run out of salary quickly, so you can have more control over the middle of the draft. On the flip side, a league with conservative early spending is an invitation to get aggressive and acquire multiple top-ranked players for what will ultimately prove to be a great value.

The other part of money management is knowing when to start spending. Waiting too long to spend your salary could result in you leaving the draft with unspent money. Think of unspent salary cap as skipping a draft pick in a snake draft. If you leave the draft with $25 of unspent salary cap, that is akin to skipping your 5th round draft pick in a traditional snake draft.

The Final Nominations

As the draft draws to a close, some managers will have filled their rosters and will be removed from both the nomination and proposing process. At this stage, the player you nominated may not draw any additional salary increases and will be added to your roster for the nominated salary, typically the $1 minimum. All online draft platforms will require all managers to fill their entire roster and will limit your “max bid” so as to reserve $1 for each open roster spot remaining. If you have 4 open roster spots and $10 to spend, your max salary will be $7 ($7 to the current player, with the $3 reserved for the 3 additional roster spots).

If you’ve never participated in a salary cap league, you should consider it. The ability to build your owner roster outside the constructed round-by-round process is exciting. There is a major misconception that salary cap drafts are significantly slower than traditional snake drafts. While this may be true for in-person drafts, those held on the major fantasy football platforms will roll along smoothly due to the site’s timers for both nominations and salary proposals. Any added time is well worth it for the opportunity to draft any player at any time.


Josey Wales says:

Is bidding on collectible MLB/NFL player cards racist? An auction is defined as “the act or process of bidding in some card games.”

Why does eBay still have auctions if it’s racist?

How is a “fantasy” football player any different?

If this were a salary cap league, you would have keepers. This is nothing other than an auction draft. Trying to do research on a salary cap league and this BS article popped up.

Your Twitter profile photo is a skull with a bandana as if you’re some kind of outlaw… There’s nothing badass about bending the knee to the communist perversion of our country.


Steve Nevins says:

When will we get a salary cap league that doesn’t assign a $ value to each player? This is the fairest way to do a player auction. Any salary cap amount is fine ($200 total seems to be the standard). However, leaving player values to the judgement of the managers seems to be an interesting concept because it leaves player value totally in the hands of the bidders. I can’t count the number of times I have had a winning bid go bad because another manager saw that the player had been valued at $50 when the bidding had stopped at $35 for example. I mean, if a manager has the player valued above what the rest of the league has valued them, ESPN or Yahoo should not necessarily influence the managers who may not value the player as high (value being in the eye of the beholder, so to speak)

Scott Allen says:

Is there a “salary cap” league that doesn’t involve a draft? Simple pick your team with duplicate players allowed?

Nate C says:

I understand wanting to change the vocabulary (auctioning people sounds bad in any context), but “salary cap league” already has another definition in dynasty fantasy.

Connor Donley says:

Auctions are racist now?

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