How does a keeper (or dynasty) league work?

Have you ever wanted to participate in a fantasy football keeper league? Maybe you’re a seasoned fantasy football owner and you’ve been playing for years. Or maybe you’re a newbie, recently indoctrinated into the game. Either way, you might be asking yourself: how does a keeper or dynasty league work?

(Related: 4 easy steps: How to start a dynasty fantasy football league)

Keep your own fantasy football players and build a dynasty!

Traditional fantasy football leagues — also called redraft leagues — give owners a fresh start every season. If you have a lousy season one year, you can throw it all away and start fresh the next season with a new team.

But what if you don’t want to start anew? What if you want to try to build a franchise the way a real general manager does? A fantasy football keeper league affords you that opportunity!

Instead of drafting an entirely new team each summer, you get to keep some or all of your players from the previous season. Then, you only need to draft enough players to fill out the rest of your roster.

How many keepers are in a keeper league?

The amount of keepers you can keep each season is entirely subjective to your league. If you play in a casual keeper league, you might only keep a few players each season. Perhaps as few as 1, 2 or 3.

But if you’re up for a bigger challenge, your league might allow you to keep your entire roster intact. It’s entirely up to you and your fellow owners to decide what you feel is best for your league.

My suggestion is to start smaller and increase the number each season. This is especially helpful for leagues that have casual or newbie owners. You don’t want to start a keeper league with lopsided rosters. That’s destined to be a flop.

Keeper league tips and advice

I’ve been playing in keeper leagues for a while now, and I’ve learned some important lessons along the way. There is no such thing as the “correct” way to run a keeper league.  So take these tips as guidelines and not the rule of law.

  1. Make sure you have responsible, knowledgeable owners
    The single most important piece to the puzzle to run a successful keeper league is to have responsible and knowledgeable owners. Without them, the competitive balance in your league can get out of hand quickly where only a handful of teams are competitive from year to year.
  2. Start with a small amount of keepers and increase each season thereafter
    If you venture out to start a keeper league with the intention of keeping all your players after the first year, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. One bad draft, an unfortunate injury, a mistake in strategy can bury a team right off the bat. Who wants to depend on the luck of a random draft order to start their dynasty team? Start by keeping 1-3 players after Year 1, and then add one or two players each year thereafter.
  3. Run a separate rookie draft versus veteran draft or auction
    I really enjoy this method, maybe because it doubles the fun of draft day. Hold a separate draft for rookies and another one for veterans. Maybe do a draft for rookies and an auction for veterans. You get the best of both worlds and you give teams the opportunity to take a chance on rookies without tanking their prospects for the upcoming season.
  4. Consider contracts if you’re concerned about lopsidedness
    If you don’t think you can find enough owners for your keeper league who are about equal in competence, maybe you consider signing players to contracts. This means that a team can only keep players for the length of their contract before the player gets thrown back into the free agent pool.
  5. Make keepers be “slotted” in the draft if you’re worried about competitive balance
    This is another tip for leagues without competitive balance. Rather than just allow owners to keep as many players as they want and then start the draft fresh, make owners use draft picks on their keepers. For instance, if an owner chooses to keep five players from his roster, he doesn’t get a draft pick for the first five rounds. Or, to loosen restrictions on that, maybe you force owners to keep the player in the same round he originally drafted him. For instance, if an owner drafts Joe Blow in Round 5 one year, if he wants to keep him he has to use his fifth-round pick on him every year thereafter.

There are many more tips and pieces of advice I can offer, and you can feel free to contact me for personal questions on league success.


Keeper and dynasty leagues are a great way to take your fantasy football experience to the next level. They provide an additional challenge of not just drafting a winner for one season, but keeping an eye out toward the future and trying to win with the same basic core from year to year. Be warned, though: while a keeper or dynasty league can be a real blessing if done right, it can be awfully poisonous and an utter flop if mishandled.