Up to this point, this guide has covered two main topics:
- Building a winning franchise (both roster and front office) from the ground up
- Understanding in-game tactics
As I stated all the way back in the Front Office installment, I firmly believe that when you start a new career in Retro Bowl, you should aim to make the playoffs in your first full season, win your division and make a deep playoff run in your second, and win your very first Retro Bowl Championship in your third. This guide has been designed specifically to provide a path to those goals.
If you have achieved those goals, I have good news! Rebuilding and team and a franchise and turning it into a winner is the hard part of Retro Bowl. While keeping your team at or near the top of the mountain season after season presents its own unique challenges, they are nothing compared to the labors of assembling a team through the draft from scratch and clawing out enough wins to meet those goals and max out your Front Office facilities.
This installment of the Complete Guide to Retro Bowl is going to cover how to navigate those unique challenges. Again, the worst is over. Not only is keeping your franchise in top shape easier than getting it to that point in the first place, a lot of the advice in this guide will sound deeply familiar. No matter what else happens to your team and your franchise, you are always going to build primarily through the draft, you are always going to keep your facilities in the best shape you possibly can, and you are always going to strive to win as much as possible, even during seasons when you are forced to significantly re-tool your roster.
As such, this part of the guide is intended to be a quicker, easier read than the previous ones. I have already dispensed my most crucial advice, and established a framework for what it means to be a winning organization. That said, this installment will take an in-depth look at two brand-new topics. First, I’ll be taking a look at how to manage the salary cap. There’s no reason to worry about the cap when you’re in the rebuilding phase, but once you’ve established a winning team with great players, you’ll have to make some tough decisions. I’ll show you how to navigate those decisions by discussing how to identify the core of your team, and how to make roster decisions that will keep your core intact and under the salary cap.
Second, I’ll discuss what to do with all the extra coaching credits you’ll be accumulating once your team is built, your facilities are maxed out, and the wins you’re getting are bringing more and more credits every game. This will include a look at open market free agents and coordinators, as well as some of the other neat little perks you can now afford.
Finally, while this isn’t exactly a new topic, I’ll also talk a bit about how to draft once your team is already winning games. I will mix this discussion in with the other topics, since your draft strategy will inform both your re-signing and free agency strategies. While good draft strategy with a proven winner isn’t much different from rebuilding from scratch through the draft, the fact that you already have a winning core in place will give you some freedom in drafting. I’ll take intermittent looks at how to use this freedom wisely.
Salary Cap Management
The salary cap won’t matter in your first three years; the entirety of your team, no matter how quickly some of them have developed into superstars, will be on cheap rookie contracts. All rookie contracts have a length of two years. You’ll have to re-sign any star players you wish to retain from your first draft after your second full season. This re-signing isn’t going to put you in a tight cap situation; the entire rest of your team outside of the first draft class still on their rookie contracts, and it will be easy and painless to let most of these players go.
I advised you to trade away the entire star roster at the start of your career, except in the extremely unlikely event that this roster had any young, high-potential stars. This gave you a lot of picks for your first draft, but most were in the third round. This was great back when you needed to stock your roster with warm bodies at every position, but now that you’ve turned things around you no longer need the services of a 3.0 potential LB, or whatever. Re-sign every player with 4.5 potential or greater, and let every player with less than 4.0 potential walk. This includes RBs, WRs, and even QBs. (If you’re at the end of your second full season and still don’t have a franchise QB, see What to Do When You Can’t Draft a QB in part three of this guide, Drafting and Managing Players). It may be scary to get rid of players at key offensive positions, but you’ll be replacing them soon. Prioritize potential, not position!
Really, it’s best to let every player with less than 4.5 potential walk, but for this very first re-signing period you might not have that luxury. Again, in your third season, your goal is nothing less than a Championship. You want to make sure that you can stock an ideal 10-man roster; obviously, this requires having 10 players on your team! Do not get rid of so many players that you will be unable to field (at least) a 10-man roster after the draft. Assuming you have three picks in the coming draft, this means you will want seven players rostered beforehand. (I am also assuming that your facilities aren’t quite maxed out yet, meaning you’re not ready to dip into the free agent market.)
Assuming you drafted three players in your second year, this means you should re-sign four players from your rookie class. (If you intend to trade away any players from your second class, do so now, so that you can replace them in the draft this offseason!) Since you probably only had one first round pick in that first class, it’s possible you didn’t grab four players with 4.5 potential or greater in that class. If so, go ahead and re-sign any 4.0 potential players you have, and only re-sign players below that if you need to in order to keep four players from this class. When these re-signings are done, you should still have plenty of cap space.
In your third draft, your goal is to replace your losses in the re-signing period. Use your first round pick to fill any holes at QB, RB, or WR1; otherwise, get the best defender available. Use your second and third round picks however you wish. This is going to be your basic strategy every draft from now on, unless you change teams.
After your third full season, you’ll have another re-signing period. This time, though, re-signing too many players will get you into cap trouble. The salary cap in Retro Bowl starts at $200 million; this sounds like a lot, but it can disappear in a hurry if you re-sign too many players. You’ll have to make decisions about who you need to keep and who you can let walk.
By properly identifying the core of your team, you can make most of these decisions in advance. The core of your team is:
- Your franchise QB. A 5.0 QB costs $50 million per year, and is worth every penny.
- Any 5.0 potential players at any other position, unless they’re approaching 30. Unless you’ve had tremendous luck, you probably don’t have more than three such players, if that.
- WR1, unless they’re approaching 30.
- Your single best defensive player, unless they’re approaching 30.
These are the players you are always going to re-sign, whenever possible. By limiting your core to these players and only these players, you will be able to keep all of them on your team without getting yourself into a serious cap crunch. If any of these players has a potential less than 4.5, they are not part of the core of your team. Also, note that I didn’t include RB in this list. It’s always a huge plus to have a great RB, but retaining a great WR1 is always more important. Also, unless your RB has 5.0 potential, they’re easily replaced, especially once you can afford free agents.
After re-signing is over, you’ll want to have $25-$30 million remaining cap space to ensure that you can afford your draft picks. If you have your core re-signed and have cap space remaining under this threshold, great! Go ahead and re-sign any other 4.5 potential players you want. Let everyone with 4.0 potential or less walk. You may be tempted to retain certain 4.0 players, but they cost more against the cap than they’re worth. Let them go, it’ll be OK!
If you’ve gone past the $25-$30 million threshold after re-signing, don’t panic! This means that you’ve acquired a lot of great players, and that’s a good thing! On top of that, there are a couple of things you can do to free up cap space, if you decide you absolutely have to. First, you can trade away one of your more costly veterans. If you have any players that are approaching 30 and have current ratings of 4.0 or greater, you can trade them now, before the draft, and replace them immediately with the extra first round pick. As always, it’s better trade away defensive players than offensive ones; I shouldn’t have to say this, but just so we’re clear, don’t trade away your franchise QB!
Second, if your team is already loaded with talent, the draft becomes less important. If your roster has 4.5+ potential players from top to bottom, do you really need to use a first or second round pick on a player with just 4.0 potential? Do you particularly need a third round pick at all? The answer to both is no. If you’re going into the draft with low cap space because your team is stacked, sell off most of your picks using the arrow bottom at the bottom right of the draft page. You’ll receive 3 credits for each first-rounder sold, 2 for every second-rounder, and 1 for every third-rounder.
Just like in real life, all players age in Retro Bowl, and just like in real life, players that are over the age of 30 will eventually start to decline. Once a player reaches their late 20s, they will lose more physical condition over the course of a season, even if they have high stamina. Once a player hits their age-31 season, they will typically start to lose one point of either speed or stamina per year. This includes QBs, and while it’s always good for a QB to have the best stamina possible, losing stamina doesn’t really hurt your QB that much. Their accuracy and strength are most important, and as long as those remain maxed out, your franchise QB is worth keeping. That said, as your QB ages further, do your best to keep your eyes open for a potential replacement, either in the draft or free agency.
This decline really hurts players at every other position; this is why players who are nearing 30 don’t count as part of your core. Their decline is both imminent and inevitable, and, just as it is in real football, it’s always better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late. Don’t re-sign any non-QBs at or over age 30. It’s OK to re-sign a veteran at age 29, but if you do so, you should strongly consider trading them in the next off-season for a first-round pick. (Just to reiterate: if the player isn’t worth a first round pick, you shouldn’t re-sign them in the first place!)
Also, if your WR1 is pushing 30, plan ahead. Draft or sign your WR1 of the future now, while your current WR1 is still around, and have the new WR ‘apprentice’ at WR2 for a year. Don’t worry about this for other positions. A second player will either be stuck on the bench, or otherwise be redundant. This is especially true on defense, where filling specific positions is less important than stocking your defense with the best players you can get.
Follow these instructions, and you’ll remain both competitive and cap compliant for years to come. To sum up:
- Prioritize re-signing your franchise QB, any 5.0 potential players, your WR1, and your best defender, in that order. Everyone else can walk, if need be, including any other players with 4.5 potential you can’t afford under the cap.
- Don’t re-sign any players with potential less than 4.5. The only exception is your very first re-signing period, where you may need to keep a 4.0 player or two to keep your team fully loaded.
- If your team is stacked with talent and you’re up against the cap, don’t be shy about selling draft picks. The draft exists so you can get your team stacked with talent. If it already is, the draft matters less.
- Don’t re-sign any non-QB at or above age 30. As your QB ages, start developing a plan to replace them. Trade away players still under contract who are about to decline. If your WR1 is aging, draft or sign a replacement to serve as WR2 for a year, if you can.
Spending Your Coaching Credits
When you start your career, most if not all of your coaching credits went towards retaining your coaching staff and maxing out your facilities. Once your facilities are maxed out, however, you’ll start to save up credits, especially once you’ve started to win championships. You can spend these credits on all sorts of things, from new coaches to top-shelf free agents to condition and morale boosts. You can even increase the salary cap itself! There are all sorts of ways to spend your new found fortune. Keep in mind that your facilities will decline periodically, so make sure you keep enough credits on hand to fix those declines immediately!
Since I just discussed the salary cap, I’m going to start with the Increase Salary Cap button on the Front Office page. For the cost of 100 credits; you can increase the salary cap by $25 million. In practical terms, a $25 million cap increase means that you’ll be able to retain one additional non-QB superstar. That’s a lot of credits for a gain that might not seem too impressive, but retaining a great player is always preferable to letting them walk for cap reasons. This can be worth doing but only if you’ll have additional credits left over afterwards, and only if you don’t intend to change teams in the next couple of years. I rarely spring for a cap increase because I’m a weirdo who enjoys the challenge managing a tighter cap. That just my personal preference, though; you do you. Just make sure increasing the cap won’t leave you broke.
The Front Office page also contains the Staff Hires button. This page lets you hire an offensive or defensive coordinator, who will replace your current coordinator. The first thing you’ll notice is that hiring a coordinator here seems a lot more expensive than retaining an existing one, however, when you hire an outside coordinator they are automatically under contract for two years. Hiring an outside coordinator is also the only place you can get a coordinator with a trait. The traits are:
- Fan Favorite: Provides 1% fan support increase per game, but imposes a fan rating penalty when fired.
- Likeable: Provides 5% morale increase for players, but imposes a morale penalty when fired.
- Motivator: Provides instant morale boost for players when hired.
- Negotiator: Prevents players with Toxic morale from negatively impacting teammates’ morale.
- Physio: Provides condition boost of 5% per game for players.
- Positive: Prevents Bad Condition from negatively impacting team morale.
- Scout: Increases maximum amount of scoutable players in the draft by 3.
- Talent Spotter: Provides 0.5 potential increase for players.
A lot of these traits aren’t that useful, especially since you won’t be able to afford an outside coordinator until you’ve already turned the franchise around. Most of these traits boost morale in some way, and team morale will never be a problem if you’re winning. That said, the Scout and Talent Spotter traits are obviously useful, even for winning organizations.
Even so, I do not recommend hiring an outside coordinator, except in limited circumstances. Having a great coordinator is nice, but it’s never necessary, and retaining your given staff is always cheaper. Even when your team is at its white-hot, dynastic peak, starting over with a 0.5 coordinator isn’t going to significantly hinder your chances at winning a Championship. The Scout trait is nice, but like I said, if your team is winning there’s a real chance you won’t need to draft in all three rounds each year. I only recommend hiring an outside coordinator to get a Talent Spotter, or if you lost a coordinator to retirement, have some extra credits lying around, and really don’t want to start over with someone new.
The last thing to discuss on the Front Office page is the Free Agents button, which opens the Free Agent market. In direct contrast to the coaching staff market, supplementing your team in free agency is almost always worth considering, and becomes a key component of roster building once you can afford it. If you ever get stuck without a star player at a key position and have some credits lying around, the Free Agent market has your back. That said, getting the most out of the free agent market requires using it intelligently; if you sign free agents carelessly, you’ll end up in cap trouble you could have avoided with better planning. With that said, I present the Three Rules of Free Agency:
The First Rule of Free Agency is: Plan ahead! If you go to the roster page and touch the helmet button at bottom left, you’ll be able to check the remaining years on every player’s contract. If you’ve been with a team for several years, it’s possible you’ll have to let several veterans walk after a given season and be left with glaring holes in your roster, even at key positions. Check this page at least once a season, and start thinking about how you’ll manage all of your impending departures. Decide who you’ll definitely re-sign (again, if you’ve correctly identified your core, this decision is already made), who you’ll re-sign only if you can afford to, and who you’ll let walk, well in advance. Remember, you don’t need to replace specific defensive positions! When you plan ahead, you’ll always have a good idea of what positions you may wish to target in free agency, before the off-season even begins.
The Second Rule of Free Agency is: Always wait until after the draft to sign free agents! Unlike the NFL, you can sign any free agent on the market, no matter how good they are, at any time. There’s no pre-draft free agency bonanza to navigate. The draft is the ultimate contingency plan. Any glaring holes in your roster may be fixable in the draft, and drafting a rookie will always be cheaper both in terms of coaching credits and in terms of the salary cap. Therefore, signing a free agent before the draft is inefficient at absolute best. This rule is especially true for QBs. If you need a franchise QB, always try to draft one first! There might not be a worthy QB available in the draft, but if there is, you’ll not only have saved money and cap room, you’ll have that QB for longer.
The Third Rule of Free Agency is: Only sign great players from the Free Agent market! You can use the Free Agent market to get warm bodies at unimportant positions, but this is a poor use of credits and cap space. These positions can be filled with late-round picks or even visiting free agents and undrafted rookies. Ideally, every free agent you get from the market will have a potential of at least 4.0, if not higher.
Follow these three rules, and your blunders in free agency will be few and far between, if they exist at all.
The rest of the ways you can spend credits are all roster management options. None of these are necessary to maintain a winning team, but some of them are reasonably priced and will make your life easier. Since none of these options are particularly complicated, I will discuss them briefly, in list form:
- Available in the Helmet Menu of the Roster Page (25 Coaching Credits each)
- Boost Morale: Costs 25 credits and gives a boost to team morale. This option is never worth it; if you have 25 credits, you’re winning, and if you’re winning, team morale is never a problem.
- Boost Condition: Costs 25 credits and gives every player on the team a condition boost. This is occasionally worth it under certain circumstances. If your team has several veterans with flagging condition late in the season AND you’re not getting a first round bye in the playoffs, this might be more efficient that boosting each player’s condition individually (hold this thought). If you are locked into a specific playoff seed, consider using the ‘Rest All’ button to rest your stars in Week 17, instead.
- Available in the Meeting Menu of each Star Player Page (Variable cost; see below)
- Boost Morale: Increases the player’s morale condition by one level. For example, a Toxic player will improve to Bad, a Bad player will improve to Poor, a Poor player will improve to OK, and so on. This option costs more for players with worse morale but is generally cheap, to a maximum of 4 credits to boost a Toxic player. That said, as always the best way to improve morale is winning. Only use this option if a defensive player in your long-term plans is struggling to keep their morale condition above Bad.
- Boost Condition: Increases a player’s physical condition, bringing it back to or near 100%. This option costs more for players with lower condition. If you have maxed out or near maxed out Rehab Facilities, a player’s condition shouldn’t ever dip below 66%, in which case this option costs 7 credits. This is worth using on up to three individual players late in the season; if you have more than three players with lower condition, the team condition boost becomes more cost-effective.
- Level Up: The player will immediately level up. Their XP bar will fill to the same point it is currently, and you will choose which attribute to boost as normal. This option is cheap for Level 1 and Level 2 players, but becomes crazy expensive in short order, and can cost well more than 40 coaching credits for veterans. This option is best used on rookies with high potential, but lower starting ratings (3.0 or less). This will give them a better chance to fulfill their potential sooner.
- Extend Contract: Extends the player’s current contract by one year. This option is crazy expensive under the best of circumstances, and should only be used to extend the rookie contract of someone you really want to keep, but may not be able to re-sign at market price after their second season.
If you have a large amount of credits, but don’t know how to spend them, perhaps a change of scenery is in order. The final installment of this guide will cover what to expect when you change teams, and how to navigate the change itself, by synthesizing the lessons from the previous installments. Remember, always win!
Links to Rob’s Complete Guide to Retro Bowl
The Front Office
Roster Basics and Player Evaluation
Drafting and Managing Players
Winning Football Games