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Week 12

Trading: A Practicum

Whenever I mention trading or collusion in my column, I am bound to draw a number of responses from owners who are frustrated with their leagues for being stagnant. Some people write in to tell me how annoying it is to be in a league with only one trade or so per season. Others write in to tell me how many years it has been since the last successful trade in their league. Still others write in to complain that I would dedicate a column to the topic of collusion, since, in their opinion, "trading practically never happens in fantasy football anyway."

Obviously, different leagues will engage in levels of trading. And I can certainly understand how those who belong to leagues in which trades rarely or never occur reach the conclusion that trading must only rarely occur in other leagues. But if there is one thing we should all understand by now, it is that no two fantasy football leagues are alike. In fact, I would take that sentiment one step further. I belong to a 48-team league that is divided into four conferences of twelve teams each, and there is no denying that even within our single league, no two conferences are alike. Trading is not unusual in my conference, but there are other conferences in my league in which trades essentially never occur. As one owner in a rival conference put it, "You can’t even get people to think about trades because they are so scared to make a mistake."

With this column, I hope to get some of the more stagnant leagues out there to rethink their attitude on trading. I have long maintained that trading is one of the most enjoyable aspects of fantasy football, and I think there are a few extremely practical points I can make (as well as some examples I can provide) to help those trade-averse leagues overcome the obstacles to trading.

#1: Get Over the Fear of Embarrassment

I am fairly certain that the reason trading occurs so rarely in fantasy football leagues is the same that it occurs so rarely in the NFL. The parties who want to make a trade are afraid of being ridiculed afterwards for having made a bad deal. Think back to the Champ Bailey/Clinton Portis trade between the Broncos and the Redskins. I remember all too well how even in Philadelphia (where I live) sports journalists spent the better part of the offseason second-guessing Mike Shanahan’s decision. I can only imagine how much scrutiny the trade received in Denver and Washington, D.C. The front offices for both clubs probably entered the season with their stomachs clenched. And I suppose that at this point, the stomachs in Washington are still clenched. Sports journalists are such an unforgiving lot that owners and general managers are afraid to be the guy who gave up Michael Vick for LaDainian Tomlinson. But they are simultaneously afraid to be the guy who gave up Tomlinson for Vick.


The fact of the matter is that the folks who cover the NFL have to write about something, and they are always going to second-guess the management of whatever team they happen to be writing about. But as every single reader of this column already knows, the good managers are the ones who won’t let the fear of ridicule dictate what they do for their teams.

If you make a bad trade, will you be ridiculed for it? Probably. But the point of fantasy football is to win, not to avoid ridicule. And remember that you can just as easily be ridiculed for making a good trade. At this point, it looks like Mike Shanahan’s running game is getting along just fine without Clinton Portis. And he has an elite cover corner to boot. Does that mean that the ridicule he received for making the trade goes away? Does it mean that his future decisions won’t be second-guessed? Does it mean that he has finally earned the respect of his detractors?

Not at all. What that trade meant for Shanahan was simply that his defense got better without his rushing offense having to suffer. It made his team more competitive, which is all he was trying to accomplish. Now the last thing I want to say is that we should all be more like Shanahan because that would mean a world full of people with the faces of rabbits and empty black eyes. But if you want trading to happen in your league, you need to develop a thick enough skin to shrug off the broadsides of your critics.

And you know what wouldn’t hurt? How about responding to those who never make a trade themselves but always ridicule the trades of others by pointing out that their ridicule might carry a little more weight if they ever actually engaged in the process themselves.

#2 Let Go of Draft Position or Auction Price After the Season Gets Underway

After the fear of ridicule, I think the thing that most prevents trades from happening is that FFers are too stubborn to understand the very real difference between projected performance and actual performance. Terrell Owens and Hines Ward probably fetched much higher prices in most auctions than Javon Walker. Owens has outperformed Walker, but Ward hasn’t.

I don’t care how much you paid for Ward. I don’t care if everyone else in your league was willing to pay almost as much as you did. I don’t care if you can show me 17 fantasy magazines and 412 fantasy websites that project Ward to finish the season at least 10 slots ahead of Walker. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.

And believe me, the person you are trading with shouldn’t care about projected player value either once the season gets underway. Nevertheless, I have little doubt that every FFer who tried to trade Clinton Portis for Tiki Barber this season said something along the lines of, "I’m offering you a first round pick for a third rounder! This is a steal!"

My projections concerning Barber were wrong this season, like most people’s projections. And my projections concerning Portis were wrong this season, like most people’s projections. But it would be insulting for me to attempt to negotiate a trade concerning one or the other on the basis of a misinformed consensus. Once Barber emerges as a top running back, I can’t expect success if I try to trade a third round receiver for him just because he went in the third round. And once Portis begins to disappoint, I can’t expect a first round receiver for him just because Portis went in the first round.

Preseason projections are about perception. In-season performance is about reality. I genuinely think the reason so many lopsided trade offers are made is that FFers want to trade their preseason perceptions for in-season reality, and they can’t seem to understand why their potential trading partners don’t want to play along.

#3: Don’t Try to "Win" a Trade

Many people approach trading as a competition. They see the person they are trading with as their opponent, and they want to give the worst players possible for the best players possible. This strategy can obviously work in leagues with inexperienced players or easily manipulated people, but it is pretty well doomed to failure in genuinely competitive leagues. If I can get someone to trade me Daunte Culpepper for Joey Harrington, well hoorah for me, as I have the honor of playing fantasy football with people who simply don’t follow the NFL.

Instead of seeing trades as competitions, try to conceptualize them as symbiosis. If I trade with you, it is because I can help you where you need help and you can help me where I need help. For this reason, as a general rule, try to steer clear of trades involving players at the same position. If you find yourself routinely offering QBs for other QBs or RBs for other RBs or WRs for other WRs, then you are almost certainly approaching trades competitively, not symbiotically. Symbiotic trades may improve one team more than another, but they will always improve both teams. For this reason, symbiotic trading ordinarily involves players at different positions. If I have depth at tight end but lack a solid starting QB and you have depth at QB but lack a solid starting tight end, we are in a position to make a trade that will 1) improve my team, 2) improve your team, and 3) increase the likelihood of future trades in our league.

Competitive traders quickly create bad reputations for themselves and for trading generally. Consider the following example. Dick (the competitive trader) owns a receiver who has had, say, two freakishly good weeks in a row. And he is eyeing a player that has had two freakishly bad weeks in a row. So he convinces Joey (the gullible trader) that it would be a wise idea to trade Andre Johnson for Eddie Kennison. Joey makes the trade and spends the rest of the season watching Johnson light things up while Kennison fades to his customary obscurity. Joey won’t trade with Dick ever again. In fact, he won’t trade with anyone ever again. And no one else in the league will trade with Dick either because they can see the way he took advantage of Joey. Dick has benefitted his team at the expense of another team, but he’s going to have a hard time helping his team with trades in the future.

#4: Don’t be Afraid to get the Slightly Shorter End of the Stick on a Trade

Because of the way scores are calculated in fantasy football, I think we can safely assume that perfectly fair trades (i.e. trades that improve the scores of both teams by precisely the same number of points) are rare. In fact, you can go ahead and assume that any trade is going to improve one team more than the other. In a reasonably fair trade, it won’t be obvious at the time of the trade which team stands to gain more. And for that reason, even though the Broncos appear to have gotten the better end of their deal with the Redskins, I’m willing to call the Bailey-Portis trade "fair" because it wasn’t clear at the time of the trade which club stood to gain more from the transaction.

The question to ask yourself when you make a trade is not, "Am I getting more from this trade than the person I am trading with?", but "Will this trade benefit my team more than it hurts my team?"

I want to illustrate this point with examples from a real team in my league that seemed to get the short end of the stick on two trades this season--but still ended up with a more balanced team after the trades than before.

Before I get into these specifics, I have to make a request. Please bear in mind that trades don’t happen with the benefit of hindsight, so I’m going to have to ask readers to remember how players were performing at earlier points in the season. I realize that this exercise in memory and imagination will tax the brain power of many FF enthusiasts, and so I am prepared to be deluged with emails from boobs who will claim that they could tell in Week 3 that Jimmy Smith was in for a better year than Chad Johnson. I can’t stop them from sending me their emails, but I can ignore them. And please let this serve as fair warning that I will ignore them.

The team I’ll be discussing is called "With Myself" because the owner thinks it’s funny to make the rest of us say, "I am playing With Myself this week." With Myself had a good draft as far as running backs were concerned. He picked up Edgerrin James, Fred Taylor, and Curtis Martin. His receivers, at the beginning of the season at least, didn’t look so good. His top 3 were Derrick Mason, Jimmy Smith, and Marty Booker. Smith has recovered beautifully from a lackluster start, but back in Week 3, the Jaguars looked like they were going to be a very bad offense for a very long time.

With Myself assessed his situation realistically. He had more running backs than he needed and not as many quality WRs as he would have liked. In our league, we can start 1 or 2 RBs and 3 or 4 WRs, and he didn’t like the idea of having to start Booker while having to leave either James, Taylor, or Martin on the bench. After Week 2, he didn’t even like the idea of starting Jimmy Smith.

He started looking through the rosters of other teams in our conference and found a possible match for his needs in a team called, simply enough, "Big Dumb Stupid." Big Dumb Stupid had snatched Chris Brown in the draft, and Brown was off to a promising start, but he wasn’t getting much help from the other Big Dumb Stupid RBs. Duce Staley was losing goalline carries to Jerome Bettis, and Deuce McAllister was hurt. Big Dumb Stupid had a lot of depth at receiver, where With Myself needed help, so With Myself proposed the following trade in Week 3:

Edgerrin James and Jimmy Smith for

Deuce McAllister and Chad Johnson.

Now that the season is winding down, it seems clear that Big Dumb Stupid benefitted more from the trade than With Myself, since James and Smith have both outperformed McAllister and Johnson. At the time, however, both owners believed that With Myself was giving up the superior running back in order to acquire the superior receiver. The real beauty of this trade, however, was the way With Myself’s depth at running back put him in a better position to handle McAllister’s injury than Big Dumb Stupid was in. With Myself could rely comfortably on C-Mart and Taylor until McAllister healed. That was the symbiotic component of the trade.

In Week 5, with McAllister seeming likely to recover ahead of schedule, With Myself approached another team ("Wonderbros") that was in need of a running back. He swapped Curtis Martin for Torry Holt. Again, it appears now as if With Myself got the short end of the stick on that one, as Martin has been a fairly consistent threat, whereas Holt has been up and down in 2004.

My point is that if we look at the trades strictly as competitions, then With Myself lost both of them. But he went from having a stellar set of RBs and a lackluster receiving corps to having rock solid RBs (in Deuce McAllister and Fred Taylor) and an improved set of wideouts (Mason, Holt, and Chad Johnson). He started the season 0-4 and in last place in his division; two trades later, he is 10-5-1 and on top of his division. How terrible for him that he "lost" both of those trades.

This Week’s Question

Whenever I see a really well-executed punt, I wonder why my league doesn’t have roster spots for punters. Like many leagues, we simply dump special teams in with defenses. But "special teams" is simply code for punt returners and kick returners. We don’t pay any attention at all to how well our kickers handle kickoffs; and most of us would be hard-pressed to name more than three or four punters in the league.

A pity.

I don’t think there’s any way I’ll get my league to change its scoring in this regard, but I am curious about leagues that manage to calculate scores for kickoffs and punts. I assume you measure things such as hangtime, distance, and wear the ball is downed. But what other categories come into play, and how are the categories weighted? Does anyone have a methodology for scoring punts and kickoffs that they think accurately rewards good punters for a job well done?


I’m still collecting questions that readers would like to have answered concerning league-hosting services, so if you have a question that you would like to contribute to the questionnaire that I will be compiling, please send it in. For those readers who already sent in their questions and responses that I expected to be able to include in this week’s column, I offer my apologies for not responding, as my holiday travels have interfered with my access to email. I will get back to you after Thanksgiving, and I wish you all a happy Turkey Day.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt)

I urge readers to pay particular attention to Matt’s trap games, as he has been spot-on since the Jets-Dolphins contest.

Trap Game: San Diego at Kansas City

The Chiefs are out of the playoff hunt and Priest Holmes is already listed as being out for this week’s game. San Diego is leading the division and might be looking at next week’s divisional battle with Denver. This sounds like the makings of an upset, especially with this game being played in Kansas City.

#3: Philadelphia over New York Giants (5-5 this season):

The Eagles fly into the Meadowlands with the chance of clinching the division. The last time these two teams met, Kurt Warner was the starting quarterback and the Eagles manhandled the Giants. The Eagles won’t have things quite so easy this time, nor will they see Warner unless they knock the rookie Eli Manning out of the game. The Giants defense has played better than that first game, but they won’t have enough to prevent their losing streak from going to five straight.

#2: Atlanta over New Orleans (8-2 this season):

The Falcons seem to have found a leader in Vick and should be able to take advantage of the last ranked defense in the league. Barring any major injuries to the Falcons, this game should be a blowout at home even if Deuce McAllister runs the ball.

#1: Denver over Oakland (7-3 this season):

It’s getting late in the season and there will be snow on the ground at Mile High. The classic battles between the Raiders and the Broncos should be long forgotten in this prime time matchup between two teams going in opposite directions. Rueben Droughns should be able to run the ball and the Bronco defense will pick off one or two Kerry Collins passes.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.