There are only 16 weeks in the regular season, but there are 52 weeks in a year to make your franchise better. Madden 17 released recently (check out my review), and we've got plenty of tips for all you would-be general managers playing the title's Connected Franchise mode (CFM), from managing your roster successfully to nailing the draft.
Getting Off on the Right Foot
One of the main additions to franchise mode in Madden 17 is the Big Decisions. Some of these choices you have to make are new (like bringing guys back from injury early) while some merely re-skins of those previously available. One of the new ones – setting expectations for the season – hits you right off the bat.
It's a long season, and who knows if your masterplan to the Super Bowl will be derailed by an injury to your QB. However, this Big Decision asks you to predict how the season will go. Do you wager you'll get seven wins? Make the playoffs? Get it right and you get bonus XP at the end of the year. Get it wrong and, depending on how bold your prediction is, you may be fired.
There is a way around this, if you so choose, and that's to turn off the Coach Firing option in the settings menu. This way you can reap the rewards if you actually do what you say you're going to do, but still not ultimately be held responsible if it all falls through. Kind of like Jeff Fisher.
Football's all about putting players in positions to succeed, and there are a few ways to do this in CFM. First of all, re-organize your depth chart. Want your third-down back to catch the ball out of the backfield? Then make sure you put your best-catching back in the 3DRB slot. I like my primary receiver to be on the left-hand side of the screen (it's more natural for me to read that side of the field first for some reason), so I make sure that happens on the depth chart. And sometimes the game simply gets the depth chart for your team wrong, so it's worth a look to make sure everything is in order.
Beyond personal preferences here and there, there are also occasionally times when you can get a better OVR-rated player to be a starter at a different position. For instance, on the Vikings, third/fourth corner Captain Munnerlyn has better zone and man coverage ratings than starting strong safety Andrew Sendejo (on the default roster), and is also comparable to Sendejo in other areas, so I put Munnerlyn as my starting SS.
EA Sports itself has released this handy chart detailing the important ratings that make up a player's OVR. You can use this to eyeball not only which players may be viable for different positions. This year you can edit all your players in franchise mode, so you can always make all your players invincible, but whether you want to engage in that kind of re-engineering is up to you.
Finally, you should check your team's schemes (accessible in the My Coach menu). These are tied to your coach and are set whether you play in a 4-3 defense, power run offense, etc. They also reflect and influence your players. If you have a run-stopping LT scheme, but you're starting a zone-blocking LT, you may see a drop in his overall because he's not a good fit for the scheme your team is running. I've played around with these and didn't find changes to my players' OVR even after switching around my schemes, but you should check just in case.
A big plus for this year's CFM (and only in CFM) is the return of formation subs. These allow you to go through your playbook formations and set which players you want to be in all your shotgun formations, two-back sets, etc. For years you'd have to do all of this pre-play with the play clock draining, but having a dedicated menu for it in your CFM is way more handy. Similar to setting up your depth chart, tinkering with the formation subs allows you to get the right personnel on the field for the right moments, like switching out a run-centric linebacker out for a fast coverage specialist in nickel packages or switching out a pass-catching TE for a run-blocking tackle in a jumbo set.
One problem with formation subs, however, is that they don't always put the correct players in the right positions. For instance, an empty backfield shotgun formation may trot out a TE and a HB for your fourth and fifth WR positions even if you have a sufficient number of WRs on your roster. The way to get a true fourth receiver in the formation instead of a TE is to make that WR a TE. To do this click on the appropriate player card in the Manage Players screen of CFM. Now when you go back to the formation subs screen the newly made TE/former WR will be selectable for that TE position in the empty backfield shotgun formation.
You should be able to still play that new TE/former WR in his fourth receiver slot by selecting him in the WR depth chart screen. A word of warning, however, I've come across some rosters you can do this switcharoo with and some I could not. No worries, however, as you'll always be able to switch that WR back to his original position thanks to the player editor. The CFM says you can only position change at the start of a new season, but I've been able to do it during the season just fine.
Other reasons you may want to tinker with formation subs include resting certain players in specific situations (above and beyond the coach Auto Subs sliders) and to try and hit XP milestones and other goals. For instance, putting your rookie RB in at the goal line to farm TDs would be a good way to help him get Rookie of the Year and thus a jump up on his development trait.
Weekly Gameplanning & XP
Gameplanning has been changed this year and is easier to get through. Whether you sim or play through the drills you'll get player stat bonuses when the appropriate offensive and defensive formations you've trained (such as cover 2, deep pass) are called in a game.
The computer suggests different gameplans each week depending on your opponent's tendencies. However, I think there's a better way to gain XP while still getting the on-field bonuses.
First off, click on either an offensive or defensive gameplan. From here choose a drill that corresponds to the positions you want to strengthen (QB, WR, etc.). Play the drill and make sure you get a gold medal for your efforts – you can restart the drill when while you're playing it to ensure this happens.
Each week you can specifically select the drill you've gotten a gold medal in – ignoring the computer's gameplan suggestion – and sim the training results to get the same high XP boost for the positions you've selected. You don't have to replay the drill.
If you can select offensive and defensive gameplans that feature plays you'll likely to run during a game no matter the opponent (cover 2, vertical passing routes, etc.) then you'll still get the in-game player bonuses, thus getting the best of both worlds.
Focus Training is also an aspect of the weekly gameplanning, and this lets you choose three players who get additional XP. You may want to put those young players who have quick or superstar development traits (viewable from the focus training player selection menu) in order to maximize their growth.
Age is important here, as a Reddit user has demonstrated why spending XP on player attributes and traits is basically a waste for players 26 and over.
The Practice Squad
New this year is the practice squad. This is a part of the roster where you can stash eligible young players (like those with quick or superstar development) who don't count against the roster cap. In Madden these players accrue XP, and like real-life, they can only be played if they're signed to your active roster.
Also like in real-life, you are free to sign a player on another team's practice squad through the free agency menu. They'll then go on your active roster. In Madden this poaching aspect is an optional toggle in the settings menu, and if you decide to use it it's worth seeing who's on your practice squad and could be worth signing to bolster your depth. I'd also see who is on other teams' practice squads – you can find some 70+ OVR-rated players whom might be worth grabbing.
Player Re-signing & Free Agency
Players on your roster with expiring contracts re-sign throughout the regular season. The process is highlighted more this year, with players communicating their specific contract demands. Listen to them. In my experience, there's not a lot of leeway here. Lowball a player and they very well might cutoff negotiations and refuse to sign with you. In fact, you don't get many chances to negotiate with them – only three or four weeks at most – before they shut down the process entirely and set their eyes on free agency. Some may even stop negotiating even if you meet their demands if you've been dithering for too many weeks. If you want to keep a player, you likely just have to pay the asking price. One way to possibly help the process – if you have the XP – is to buy a player retention upgrade for your coach.
Signing players in free agency is governed by points that correspond to the number of years and salary and bonus amounts in your bid (with a few points thrown in for your team's prestige). The team with the most bid points wins the player's signature. EA has told me that there is a "very small chance" a free agent could sign with a team with fewer points.
Play with the bonus and salary numbers because there is room to maneuver within the bid point structure. As long as you're the bidder with the highest bid points, you can adjust the salary and bonus amounts to get there while still shaving off a little money. Moreover, you can keep tweaking the same offer and seeing how many points it adds up to before advancing the CFM week. You can also spend coach XP on a player acquisition upgrade, which will add three team prestige points to your bid.
Scouting is very similar to last year with one key difference – the number of scouting points required to fully scout a player has been inverted. Last year the first grade cost 5 points, the second 10, and the third 15, for instance. Now that's 15, 10, and 5. Given that I like to make sure a player's first grade (which shows the strongest area of their game) is up to snuff before spending more points to delve deeper, this puts a premium on getting the Expert Scouting coach upgrade as fast as possible.
Madden 17 features more gems and busts littered around the randomly generated draft classes, so it pays to use up all your scouting points every week (you'll lose half of your unused points each week). When you fully scout a player a green or red diamond appears next to their picture that tells you the round they deserve to be drafted in. Green is good and red is bad. These are good, accurate indicators of a player's quality. Meanwhile, the Combine scores generated as you near the draft correspond to players' physical skills like speed, strength, and agility. There are granular charts online for exactly what 40-yard-dash time corresponds to what speed rating and what letter grades mean what, but obviously the better the scores the better that player is going to be.
Really good indicators of some, but not all, of the better players in a particular draft class are in the CFM news feed accessible from the main menu screen of your franchise. Sort over to Draft Stories every week and jot down which players are highlighted and why. These callouts for gems and busts are very instructive, and apply to players through all rounds.
One thing annoyingly missing from this year's draft is the option to trade up for a pick. You can still do it, it just takes more steps. Pause the draft and scroll over to the trade center to do your business before getting back on the clock.
Before the draft, you can bolster the number of picks at your disposal by signing players during free agency – as long as you have the cap space – and then trading them for picks before advancing to the draft week. This makes your team a clearinghouse. You will, of course, have to take a cap penalty related to the bonuses paid to the players you trade, so again, this is only viable if you have cap space to burn.
There was a way to see what potential draftees were rated and their player development attribute was via the team acquisitions menu, but EA has patched it out for online-based franchises. The company says a patch for offline franchises is also on its way as of the time of this writing.
After you draft, make sure to check the schemes your new players like to play in, because like I explained above, it may make a difference in the OVR rating of those players.
Good luck in your CFM, and if you've got any tips of your own put them in the comments section below! For more on Madden 17, check out my review.
Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.
GET A DIGITAL CODE FOR MADDEN 17 ON PS4
The fine folks over at EA Sports have given me five codes to pass onto Sports Desk readers! To get your hands on a code, please jot down your favorite Madden story. Maybe it's a crazy last-second drive, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the lengths you've gone to for your Ultimate Team, or whatever. Put it in the comments section below or send me an email at [email protected].
In this week's special edition of Replay, Reiner, Bertz, Jeff Cork, and Brian Shea take a look at a smattering of football titles through the years, from video game football's ignominious beginnings to much better days. Check it out.
Assetto Corsa (PS4, Xbox One) August 30
NASCAR Heat Evolution (PS4, Xbox One, PC) September 13
NHL 17 (PS4, Xbox One) September 13
Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, 360, PC) September 13
NBA 2K 17 (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, 360, PC) September 20
FIFA 17 (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, 360, PC) September 27
Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One, PC) September 27
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week.