Rules for a fantasy football keeper league

Update 9/2013: We originally posted these keeper league rules back in 2007. Because this post has been consistently popular every year, I thought I’d provide an update on how things have gone for our league over the past half-decade as we’ve followed these rules. It’s all good news – we haven’t seen the need to change anything about the rules, and it’s been easily the most successful and active fantasy league I’ve ever been a part of. The rules reward those teams who plan well for the future, but not to the point where you wind up with one or two unstoppable dynasties. Decisions made years ago can reward or haunt your team, which is pretty cool, even if it hasn’t worked out well for me personally – I invested in Michael Vick and Peyton Hillis two years ago and stubbornly clung to them again last year… needless to say, I’ve a had a rough run. 

So maybe you’ve been playing fantasy football for a few years and you’ve got a good group of guys who consistently manage the teams in your leagues. You may have tried to spice things up by adding a flex position or yardage bonuses, but you still want something more. If you haven’t considered it before, maybe now is the time you begin thinking about starting a keeper fantasy football league. In short, a keeper league is a league where between seasons, each manager decides to “keep” a certain amount of players (generally up to 3) from his previous team who will carry over to his next year’s team. We held our first “real” keeper draft last night*, so I figured it might be useful to share our league’s rules with you, so that if you’re interested in starting a similar league you would have something to base it on…

FFGeekBlog Keeper League Rules:

1. Each team can keep from 0-3 players from their previous end-of-season roster.

2. Players drafted in the first 3 rounds of a draft can not be kept in the following season. This prevents the top tier of players from being kept and creating massively unfair teams. Due to rule 4 below, the first 2 rounds technically couldn’t be kept anyways.

3. A player can only be kept a maximum of 3 consecutive times. This is so that one team can’t pick up a future mega-star off waivers and then get to keep him throughout his entire career.

4. For each player that is kept, that manager must give up a draft pick 2 picks higher than where the player was initially drafted the year before.

Example: Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was drafted in the 11th round last year. If kept, this year he would account for the team’s 9th round pick. If kept again, the following year he would be considered the 7th round pick.

5. Any player that went undrafted the previous year, but is being kept, will count as a team’s 3rd to last draft pick – This rule is there to slightly reward good drafting, as keeping free agent pickups are a little pricier than last round draft picks.

Example: Marques Colston was picked up off free agency last season by a team. If the league has 15 rounds in its draft, and the manager wishes to keep Colston, he must give up his 12th round pick the following season (as opposed to a player drafted in the 15th round, who would only count for the 13th pick).

6. If you do not have a draft pick for a round to give up to keep a player, you must give up the next higher pick – This might happen if you trade away a draft pick during preseason or have 2 keepers that have the same draft status from the previous year. One tip to consider if you have 2 players vying for the same draft spot is to make sure the player most likely to be kept the next year is taken with the higher pick. This makes his keeper “price” cheaper for the next draft.

Example: You wish to keep two free agents that you picked up during last season. Because both of them would qualify for your 12th pick (in a 15 round draft), one must count as the 12th pick, but the other will have to be your 11th pick.

7 (Optional). If your league wants to, you can trade picks in the draft before the draft begins (or even during the draft if your commissioner allows it) – This would allow you to trade a combination of players/picks to another manager to address certain team needs you might have.
So there you have it…time to get your boys together and let them know that a Keeper league is the way to go. Alternately, there are leagues called Dynasty leagues, which ares similar to Keeper leagues, but there is generally no limit to the amount of players that can be kept from year-to-year. You might try this approach, but I think the Keeper league style lends itself to more competitive teams and a much more interesting draft.


* The first season of a keeper league is drafted just like a re-draft league, so this year is our second year in the league and I consider it the first “real” keeper league draft. In case you’re interested, an analysis of this league’s draft will be posted on the site sometime in the next day or two, so check back to see how it went down.