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Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I've received a lot of questions about how scouting works. The real-world analogy is that the plays you scout are the plays that your team practices against during the week. To understand how the game engine simulates this, we need to go into a bit more depth about a player's familiarity with a play and what that does in the engine.

Play Familiarity

Each player in the league has a setting for how familiar he is with every play that exists in the game. If you go to a player's page, under the "Off Plays" and "Def Plays" you will see his familiarity with each play in your playbook. The size of the red bar indicates how familiar he is with each play.

There are several events that increase a player's familiarity with each play. The most significant happens during the Training Camp stage. It is in this stage that each player on your team increases in his familiarity with each play in your head coach's playbook - the offensive players learn the offensive plays, and the defensive players learn the defensive plays. During the season, as you install plays into your game plan, the players will increase in their familiarity with those plays. Then, throughout the course of a game, each player grows in familiarity with each play  that occurs while they are on the field.

So, what impact does play familiarity have on the play? As the game engine sims each play, the players are all autonomous user agents that make decisions independently of each other. Most of the rules that govern this logic are tied to their attribute values. Attributes are reduced by fatigue and injury, but not by play familiarity. Being more familiar with a play does not make you stronger or faster. What familiarity does influence is reaction time and decision making.

A very obvious example of this is a quarterback's familiarity with a defensive play. Let's take as an example the defense is blitzing the cornerback, with the deep safety taking the coverage of the outside receiver. As the quarterback's familiarity with the defensive play and his own offensive play increases, the probability increases that he will audible to a hot read which often will result in a large gain as the safety doesn't have time to get to the receiver that the blitzing cornerback has abandoned.

Another example of the impact of familiarity is a player's reaction time to an event. For example, a defense that is highly familiar with a particular outside run will close on the hole faster than a defense that is less familiar with the same play. This is taken on a per-player basis - so if you have a young, inexperienced linebacker playing next to a wily veteran, the veteran will have a faster reaction time than the rookie.

In addition to the play familiarity, a player's positional experience, crowd noise, and fatigue are taken into the equation.

So, about scouting

Now back to the scouting page. Under your game planning screens, you have a tab for scouting the offense and scouting the defense of your upcoming opponent. While your offensive and defensive game plan screens show your head coach's playbook, the scouting screens show your opponent's playbook, as well as information about how often your opponent uses each play and how successful they have been. The list is sorted by the plays that your upcoming opponent has used most over the current and previous seasons, as well as an indicator of the composite familiarity of your team. Here, offensive plays show your defense's composite familiarity, and defensive plays show your offense's composite familiarity. You can choose up to five offensive and defensive plays to scout. If you load your coach's recommended game plan for scouting, he will select the 5 most used offensive and defensive plays for your opponent.

This is where there is a little cat and mouse game, because in order to gain a good familiarity with your own playbook you need to use the plays in games. But, the more you use certain plays in your playbook, the more likely your opponent will scout those plays.

I usually will scout the top 5 plays for my opponent unless my team is highly familiar with the play, in which case I might choose one further down the list. You might also try to include a play that you struggle against and have poor familiarity - as long as the play is in your upcoming opponent's playbook.

One more word on plays

I'll conclude this topic with a comment that is loosely linked to scouting, and that's pointing out the play card. On the game log and on the game planning pages, you can open a card that displays information about the play.

As you can see in the example here, it details information about the play - the formation, play type, your team's composite familiarity, how often you have used the play in various situations and how successful the play has been in those situations. There is also a tab for a large diagram, as well as a list of each position in the formation and their assignment. As it says in the fine print, the times used and the success values reflect how your team has performed using this play in the current and previous regular season.

Successful scouting can have a positive impact on your team's performance, so don't neglect coming in and setting up your scout plan before each game.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hats off to Salary Cap Management

In previous posts, we've discussed how to evaluate your players and manage your depth chart. In today's post, I'm going to talk about how you get those players on your roster in the first place, and how to keep them there.

When a league is created, the teams are all pre-populated with 53 players. After that, each season there is a 7-round player draft, where teams choose from the rookie pool in reverse order of their previous season's standings. A drafted player will automatically receive a contract, which you can choose to void if you'd like. This topic is not going to discuss the draft, but instead signing players from free agency, and keeping the players that you have.

Making a contract offer

Let's start by taking a look at the player contract offer screen. If you are able to make an offer on a player, his player card and payer page will have a "contract" button that will load up a form with which you can make an offer:

The bar across the top is a display of your current salary cap and the implications this contract offer will have on it. The color coding is as follows:

  • Current Contracts - this is the sum of the base salary for all players currently on your team.  Cutting players will remove their base salary from your cap.
  • Current Bonuses - this is the sum of the bonuses being paid for the current season. Cutting a player will move their bonus into dead cap. I'll detail a bit more about how that works below.
  • Pending Contracts - If you have any pending contracts, they are represented by the blue bar. This will help you be aware of the sum total of all your contract offers as you are working through them.
  • Dead Cap - Cap room you have given up by cutting players with bonuses.
  • Min for Remaining Players - The amount you should reserve to be able to fill your roster with minimum-salaried players. If the draft has not yet happened, this will also include the amount of money your draft picks will consume from your cap.
The next section is a quick way to build an offer. It will default with the player's current request, or if you have a pending offer on this player, it will default with your existing offer and give you a checkbox to withdraw it. The values are:
  • First Year Base + Bonus - this is the total amount that this contract will count against your cap for the current year.
  • Years - The length of the contract.
  • Bonus - What percentage of the First Year Base + Bonus is the bonus.
You must offer a bonus to a player if you are signing him for longer than a 1-year contract, and the minimum bonus is based on the salary cap for the season. You will get a warning if you attempt to sign a player without the minimum required bonus.

Below the sliders is a section where you can manually enter numbers to get a finer level of control over your offer. You can enter the total bonus as well as the base salary for each year. The only requirements are that the bonus meets the minimum amount required (if you are signing a multi-year contract), and that the base salary increases 5% or more per year.

The chart shows you the year, the base salary, the bonus, and the total offer for each year. The final column displays the difference in the year's cap impact, if the player is on your team. You will be using this quite a bit when trying to free up cap room by renegotiating with your players; when you are signing a new player, his salary difference will be N/A.

How the bonus impacts the salary cap

When you offer a player a contract that contains a signing bonus, he gets that money when he signs with you. However, the cost of that signing bonus is spread out equally across the duration of his contract. If you ever renegotiate his contract, his previous signing bonus stays on the books, and the new contract's signing bonus will be added to any existing cap impact. If a player is cut, is traded, or retires while he still has bonus money impacting the cap, the current year's bonus goes into the dead cap space for the current year, and any future year's bonus is accelerated into the following season's dead cap space.

 Here's an example:

This player currently has 4 years left on his contract, with a bonus of $852,899 being applied to our cap for each year. 

If we were to cut or trade this player in 2017, his $852,899 bonus would continue to apply to the 2017 salary cap, but his base salary of $3,846,145 would not. (Actually, depending on how far into the season he is cut, his base salary will be pro-rated into the salary cap.) Further, the remaining balance of his bonus will be accelerated into the 2018 season - meaning you will incur a dead cap penalty of $2,558,697. When you click on the "Cut" button, you will be presented with the actual numbers that the transaction will have.

If you renegotiate his salary, the $852,899 per year will continue to apply to his bonus, in addition to the new bonus. So, let's click on the "contract" button and see what we are presented with:

Notice that his offer request is for $2,885,284 for the first year, with 16% of that being his bonus, for a total of 5 years. In the contract details below, we can see that the $462,842/year distribution of the bonus money has been added to the $852,899 per year for 2017-2020, and then in 2021 the new bonus only applies. We can also see that we can save a significant amount by offering this contract.

Players will look at other similar players in the league to determine their offer requests. Many times you can free up cap room by renegotiating with your higher paid players. Other times, you may have to offer a raise to keep a player around. When renegotiating with a player, note that he will not accept an offer below what he is asking.

This last sentence bears some explanation. A free agent will always accept the best offer available when he signs with a team. If you are renegotiating a contract, however, the player has his minimum that he will accept, or else you will have to let him become a free agent. But you do have room to move the values around a little bit. How a player evaluates an offer is first and foremost by the total amount of bonus money in the offer. That money they get to keep, even if you cut them in the next sim; of course that is worth the most to him. Then, the base salary has some weight, with later years being less important than early years. The bonus cannot exceed 75% of the first year base plus bonus, and each year's base salary must increase by at least 5%.

Your Pending Contracts

If you have contracts pending for players or coaches, there is a submenu item in the "Team" menu that lists your pending offers. If it is during one of the free agency stages and there are other offers for the player, you will see the best offer from the previous stage listed as well. In addition to this, if a player has pending offers from the previous stage, they will be listed on his player card. Note that the other teams' offers are listed with just the total number of years and the total amount of the offer. You are not privy to the details of how much of each offer is base and how much is bonus.

Expiring Contracts

When a player is in the last year of his contract, you must either renegotiate his contract before the end of the season, or let him become a free agent the following year. You also cannot renegotiate a contract of a player who was signed in the current year - meaning that if you ever offer a 1-year contract to a player, he will enter the free agency pool the following year, there is no way to guarantee that you can keep him.

The last stage that you can re-sign players is the End of Season stage, which is the stage immediately following the league championship game.

When contracts expire, the player will be available for all teams starting with the first Early Free Agency sim. He is still listed on your roster until the draft, though. If you want to see a picture of your current contract situation, click on the "Filter" button above your roster on your team page, and choose either "No Current or Pending Contract" - which will list any players on your roster who are free agents and whom you have not offered a contract to - or "Only Under Contract" - which will show a list of all players on your roster who are secured with a contract.  Those two options are only available during the early free agency stages. Once the draft hits, the free agents on your roster are removed if they have not signed a contract.

Signing players during the season

Prior to Training Camp, you can have as many players on your roster as you wish; your salary cap and roster limit are not enforced until Training Camp. You must cut your roster down to 60 players by the training camp stage, otherwise the game engine will do it for you. And you must be under the salary cap by the first pre-season game, or again, the game engine will do it for you.

During the season, you may need to make a roster move. Perhaps a player is injured and you need to sign another player at that position to give you enough depth. Or perhaps you are placing a player on injured reserve, and need to add another player to your roster. The best time to do these sorts of moves is during the midweek sim. When you make an offer to a player, he will be added to your roster as an inactive player. The midweek sim gives you a chance to place that player into your depth chart, and cut another player to get you under the roster limit. If you need to make the move on a game stage (because you missed the midweek stage), you will want to cut the player you intend to cut, and ensure that you have 46 players active. If your team has fewer than 45 players active on a game stage, the game engine will reset your depth chart to make sure you have 45 active players. Note that the game engine uses 45 and not 46 as the magic number, this is designed to give you a one-player grace in case something happens that you were not expecting.

How the game engine "fixes" your roster

When the game engine must make a change to your roster because you are over the limit or over the salary cap, it  will take the following steps:

If you are over the roster count limit...

...the game engine will auto-update your depth chart, and then cut players based on where they land in the depth chart. Positions that have an excess of players will have the lowest rated players cut first, until you are under the roster count limit.

If you are over the salary cap...

...the game engine will cut players to get you under the roster limit, starting with  the player with the highest base salary. The implications of having each player cut apply as if you cut them yourself.

If you have fewer than 45 players...

...then the game engine will sign players to your roster until you have 45 players. If you don't have the cap room for this, the game engine will make more roster moves to cut players to free up enough cap space to handle a 45-player roster.

If you have fewer than 45 players active...

...the game engine will reset your depth chart, giving you 45 active players.