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
cant 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 Shanahans 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 wont 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 Shanahans
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 wont 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 wouldnt 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
#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 hasnt.
I dont care how much you paid for Ward. I dont care
if everyone else in your league was willing to pay almost as much
as you did. I dont 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 dont care. I dont
care. I dont care.
And believe me, the person you are trading with shouldnt
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, "Im offering you a first
round pick for a third rounder! This is a steal!"
My projections concerning Barber were wrong this season, like
most peoples projections. And my projections concerning
Portis were wrong this season, like most peoples 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 cant 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 cant 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 cant seem to
understand why their potential trading partners dont want
to play along.
#3: Dont 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 dont 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 wont trade with Dick
ever again. In fact, he wont 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 hes going to
have a hard time helping his team with trades in the future.
#4: Dont 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 wont 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, Im willing to
call the Bailey-Portis trade "fair" because it wasnt
clear at the time of the trade which club stood to gain more from
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
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 dont happen with the benefit
of hindsight, so Im 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 cant 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 Ill be discussing is called "With Myself"
because the owner thinks its 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, didnt 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 didnt like the idea of having to start
Booker while having to leave either James, Taylor, or Martin on
the bench. After Week 2, he didnt 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 wasnt 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 Myselfs depth at running back put him in a better position
to handle McAllisters 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 Weeks Question
Whenever I see a really well-executed punt, I wonder why my league
doesnt 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 dont 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.
I dont think theres any way Ill 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?
Im 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 weeks
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 Matts 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 weeks game. San Diego is leading
the division and might be looking at next weeks 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
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 wont 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 wont 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):
Its 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