Every year a new Madden title is released, and regardless of whether the gameplay, animations, graphics or commentary is praised or criticized, one of the consistently played and enjoyed aspects of Madden is its franchise mode. And since its debut in Madden 99, the notion of a franchise or career mode has grown to become a necessity in all sports games.
And while Madden 10 brings forth the exciting new feature of an online franchise mode, there are invariably many who still enjoy the standard offline franchise mode (myself included). So for those of you wanting to rebuild that struggling franchise, or for anyone wishing to strengthen his or her favorite team, hopefully some of these words are useful during your managerial endeavors.
When beginning your journey, your first concern should be to give yourself a clean slate to work with, which means freeing up cap space and dumping useless players when possible. But when trying to do this, it's imperative to grasp the concepts of player contracts in Madden because misunderstanding certain aspects of these contracts can severely hamper your ambitions as you advance forward.
NFL player contracts are a complicated beast in the real NFL, with incentives and other signing options available and additional rules to keep in mind, but in Madden 10 you're primarily concerned with two things, a player's salary and his bonus money.
The regular player salary is easy enough to understand, as it's what a team pays a player each year. But it's important to remember that this portion of a contract is not guaranteed, which means that you could theoretically cut a player making $10 million and suffer zero consequences. However, that's a highly unlikely scenario because of the second portion of a player's contract, the signing bonus.
Bonus money is a little more complicated because this portion is guaranteed (which is what makes certain contracts really terrible) and pro-rated. This means that an equal percentage of total bonus money is paid out for every year of the contract. So if a player is given an $8 million bonus for a four-year deal, then he would be owed $2 million per season for every year of the contract.
And finally, this bonus money is tacked on to a player's base salary to give you his total salary for each season. Not so bad, right? Well...
As explained, the signing bonus portion of a player's contract is guaranteed, which means that it in some cases, it can be an insanely high amount. That's not really a problem if we're considering a good player, but the problems arise when you have an average player making an unreasonably high amount.
And, generally, it would be unwise to release or even trade these overpaid players because doing so would not relieve you from the remaining amount of bonus money owed to the player. So it's preferable to wait until the contract expires, which can be tough to swallow when a terrible contract runs 4-6 years long, or at least wait until the latter years of the deal when the penalty may not be as severe.
Also, regardless of what team you manage, you'll inevitably be stuck with a few horrible contracts. And in some cases -- depending on the team -- it can be a real ugly situation.
I'm really hammering home this point because it's the primary lesson to take to heart as you move on. Don't overpay for average talent and resist giving older players (I'd say the cutoff is 30 years old and up) long-term contracts -- unless they're the absolute best players in the game. But even if you think you want to throw a big contract at a top veteran player, don't do it if it severely handcuffs your team going forward. After all, there's nothing wrong with cutting someone loose and moving on.
Unfortunately, while you can't completely turnover the complete roster all at once, when you get to a point where you have an acceptable amount of cap space, move on to the next step.
Once you have a clean slate, you can decide how you want to mold your franchise. In essence, what type of team will you be? What type of offense and defense will you utilize? Do you want to build upon the current strengths of the squad or go your own particular direction and revamp everything?
Obviously, one would want to sign or trade for the highest-rated players who are good at all facets of the game, but with a salary cap that's not a likely reality in the real NFL or in Madden.
So you'll want to take the cost-effective route and target players who mesh well with the system you've picked for yourself. For example, do you primarily use man, zone or perhaps a mix of both on defense? If it's man, for example, then perhaps you'd target defenders who excel in that area, even if they may have a lower overall rating than other players who are only strong in zone.
Also, what particular attributes do your skill-position players need to succeed in your system? Do you require a halfback that can catch or one who is a workhorse? Would your QB mesh better with a set of deep-threat speedsters or slower but dependable possession receivers? It's all about finding the right fit at the right cost.
When you've come to a satisfying conclusion, you can start to make some moves in the short term. Namely, you'll want to sign some available free-agents who fit your vision to short-term/low-cost contracts to replace those garbage players that you've already released or traded away. Which brings me to an interesting point, renegotiations.
As the first hands-on step in your offseason management schedule each year, I admit that I rarely re-sign players that make it to this point. I usually opt to re-sign players who fit my long-term vision the season before they reach free agency. And I almost never use the franchise tag at all.
In the end, just remember the golden rule: Don't overpay or extend mediocre players and definitely don't overpay talented but older talent -- it's usually not worth it in the long term. You can find key replacements during the next stage anyway.
Now the scouting feature in Madden 10 may seem bare-bones, and the results may not be as straight-forward as one would prefer, but there are easy ways to effectively utilize it. And that's without paying for any ridiculous Madden DLC, or being familiar with the prospects via Head Coach 09 or even having previous experience with the franchise mode.
When scouting,the main thing you will want to do is target your weaknesses and direct your attention to those areas. However, keep in mind that some positions are easier to scout than others. The easier positions to scout include wide receivers, the offensive line positions, the defensive line and linebackers in certain circumstances.
These positions are the easiest to scout because it usually only takes one or two weeks of scouting to reveal key positional attributes for most prospects. In particular, the key attribute is the catch rating for a wide receiver, the run/pass block rating for the offensive line and the tackle rating for the defensive positions.
Keep in mind that these ratings aren't 100 percent accurate every time, but generally these particular ratings are an easy way to identify draft steals because lower "potential" players will usually have good to great ratings in those areas. So if you see a low-rated wide receiver with a scouted catch rating of 75-80, for example, odds are he'll be a useful player to you. And this is also true for the offensive line as well. However, while the tackle ratings for the defensive line, linebackers and even the defensive backs are useful, keep in mind that defenders have a wider range of attributes to consider when predicting their real potential.
So by following some of these methods, you can effectively scout each prospect once or twice, find some nice sleepers and leave open the option to focus further scouting attention on certain players if needed.
Ah yes, the draft. If you've done your homework, this is definitely the best opportunity to strengthen your team and establish a core of great players who you can build around for the future.
If you've followed some of my scouting tips, it should make it easier to find some gems. But each prospect's star graph is easily the most useful tool when trying to find good players who match your particular needs. It comes down to this: The bigger the star, the better the player probably is -- regardless of his predicted draft round or position. Finally, interpreting a prospect's combine numbers can also tell you a lot about a prospect's real speed, agility, acceleration, strength and vertical ratings. It can also confirm or dispute some of the results you've found via scouting or his star graph.
And in the end, proper usage of all three of those tools -- the scouting reports, star graphs and combine numbers -- are more than enough for you to make a determination on any prospect in any round.
Another key factor when approaching the draft is to trade your dead weight (keep in mind any potential salary penalties of course) to other teams that are lacking at that position (for example, trading an unneeded running back to a team that's in need of one for a surplus of draft picks). And it's always preferable to stockpile as many picks as possible.
This is particularly important, because once you find a way to constantly find gems in the lower rounds, you're pretty much set to succeed in franchise mode.
The main reason for this is because every late-round player will accept long-term deals at minimum salaries -- think seven years/minimum salary for players with A and B potential. And it's for this reason that I always give all my late-round draft picks seven-year deals. Remember, there's almost no penalty for doing so because their bonus money is usually small or nonexistent. So if those late-round players are a bust, just release them.
Also, unlike players in real life, a highly rated player in Madden won't hold out for a more lucrative renegotiated salary. So you could potentially have the best player in the league on your team, at a minimum cost, for a long time. Cheap? Unrealistic? Sure, but you got to take advantage when you can.
So if you want to definitely dominate in the franchise mode, just try and perfect the process of finding those late-round gems. It will definitely pay off in the future.
Now I might have skipped a step since free agency comes before the Draft, but I view the Draft as the most important stage when developing your team. Free agency is a secondary option.
And on the surface, utilizing the free-agency period seems like a great way to strengthen and stockpile talent on your team, but in most cases I'd say steer clear. Not only are most available free agents on the cusp of their primes (usually late 20s), but they also usually want too much money. So unless you just want to be stuck with old and declining players with terrible contracts, pay most of them no mind.
But that doesn't mean stay away from free agents altogether and spend no money. On the contrary, there are definitely some exceptions to be made. What I mean is that occasionally you'll find highly rated young players (21-24) available in the free-agency pool, which may also play positions that pose a current weakness for you. In these particular cases, assuming the price isn't too prohibitive, I'll sometimes make an effort to sign these players to long-term deals. And assuming you've created a large amount of cap space for yourself, this is a decent way to spend some of it because you're signing young players, through their prime, to modest salaries.
Generally, this is also an important way to look at salaries for your entire team. When making a deal, re-signing a player or even thinking about whether to keep a player, always look at what other teams are paying similar players at that particular position. Are you overpaying or is it simply an expected amount for a decent player at that position? So if it is market value, there's nothing wrong with splashing some cash. But just be sure that it's money well spent and that player fits your long-term vision.
Otherwise, I also use free agency as a way to fill out backup vacancies on my roster. It's worth nothing that I follow the same principles when chasing high-salaried stars. Basically, I aim young, aim for value, aim for fit and aim for potential.
In other words, the players I target are generally rated in their low 70s, fit well with what I want on my team, are young (again 21-25) and available for a cheap price. And I'm drawn to these players because they're not too expensive and there's always the chance that they're carrying a high potential rating (not always the case), which is always a nice surprise. But fortunately, it's not a primary concern because they're on a short-term/low-cost contract anyway.
Following this free-agency advice should pay dividends when supplementing your core (that has been primarily developed through the draft), and perhaps in some circumstances you'll find some cheap steals as well. As long as you remember to spend wisely and avoid taking the unnecessarily short-term, flashy route, you'll be fine. Needless to say that method almost never pays off, and in the end, you may end up in salary-cap hell.
Suffice it to say, you might struggle initially. But that's understandable, because unless you've taken over an elite team, you should treat your first one to three years as a rebuilding experience. Now that's obviously not a practical reality in the real NFL, but luckily you're given a little more leeway in the virtual realm of Madden. So while this route isn't necessarily set up for short-term satisfaction, be patient and enjoy building your team into a dominant and efficient machine.
And with that mantra of patience in mind, also be flexible. So if you're not satisfied with how your current team has developed, don't be afraid to constantly tinker with the formula or even blow it up. Find a draft prospect that could potentially be better than a current starter? Draft him and try and move that starter (keeping in mind any salary problems, of course) for draft picks or to fix another hole on the roster. Additionally, make use of the ability to switch player positions. I do it constantly, and you may end up finding a better fit for that player compared to where he previously played.
Just remember, be patient and be flexible as you may improve your team -- save yourself time and cap space during the process.
Now the franchise mode in Madden 10 may not be as extensive as similar modes in games like Head Coach 09 or Front Office Football, but the ability to actually play out each game with your own built squad is such an amazing experience.
And really, the replay value of the franchise mode is only limited by your own imagination. You could theoretically go into the mode many times while trying to build different types of teams. Maybe you'll emulate the Ravens of the early 2000s and concentrate on building a killer defense with an average, but functional offense. Then maybe next time you will try creating the most explosive offense ever.
But whatever direction you take, just remember to have fun with it. And maybe by following some of these tips and strategies, as well as getting in practice time and gaining experience, you'll form useful habits that will enable you to easily build a successful franchise every time with any sort of team.
Anyway, I hope that you've enjoyed reading this and hopefully it's helped you, even in a little way, as you aim to conquer your personal NFL universe in Madden 10's franchise mode.