To Waiver Wire or Not to Waiver Wire?

It’s a debate that rages in my leagues just as the first league emails start to go out. The date of the draft hasn’t even been decided. The chips and beverages of choice are still safely on store shelves, but the league emails begin with the eternal debate: “Why don’t we change the waiver wire this year?”

A waiver wire, for those of you who may not know, is the system the regulates how teams request and obtain free agents in your league. Most leagues use some kind of waiver wire system to lock down free agents as soon as they have played their games on Sunday and prevent them from being obtained until the Wednesday or Thursday of the following week. At that time, your league software or commish sorts out which team gets a player they requested based upon a predetermined order.

No one wants the unemployed guy that sits on his laptop all day or the stay-at-home hermit to grab up all the decent free agent gold as soon as their mug comes across ESPN, so, in theory, waiver wires are a perfect solution. If it wasn’t for waiver wires, I’d probably have to build an NFL Network command center that even Jerry Jones would envy just to watch the latest news, injury reports and player profiles throughout the season.

Who wants to give away a Ryan Grant every season? Grant won playoff games and championships for owners who were lucky enough to get him as a free agent back in 2007.

The problem arises when you actually get down to discussing how the waiver wire is going to work. Without a doubt, someone is unhappy that they didn’t get a Ryan Grant or a LeRon McClain the week they needed him. With the season just weeks away, they want to change to another option, and there are several out there without getting too much into salary cap, waiver wire bidding or limiting the number of transactions.

From Worst to First

Is it fair to give the last place team first crack at the free agents? This method, often the default setting in fantasy football leagues, gives the lesser teams a chance to rise up from their ashes like a phoenix during the season and keeps some owners from giving up too soon. That said, it also allows good teams to tank the first week, improve their rosters with the best breakout free agents from Week 1 and dominate your face off all year.

The common argument against this “worst to first” rank is that it gives owners who do not do their research, neglect to follow the NFL news and draft very poorly a break.

Use it and Lose It

Do you adopt a “use it and lose it” system where you go to the back of the line each time you use the waiver wire? This method discourages using the wire each week and rewards the players who wait around for the big score, if one ever comes their way.

The downside of “use it and lose it” is that good teams who don’t have to pick up any free agent players from the waiver wire to dominate will often be the No. 1 pick when the best free agents come available. When the time comes, they block desperate teams from having any shot at the best player.

Wild West

Or do you just screw the system, do away with the waiver wire and live life by the seat of your pants?

Sure, a bit of luck may allow one team owner to hear a rumor or see an injury report first and beat the league to the free agent pool. The hermit may get all the best free agents every Monday night while the rest of the league sleeps. But at least you all have a fair shot at getting who you want when you want them.

The Question

I don’t really have an answer for this one. I prefer using a waiver wire simply because I often write during games or go out to watch them with friends. I like to have a day to collect my thoughts before I get to deciding how to rebuild my team for the following weekend, but there is something to be said for being able to get a player the second your gut tells you that you must have him.

Last season, my most competitive league settled on the “use it and lose it” method. It seemed to work like magic as I used mine often to replace a player without too much concern while others held out all season for the big score — and eventually landed Tony Gonzalez for their patience when he was dropped by a less-than-genius owner. Was it fair? It was close. At least there was a bit of strategy involved rather than luck.

What say you? Do you use a complicated system? A bidding war? Limited transactions? No waiver wire at all? Tell us about your method in the comments.

I’m always open to hearing what is out there, and maybe we can all nip those debates in the bud before we even start sending those emails.

To waiver wire or not to waiver wire? That is the question.

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  • http://www.fantasysportsdish.com/ Fantasy Sports Dish

    Last year I participated in two FF leagues. One league's WW was based on record and points scored for the week for the tiebreaker (MFL.com). Once the games start on Sunday everything is frozen until early Wednesday morning so if you're the worst craptastic team you get first pick when the WW process begins.

    However, the second league's WW never freezes, only your players do so you can still add them, but you can't drop someone who is currently playing (Yahoo.com).

    I actually hate #1's WW process as it gives everyone 3 days to catch up on who did what during the weekend instead of rewarding the ones who were paying attention to the games and so forth. Granted, the craptastic teams can't get better if they're always last to get the good players on the WW, but they should also be paying attention more in my opinion. :)

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    That's a good point. The “worst picks first” waiver wire system has always received the most criticism in my experience as well. It pops up in a great deal of office leagues, but I think it's something fantasy football veterans grow to hate. The guys (or gals) who really do pay attention don't want the worst teams to benefit by simply by skimming ESPN on Tuesday.

    At the same time, I am not sure your second league is an improvement if you can add players at any time as long as you have someone who hasn't played to drop. I'm not a fan of having to sit within my waiver wire system all day on the computer to grab the breakout performers from the afternoon games.

    It's hard to find that compromise. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    That's a good point. The “worst picks first” waiver wire system has always received the most criticism in my experience as well. It pops up in a great deal of office leagues, but I think it's something fantasy football veterans grow to hate. The guys (or gals) who really do pay attention don't want the worst teams to benefit by simply by skimming ESPN on Tuesday.

    At the same time, I am not sure your second league is an improvement if you can add players at any time as long as you have someone who hasn't played to drop. I'm not a fan of having to sit within my waiver wire system all day on the computer to grab the breakout performers from the afternoon games.

    It's hard to find that compromise. Thanks for the comment.

    • bow

      You talk about all wavier wires but the one I like which gives the last pick of the draft first pick in wavier wire then gos to bottom after you get a player..

      • http://about.me/jacobsloan Jacob Sloan

        Actually, @6b013acb65b6496a535224ed88327e6d:disqus, that sounds like the system I described as “Use It and Lose It.” I didn’t specify that these usually begin with the last pick in the draft at the top of the order, but that is the traditional practice with the “Use It and Lose It” format.

        What do you like about that format? Do you find it is more fair than others?

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    That's a good point. The “worst picks first” waiver wire system has always received the most criticism in my experience as well. It pops up in a great deal of office leagues, but I think it's something fantasy football veterans grow to hate. The guys (or gals) who really do pay attention don't want the worst teams to benefit by simply by skimming ESPN on Tuesday.

    At the same time, I am not sure your second league is an improvement if you can add players at any time as long as you have someone who hasn't played to drop. I'm not a fan of having to sit within my waiver wire system all day on the computer to grab the breakout performers from the afternoon games.

    It's hard to find that compromise. Thanks for the comment.

  • Andrew

    I actually would rather have a system where all teams tie at the end of the season. That way, you don't actually have to watch football. So, yes, I say the waiver wire is great: one that let's your waive your whole life.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com/ Jacob Sloan

    All the teams tie at the end of the season? Isn't that called soccer?

  • Jonathanbalkin

    My question is for use or lose it. If the current waiver wire is 1. A, 2. B, 3. C – all make pick ups for the week.

    What is the new order (for the bottom 3) – is A-8, B-9, C-10?

    That doesnt seem fair…

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com/ Jacob Sloan

    Yes, the new order would be 8-A, 9-B, 10-C as you have it. It does end up being fair (or, at least, one kind of fair) because the same rule applies to the order each week: the only way to move up in the waiver order is to sit on your hands and not pick anyone.

    It also comes into play when teams pick up more than one player. For example, if Team A was to pick up two players in one waiver wire period while the rest of the league picked up just one. The order would end up being 8-B, 9-C, 10-A.

    You also have to remember that you can pass on picking up a player during the waiver period and grab players as free agents after the waivers have been processed. Picking up free agents at this time does not affect your waiver order at all. So that’s where the bluffing comes into play about whether you are going to use your pick or not.

  • Rodneysfsd

    I’m commish in two leagues and we have it open for anyone to do anything, anytime for two full weeks then activate the waiver wire process to go worst is first. we feel that until dominant teams are established why let a team have preference over another. been doing that for years and all the guys feel its fair.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com/ Jacob Sloan

    That’s interesting that you’ve stuck with it, Rodneysfsd. Worst to first is usually the default way to handle the waiver wire order, but most leagues I’ve heard of or been a part of move away from it because, inevitably, one team will tank Week 1, grab the hot free agent of the year, and dominate the rest of the season. It’s frustrating for those that draft well.

    But if your league feels that it is fair, that is the most important thing. You just have to find a system that works for you. I don’t think there is a perfect one. Coordinating the schedules of 10-12 people for 17 weeks out of the year is hard enough.

    My main league is actually moving to a FAAB system this season, something I didn’t mention in this article. FAAB, or Free Agent Acquisition Budget, gives you a set amount of money (say $100) at the start of the season and requires you to bid on players each night in a silent auction. We think it’ll be a more fair system for us because each team has a chance at a free agent. You just have to decide how much you are willing to sacrifice to get that guy.

    It’s the first time I’ve ever played under this system, so I’ll have to see if it works out as a better, more “fair” way to do it.

  • Paul

    “No one wants the unemployed guy that sits on his laptop all day…”

    If you’re working on a Sunday afternoon or Monday night, you probably have bigger issues.

    • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com/ Jacob Sloan

      Ha. Well, I was actually referring to those individuals who may be sitting at home during the week, employed or not, with the ability to catch the latest injury updates or breaking news online or on TV. That guy would then have the first chance to grab a player who has suddenly become valuable while the rest of his league works with limited access to this kind of information.But since you brought it up, I do agree that those working on Sunday afternoon or late Monday night have it rough. Not all of us have 9-5 jobs, but I’m sure it is painful to have to work and miss out on watching all the games.

  • Streetsk8rer

    this is bull, i hate waivers cuz i picked up mcfadden first and then some other guy with a higher waiver got him even though he picked him up after me

    • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com/ Jacob Sloan

      You might talk to your commish about looking into another waiver wire process if you’re unhappy with the way yours works right now. If I understand it correctly, you put a claim on McFadden but didn’t get him because someone higher on the waiver priority list also put in a claim for him?One of my leagues is using FAAB this year, or Free Agent Acquisition Budget. Basically, every night, you bid on free agents, anywhere from $0 to your entire budget of $100 (for the whole season). I think it’s a great system so far because it gives every team, no matter your record, draft order or daily routine, a chance at every free agent. Is it the best? We’ll see, but I’m liking it so far.I’m not sure if there is a perfect system. It’s all about what works for your league and what keeps everyone happy. Better luck next time on the waiver wire, Streetsk8rer.

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  • Fil2soccer

    Very nice article sir

  • rooter

    Each team gets $100 play money to bid in free agents throughout the season. Most leagues supports this feature now. It doesnt get any more fair than that.

    • http://about.me/jacobsloan Jacob Sloan

      Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) is what my most competitive league has switched to as well. It definitely levels the playing field for everyone, and I like that it adds a little more excitement to the waiver claim period as we see who paid the most for the top talent. Now that we switched to it, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to any of the other waiver methods.

  • Dirt Joeckel Straps (7-0)

    I’m in an ESPN league and I made a claim for Matt Ryan. I was 9th in the waiver wire, but the team that got him was 10th. Do you know how this could happen?

    • http://about.me/jacobsloan Jacob Sloan

      No idea. Maybe you put in two claims and accidentally prioritized the other first? If that’s not the case, I’d check to make sure the order didn’t change or that you don’t have some other unique league rule in place.

      You might have to contact the man behind the curtain at ESPN to figure that one out.