In-Season Management, Part 3 – Free Agents

In “In-Season Management, Part 2 – Player Injuries,”you learned how to manage your team roster when one of your players suffers an injury that could keep him from playing in future games. In this article, we will discuss how to use free agents to replace players on your fantasy football team.

In fantasy football, free agency is the process by which team owners acquire players that are not currently on any team’s roster in the league. A typical public league is composed of 10 teams with 15 roster positions. At any given time, there cannot be more the 150 (10 x 15) players, including team defenses, assigned to team rosters. The NFL consists of 32 teams. If one were just to count all of the starters on these teams that play a position used in standard fantasy football, the total would be 224 as shown below:

  • 32 Quarterbacks
  • 32 Running Backs
  • 64 Wide Receivers
  • 32 Tight Ends
  • 32 Kickers
  • 32 Team Defense / Special Teams

This means that the team rosters of a typical fantasy football league account for roughly two-thirds (150/224 = .67) of the available pool of players, assuming the pool consists exclusively of NFL starters.

Free Agents and Waivers

At the end of a public league draft, all players not drafted are placed on waivers. The waiver period is usually two days. These players, called free agents, can be acquired by team owners based on a waiver priority system. Waiver priority is determined by the draft order. The team that had the first draft pick is assigned the lowest waiver priority, i.e. 10. The team that drafted last has the highest waiver priority, i.e. 1. When a free agent is claimed off waivers, the team that made the acquisition is then placed at the bottom of the waiver priority list and the teams that had a lower waiver priority are moved up one position. This is known as a rolling waiver list.

Each week in public leagues, all free agents are placed on waivers at the start of their respective games. Should any of the available free agents, through either their performance or opportunity for playing time, become a popular free agent candidate, then all team owners will have a fair chance of acquiring those players through the waiver process. Having a high waiver priority is a nice consolation for having a low draft position. The shrewd team owner will make careful and productive use of that priority. Once used, that team will be dropped to the end of the rolling waiver priority list and have much less of a chance to pick up a favored free agent.

Every season there are players who come out of nowhere to surprise the fantasy football world with an amazing season. This tends to occur when a player, previously buried on his NFL team’s depth chart making him too risky to draft in fantasy football leagues, takes full advantage of a playing opportunity. This playing opportunity is usually created by an injury to the first-string player. In 2012, Alfred Morris, running back for the Washington Redskins, was such a player.

Morris was drafted in only 4% of public standard fantasy football leagues and in those leagues in which he was drafted, he was selected, on average, in the 11th round. He was drafted in only 8% of public auction leagues and in those leagues in which he was drafted, the winning bid, on average, was only $6.50. Great value for a player who turned out to be the 5th best fantasy running back of 2012. For the vast number of leagues in which Alfred Morris was not drafted, the teams that acquired him as a free agent, had to have a high waiver priority in order to get him.

Think Before Picking Up Free Agents

Before pulling the trigger on free agents, smart team owners will determine if a player will have a prominent role in the offense going forward. If a player is just filling-in for another player who is injured and will again be relegated to the bench once the injured player returns, then the free agent may not warrant a roster spot and should not be acquired.

Additionally, a team owner would want to determine if the free agent’s current performance is likely to be sustained or whether he is a “one-week wonder” who had a great game against a sub-par opponent that probably won’t be repeated against a better foe.

The decision on whether to pick up free agents will also depend on which player, currently on the team’s roster, would have to be released into the pool of free agents to create roster space for the new acquisition. Think very carefully about this. The next few paragraphs discuss owners who have dropped players from their team that turned into free agent fantasy gold for their competitors.

Free Agent Fantasy Gold

Team owners do not have to wait for a bench player to rise to fantasy relevance to make a key free agent acquisition. It is a fairly common occurrence for less experienced team owners to drop a previously prized player for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to a player having a poor start to a season. Chris Johnson, running back for the Tennessee Titans, is a case in point. Take a look at his fantasy points production chart below:


As you can see from the chart above, Chris Johnson had an atrocious start to the 2012 season. By clicking on the Show/Hide Table Data button located under the chart, you can see that in week 1, he scored 5.1 fantasy points. In week 2, he scored 2.8 fantasy points. In week 3, he scored 2.9 fantasy points. It wasn’t until week 4 that Chris Johnson was one of the top 10 of running backs for a week with 15.7 fantasy points. However, the very next week, he scored only 0.9 fantasy points. Chris Johnson eventually picked up his performance and finished as the #13 fantasy running back for 2012 with 175.5 points for an average of 11.0 points per game. He wasn’t worth the 1st round draft pick or the $40 bid he, on average, cost his team owner, but he was definitely a great addition as a free agent.

Other times, a team owner may drop a player due to injury. Jason Witten, tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, is a good example from the 2012 season. Some team owners dropped Jason Witten before the season began on news he had suffered a lacerated spleen. Witten has always been a productive and very dependable player. He hadn’t missed a game because of injury since his rookie season in 2003 – and guess what – he didn’t miss any games in 2012 either. He followed his doctor’s treatment advice and was ready for the start of the regular season. As you can see from his fantasy point production chart below, Witten’s fantasy numbers started off a little slow in September, but he was in the top 10 of tight ends in week 4 with 17.2 fantasy points.


A fantasy football season is very long – four months to be exact. That is too long to give up on a quality player such as Jason Witten so early. Christmas sure came early for team owners who were able to get him off waivers in September. For the record, Jason Witten ended up as the 5th best fantasy tight end of 2012 with 121.9 fantasy points for an average of 7.6 points per game – definitely free agent fantasy gold!

Successful team owners know when to be patient and when to take advantage of the impatience of others. They stay informed of player injuries and the reasons for a player’s poor performance before replacing them with free agents. They also determine whether the future value of a free agent is greater than that of the player being released from the team’s roster. If you keep your eyes on the pool of free agents and do your homework, you, too, can find free agent fantasy gold to strengthen your team.

This concludes my three-part series on In-Season Management Strategies. Please continue to explore Fantasy Football Impact for articles designed to help you dominate your league including The Fantasy Football Playoffs: You Can Make It – So Never Give Up!” where you will learn how surprisingly few regular season wins it takes to reach the championship bracket of the playoffs and the irrelevance of playoff seeding.

Related articles at Fantasy Football Impact:

Go to Top of Page

Return to the In-Season Management Strategies overview page

In-Season Management, Part 3 - Free Agents

Disclaimer: Fantasy football is a game of speculation; therefore, Fantasy Football Impact disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, regarding player performance or results associated with its opinions or advice.