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How Much of the Salary Cap Should I Use in the Draft?

How Much of the Salary Cap Should I Use in the Draft?

By: Steven Van Tassell (@SteveVT33)

The salary cap. It’s the thing that makes Dynasty Owner different than other dynasty fantasy football leagues. It’s also why Dynasty Owner is the most realistic comparison to being a real NFL General Manager. Dynasty Owner uses real NFL salaries, not the daily fantasy game salaries that fluctuate from week to week or made up salaries, and a salary cap based on the NFL salary cap (70% of the NFL cap is the Dynasty Owner cap, $127.75 million in 2021).  When you participate in your Dynasty Owner start-up league draft, you will need to stay under that cap. Dynasty Owners also have to keep their teams under the salary cap for the entire season. If you want to pick up a player from the Free Agent Auction to replace someone on your roster who got injured or isn’t playing well, you’ll need to have salary cap room or cut someone from your roster. Same thing with trades – you can’t trade a rookie prospect with a salary of under $1 million for a veteran with a $10 million salary unless you have enough room under the salary cap to make the deal work. It’s a whole another level of dynasty than you get anywhere else.

To help Dynasty Owners preparing for a 2021 start-up draft, we have been looking at 2020 draft data to see if there are any strategies that helped League Winners capture their Championship in 2020. Several measures and draft strategies not involving salaries tested have proven to not matter, been inconclusive or straight up contradicted by the 2020 draft data. The only strategy tackled involving salary had a different outcome.

We found that Dynasty Owners who picked a player with a lower salary in the first round were more likely to win their League Championship than those who drafted higher salary players (https://dynastyowner.com/2021/03/how-to-draft-a-dynasty-owner-championship-team-part-ii/). In addition, Dynasty Owners who drafted players in the first round with salaries under $5 million were also more likely to overcome having that player miss a significant portion of the season or not play as well as projected than Dynasty Owners who drafted a player in the upper salary ranges with the same obstacles to overcome.

That was just a first round draft pick salary we looked then, but the question out there remains. Does the salary of the entire team that Dynasty Owners drafted in their start-up draft impact their ability to win their League?

Some people in 2020, such as myself, advocated using all or nearly all of the available $110 million salary cap, while others, such as Dynasty Owner CEO Tim Peffer, preferred to not go right up to the $110 million cap, but to leave some wiggle room to make post-draft moves. When drafting, others employed a strategy of drafting low to leave their team with a lot of room for post-draft moves. In the Experts league that I participated in, the Dynasty Rewind team only used $85.8 million of the $110 million salary cap – leaving themselves with $24.2 million in cap room. Everyone else spent more, but they won the League. Only a handful of League winners used as little of the salary cap as they did.

That’s just one league. Let’s check out the salary data from all of the League Champions in 2020 and see if there are any differences or trends in the data that might be helpful for Dynasty Owners participating in a 2021 draft.

All salary data listed are from the 2020 Dynasty Owner season which had a $110 million salary cap on draft day, but was increased to $112 million for rosters due to COVID-19 considerations.

Overall League Winner Salary Cap Usage

There was a pretty even distribution in salary cap usage among all League Winners. About one in six (17%) drafted players with $90 million or less in salaries, leaving themselves $20 million or more in cap room. Two percent left themselves $30 million or more. Those Dynasty Owners had enough room to add any non-QB available in the Free Agent Auction and some even had enough room to add one of the top paid QBs left undrafted in their league. An additional 22% went up to $100 million but still left themselves between $10 million and $20 million, enough for some high-salary players who may have not been drafted. That’s around two-fifths (39%) of Dynasty Owner teams with enough salary cap room after the draft to add a significant player to their roster.

Another one-sixth (17%) of owners drafted between $100 million and $105 million and still 22% more went up to but not over $109 million. Only 22% of Dynasty Owners drafted more than $109 million in salaries and left themselves little to no room for additional players after their draft. Most of the Dynasty Owners who went over $109 million went pretty much as close to the $110 million salary cap as they possibly could, including one team that had less than $3,000 in salary cap room after their draft. A pretty impressive feat by the Midnight Marauderz.

Overall Draft Salaries% of Winners
Under $80 million2%
$80 million – $90 million15%
$90 million – $100 million22%
$100 million – $105 million17%
$105 million – $109 million22%
$109 million or higher22%
Mean$ 100,363,566
Median$ 103,139,930

The average League winner spent just over $100 million ($100,363,566), while half of the winners spent under the $103.14 million median and half spent more.

The Salary Cap and the Chase for the Ring

Everyone wants to win their League first and foremost. Then, there is the additional prize that Dynasty Owner offers to the “best of the best” – the chance to win the Chase for the Ring and be the best Dynasty Owner of 2021. The Dynasty Owners who finished in the Top 25 and the Top 10 of the Chase for the Ring in 2020 were these Dynasty Owners last season and they were more likely to spend more than just a regular League winner when drafting.

About half of the “best of the best” spent over $105 million during their draft, more than the 44% of all League winners who spent over that amount, while around three in ten spent less than $100 million compared to two-fifths (39%) of all League winners. The mean and median amount spent by this group were also higher than all League winners.

Overall Draft Salaries% of Winners% of Top 25% of Top 10
Under $80 million2%4%0%
$80 million – $90 million15%12%10%
$90 million – $100 million22%12%20%
$100 million – $105 million17%20%20%
$105 million – $109 million22%24%0%
$109 million or higher22%28%50%
Mean$ 100,363,566$ 101,100,045$ 101,979,095
Median$ 103,139,930$ 107,470,993$ 105,872,516

While having some flexibility in your payroll for post-draft player movement was important overall, it was apparently less important to make it into the Chase for the Ring Leaderboard. However, the top two teams (Chase for the Ring winner Barbee Kilgore and runner-up Quaranteed for Greatness) both spent between $100 million and $105 million and left themselves some salary cap room after the draft. This spending is one of the few similarities between those teams as they competed in different types of leagues ($50 cash for Barbee Kilgore vs. For the Love of the Game for Quaranteed for Greatness), different months (September vs. June) and had different first round picks (Patrick Mahomes vs. Alvin Kamara).

Does the type of league and when a Dynasty Owner League winner drafted have anything to do with how they employed the salary cap during their League draft? Let’s find out.

League Type and Draft Date As Factors in Drafting

There are many things that cause fantasy football players to alter their draft strategy. Younger players are valued more in dynasty leagues versus re-draft since you keep your roster from year-to-year. Quarterbacks are more valuable in Superflex leagues for example since most teams will start two of them are there are few great ones. Scoring systems can change things up as well with some players being more valuable in Points Per Reception (PPR) leagues than they are in non-PPR, or vice versa. However, with Dynasty Owner having a standard scoring system outlined in the Dynasty Owner Constitution (https://app.dynastyowner.com/how-to-play) and all leagues being dynasty format, the differences are less pronounced. The only differences that we can really look at are the type of league (For the Love of the Game, $50 cash leagues, $100 cash leagues and Beta leagues) and when the league draft occurs.

What we see by league type is that Dynasty Owners who put the most of their own money into playing were more likely to leave themselves some salary cap room for after the draft. Just one-third (33%) of them spent $105 million or more compared with 44% overall. The same percentage spent between $90 million and $100 million to leave themselves cap room to pick up a player or two off from the Free Agent Auction after their draft was completed.

Overall Draft Salaries% of FLOTG% of $50 Cash% of $100 Cash% of Beta
Under $80 million5%0%0%0%
$80 million – $90 million14%15%11%22%
$90 million – $100 million21%19%33%11%
$100 million – $105 million14%19%22%11%
$105 million – $109 million21%19%22%33%
$109 million or higher24%27%11%22%
Mean$ 99,429,280$ 101,156,420$ 100,589,482$ 101,981,270
Median$ 103,430,992$ 104,299,919$ 100,842,596$ 107,316,655

For the Love of the Game League winners were right about on par with all winners in terms of being at the upper and lower ends of draft spending compared to all League winners as were League winners in $50 cash leagues. Both groups had just under half of their League winners spend big and use $105 million or more on Draft Day (46% – $50 cash vs. 45% – For the Love of the Game) or be thrifty and spend $90 million or less (15% – $50 cash vs. 19% – For the Love of the Game).

Beta owners, who don’t pay an entry fee in return for playing Dynasty Owner during its launch period, appear to be the big Draft Day spenders. A majority of the Beta League Winners spent $105 million or more in salary during the draft. If you think you’re in a new league with a bunch of Beta users, then feel free to use this information to your advantage when drafting.

Since you’re not figuring out a draft schedule with a dozen friends, co-workers or family members, Dynasty Owners also have the ability to choose when they draft. Our 2021 Ring winner Viktor specifically mentioned that he waited to join a league and draft until closer to the start of the season. Other Dynasty Owners were chomping at the bit to draft and did so in June as soon as it was possible to do so.

In the first article on how to draft a Dynasty Owner Championship team (https://dynastyowner.com/2021/02/how-to-draft-a-dynasty-owner-championship-team-part-i/), we found that more of the “best of the best” drafted before Training Camps opened on July 25th and drafting even earlier, like being in one of the first drafts in June, was not a liability. We’ve seen that the type of league can have an impact on how much of the salary cap was used by the League Champion, but does when the draft happens impact salary cap usage at all?

That depends on the timeframe being used. If we only look at it by whether the draft was before or after camps opened, then there’s really not much difference.

Overall Draft Salaries% of Winners% of Pre-Camp% of Post-Camp
Under $80 million2%0%4%
$80 million – $90 million15%24%8%
$90 million – $100 million22%17%26%
$100 million – $105 million17%17%17%
$105 million – $109 million22%26%19%
$109 million or higher22%17%26%
Mean$ 100,363,566$ 99,597,056$ 100,970,989
Median$ 103,139,930$ 101,615,136$ 103,981,615

There were twice as many League Winners who drafted before camps opened who spent under $90 million than did so after camps opened (24% pre-camp vs. 12% post-camp), but spending in the $105 million or more range was similar.

Drafting closer to the start of the NFL season meant that more of the salary cap was used by League Winners. Over half (53%) of the League Winners who drafted after cut day on September 5th last year spent $105 million or more compared to 42% who drafted before cut day. Few (5%) League Winners who drafted after cut day spent $90 million or less. In comparison, one-fifth (21%) of those drafting before cut day did so.

Overall Draft Salaries% of Leagues% of Pre-Cut Day% of Post-Cut Day
Under $80 million2%3%0%
$80 million – $90 million15%18%5%
$90 million – $100 million22%19%33%
$100 million – $105 million17%19%10%
$105 million – $109 million22%22%24%
$109 million or higher22%20%29%
Mean$ 100,363,566$ 99,751,057$ 102,521,932
Median$ 103,139,930$ 103,132,485$ 105,447,761

Based on these results, it seems inevitable that League Winners who drafted as soon as it was possible in June were more likely to spend less than the League Winners who drafted in September. As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend”.

It appears that Dynasty Owner League Winners who drafted both early (June) and late (September) were most likely to spend big and use $105 million or more of their salary cap during the draft. Three-fifths (59%) of June drafters spent that amount as did half (52%) of September drafters. League winners who drafted in July were less likely to have spent $105 million or more in their draft with just one-quarter (23%) doing so. July drafters also had lower mean and median draft amounts with both being under $100 million.

Overall Draft Salaries% of June% of July% of August% of September
Under $80 million0%0%7%0%
$80 million – $90 million18%27%11%4%
$90 million – $100 million9%27%18%35%
$100 million – $105 million14%23%21%9%
$105 million – $109 million41%9%14%26%
$109 million or higher18%14%29%26%
Mean$ 101,723,633$ 97,235,980 $ 99,912,360 $ 102,603,531 
Median$ 107,614,436$ 98,585,515 $ 104,003,048 $ 105,447,761 


Because Dynasty Owner uses actual NFL salaries, it stands to reason that salary cap strategy during the draft should also be important. We found in one of the early analyses that the salary of first round Dynasty Owner draft picks is significant, and now we found differences in how much of the salary cap League Winners use during their drafts. It’s just another thing that Dynasty Owners need to factor in while putting their teams together.

Using most of the $110 million salary cap in 2020 was the strategy that more League Winners employed with more Chase for the Ring contenders and those who drafted early (June) and late (September) employing this strategy. However, Dynasty Owner League Winners playing in the highest entry fee leagues ($100) were the most cautious and less likely to spend more of their salary cap. For Dynasty Owners in 2021 start-up leagues, these findings could influence how they attack the $127.75 million salary cap when drafting their teams.

Speaking of drafting, we are less than two weeks away from the NFL draft and soon after that, rookie drafts for everyone who is in a league started in 2020 will commence. There will also be those 2021 start-up drafts beginning soon afterwards as well. The season is getting closer!

My articles to get you ready for your 2021 Dynasty Owner start-up league team will be out on Fridays throughout the off-season. Keep an eye out for new articles from the rest of our team of Dynasty Owners writers as well. On Mondays, Nate Christian (@NateNFL) will break down rookies in his Prospect Preview. Matt Morrison – The Jerk (@Dynastyjerk) is back for another year and will do a deep dive into contracts on Wednesdays. Jay Pounds (@JayPoundsNFL) looks at how to rebuild your Dynasty Owner roster on Thursdays.

Please read all of their articles and follow the four of us plus Dynasty Owner (@Dynasty_Owner) on Twitter. Thanks, and have a great day!

Follow us on Twitter: @SteveVT33 and @Dynasty_Owner

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