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Fantasy football: Waiver systems are more varied than most may realize

David Johnson's injury ruined many fantasy managers' seasons last year, making the waiver wire essential. / Getty Images / Gregory Shamus

The waiver wire is your friend.

Any veteran fantasy football owner knows how hard it is to win it all without keeping an eye on the pool of available players — especially in the first half of the season.

While many leagues still have yet to draft, let alone begin claiming players off waivers, that means there’s still time to decide upon a waiver wire system that’s best for the group. It may sound mundane, but the type of player acquisition system can completely change the way managers handle add/drops during the season.

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Read on for a look at the most popular options, and what makes each interesting in its own way.

Waiver order

Most are familiar with this setup. Each team is assigned a waiver priority, and those closest to the top of the list have dibs once players process through waivers.

I suspect the majority of players are perfectly happy to roll with this tried-and-true format. Active participants can make as many waiver claims as they like without the need to strategize.

More scrupulous managers like to hoard a high waiver priority until exactly the right moment. Usually, that involves either an injury to a star inflating his backup’s perceived value — like when David Johnson (RB, Cardinals) went down just 11 carries into Week 1 last year, and many owners hoped Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington would pick up the slack. Sometimes, a monster week makes an unheralded talent attractive in the hopes it’s not a fluke.

Some leagues choose to reset their waiver priority based on inverse order of standings each week, which de-emphasizes the Gollum-style “my precious” mentality of holding onto a high waiver slot. Plus, it gives the struggling teams a leg up.

Silent auction

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Typically known as Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB), this system is far and away my favorite. Each team begins the season with a budget of virtual money to spent throughout the season on available players. The top bidder in the silent auction secures that player for his or her team, with rare ties defaulting to the aforementioned waiver priority system.

This method allows for more nuance in pursuit of roster upgrades. Say each team has a budget of $200, and after Week 1 there’s a player with star potential on waivers. One could use up the bulk of the budget to land him or simply make a relatively conservative effort with a $20 bid. Whichever manager most desires the player, wins.

Where FAAB really shines is in the smaller moves. Most fantasy football hosts will allow bids of $0, so that means there is no penalty whatsoever for trying to pick up a player who may not attract any other attention in the league. This preserves the full available budget for more hotly contested players.

Free-for-all

Total anarchy reigns in leagues that eschew the waiver wire system altogether, making every player available to be signed at the drop of a hat — even during games.

The most dedicated fantasy football nuts — I say that with love — may dig this setup, but fans who want to sit and enjoy the actual games should steer clear. This can be highly competitive, and the odds of scooping up the unlikely breakout star of the day after his day is done are next to none.