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Week 3

Last Week's Question
In last week’s column, I invited readers to respond with brief outlines of injury reserve policies that they consider fair and successful. Many of those who responded prefaced their remarks along the same lines as Joel, who pointed out, fairly enough, that “you can’t really look at IR in a vacuum if you want a good policy.” I have therefore included league specs with most of the answers I received. Consider Dan’s league for instance:

This is a good question for keeper leagues with 12 or more teams that start 8 or 9 positions—since your waiver wire pool is a bit limited and you won't have to throw away a player just to fit in a bye week player. The 12-team, 8-position, keeper league I'm in does have IR. The player you put on the IR has to be listed as "Out" by whatever sports site you are using. Once that player is activated, you have after one start, until that player's next start to decide on activating him or dropping him back into the waiver pool. In years past, when our league did not use a website, we had to designate one that would be relied on and stick by it. After all, we are talking about injuries, which as you mentioned are reported differently by each team/coach.

I think Dan’s league handles things in much the same way as plenty of other leagues, though my guess is that most leagues are willing to put players listed as “Doubtful” on IR as well as those who are “Out.” The problem, of course, is that different coaches make different calls about the injury status of players. When Belichick lists Brady as “Probable,” for instance, it seems to mean that he thinks “Probable” is Brady’s nickname—not that there is any reason to doubt Brady will play. As Tom’s league discovered, the uncertainty of what coaches mean by “doubtful” or “out” can actually be enough to overwhelm a league:

A few years back, after a year filled with dissension, our commissioner refused to continue. The primary source of conflict was over injured reserve.

Our practice was to allow each team to designate up to two players on each roster as being on "injured reserve". The official rule was that they could *not* be on injured reserve if the official league designation was "probable" or "questionable".

We constantly had players coming off extended injuries who played in games while being carried on team rosters as "injured reserve". Sometimes the owners were blatantly abusing the process. Sometimes an owner would honestly forget. And sometimes a player who was officially "out" or "doubtful" would end up actually playing.

We also had issues when the player’s injury status would change from "doubtful" to "probable" from the initial injury report to the final report each week. Under our league rules, the owner would need to access the system and change the player's status (and drop someone to make room). In the real world, this just did not work.

The real nasty impact was when an owner failed to take a player off injured reserve in a timely manner—only to be forced to drop a player that another team needed.

For example, on Sunday a player on injured reserve scores 10 points and the other owners scream foul. So the offending owner addresses the issue and drops a player. The dropped player, claimed off waivers, could have started for a different owner over the previous weekend.

In any event, the sniping and animosity never ended. As a result, our commissioner quit at the end of the season. The next season, when it appeared there would be no league, I finally started a new league with the same group of owners. We used the same rules, except for injured reserve.

We did away with the entire injured reserve concept. In its place, we expanded roster sizes from 16 to 17 (so that an injured player could be kept on the roster).

Everyone here is happy with the new arrangement.

I find it difficult to believe that any solution to the problem Tom points out with IR is simpler than expanding roster size, but I can easily imagine some leagues being reluctant to adopt his solution—such as leagues that pride themselves on keeping extremely small rosters as a way of ensuring that there is always a certain level of talent available through waivers. And then, of course, there are leagues that manage teams not through specified roster sizes, but through salary caps. Stuart reports on his experience in such a league:

Here's how our 7-year-old, 12-team league handles IR:

First of all, it's important to know we use a salary cap. Rosters have to have a minimum of 9 players to field a team (1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, 1K, 1DST). A roster can have as many players as you have cap room to “sign,” but we limit certain positions (ex: a max of 5 RB's per roster). We have 1 IR position per roster that can be used when a player is listed on the official injury report as "out" or "doubtful" only. Suspensions, bye weeks, etc. do not count. The unique thing is that when you place a player on IR in our league, the team recovers half of the player's signed salary while they are on IR to free up money to sign additional players.

Another reader (Adam) wrote in to explain an intriguing wrinkle for the use of IR in keeper leagues that increase salaries over time:

I’m in a keeper league. Basically players have an increasing salary number each year they are kept. They start with zero on draft day, and then, depending on position, increase from there when kept. Our draft consists of only players not kept by the other teams.

We have 8 starters and 8 players on the bench. We have two extra positions. One is PS (practice squad), which is for rookies only. The rookie must be put on PS before the start of the week 2 games, and then can be kept at no salary, to be used in the next season. Once a rookie is on PS, he can’t come off until the following season.

IR works a little differently. Any player can be put on IR as long as he appears on 1 of 2 or 3 pre-approved (by the league prior to the season) injury lists. Once he is placed on IR, he must remain on IR for 8 regular season games. Any injury, no restrictions (broken toe-nail/probable), would be enough. A player can stay on IR longer than 8 games, and can come off IR at anytime after his 8 games are up.

For our keeper league this is extra nice because the salary of the player on IR will not increase from one season to the next. For instance. I drafted Larry Johnson last year late in the draft. Before Priest went down, LJ was on an official injury report as probable with an ankle sprain (or something like that). He wasn’t one of my starters, so I put him on IR thinking Priest may retire and I could have a top-notch starter for the next year. The nice thing was I got to keep LJ for zero cost (because he had just been drafted at zero and would not increase from there since he was on IR); the bad thing was when Priest got hurt I couldn’t use LJ for the rest of the year.

I love it. Sometimes [using the IR tag] is a tough decision that could make your team next year or break it this year; other times it is a no-brainer (acl tear, broken leg).
There are also some fairly elaborate rules that have nothing to do with keeper leagues or salary cap management. After Joel provided me with the caveat quoted near the beginning of this column, he went on to share these rules (apparently directly from his league’s website):
A player must be listed as Questionable or worse per the site to be placed on IR. The deadline for placing a player on IR is the same as for setting one's lineup. (A waiver wire pickup due to IR depends on my availability, so you are encouraged to make your requests as early as possible). You retain the rights to a player placed on IR. You may pick up a player who is a free agent to replace the injured player prior to either player's game starting time. When the injured player is listed as Probable or better (per this site), you must release the player you added to replace him or the injured player. If the backup for the player is a Free Agent, the team losing the injured player has first rights to the injured player's backup.

Waiver Wire: In the event that 2 teams wish to claim a free agent, the team with the worse record is awarded the rights to the free agent. Tie breaker rules above apply (with the worse team awarded the rights). The team not receiving the rights to the player will have an extra day to select another free agent. The team that does not get the player does not have the right to put in a claim for a free agent claimed by another team. The deadline for Waiver transactions is 3:00 Thursday. IR transactions take precedence over Waiver transactions. This means that if 2 teams request the same player and one of the teams is doing an IR trans then the IR team gets the player.

Note 3 interesting rules:
1) IR waiver wire transactions take precedence over non-injury related waiver wire transactions. 2) If the backup to an injured player is a free agent, the team losing the injured player has first rights to the backup. 3) When the injured player is “Probable” or better, either the injured player or the waiver wire pickup must be dropped.
I also heard from a regular contributor to this column. According to Matthew (of LMS fame):
We used to have IR in our league when you were limited to the number of transactions that you could do during the season (10). Now that we have an open Waiver Wire system that goes through the playoffs, the owners asked me as commissioner cut out IR. When we did have it, you could place any player on IR as long as they were listed as questionable or worse. But one twist that we did have was that you could only put the player on IR ONCE per season. Also, you were not allowed to put a defense on IR since they would never qualify for the questionable status under the rules.
Although many leagues struggle with the categories of “Probable,” “Questionable,” “Doubtful,” and “Out,” Avery’s league has apparently sidestepped the problem by making no such distinctions:
Our league has been around for 7 years. We have 9 starters and 6 slots on the bench (total of 15). That allows for decent players to be available on waivers throughout the year while still having some room to keep a couple sleepers around. We have 1 IR slot available after the draft takes place. The player must be listed on the injury report by their NFL team (Probable, Questionable, Doubtful, or Out) for you to put the player on IR. You may keep a player there as long as you want and do not have to take the player off of IR when he is healthy. You have to pay $2 to put the player on IR, which is the same cost of our waiver/free agent pickups. It's free to activate a player from IR or drop the player from IR.

This system has been working for us for many years. I believe that adding a fee for using the IR helps as well as having only one IR spot.

I’ll leave the last word on this matter to Steve, whose league (like Dan’s) appears to be better off without IR entirely:

Like you, we have 14-man rosters and start 8. We don't have an IR and never have. If it were a keeper league, IR might make sense, but in a redraft we've never seen the need. Having six bench players seems to provide enough room to carry an injured stud or
two for a few weeks.

Heck, three years ago we had an owner draft Michael Vick and his broken leg and carry him on his roster for the entire season -- only to not play him when he was finally healthy. That was worth it for the ribbing value alone.

I've considered an IR off and on over the years, but I like it this way. It forces owners to make some hard decisions about their rosters, and keeps teams from locking up players just in case. As commissioner, it allows me to avoid the headache of drawing up and enforcing rules governing when a player can be placed on IR and when he must be reactivated.

This Week’s Question: Winning A Trade
If I were to teach a seminar on the value of fantasy football, I would stress that it helps people to improve their evaluation and negotiation skills. But I might be committing the is/ought fallacy on that one. Just because fantasy football should help people improve their evaluation and negotiation skills, there’s no guarantee that it does. And in light of the many emails I receive from FFers asking whether they “won” or “lost” a particular trade, I have good reason to suspect that fantasy football does not always improve negotiation skills to the extent that it should.

It seems obvious to me that the key characteristic of a successful trade is that there is no clear cut winner and no clear cut loser. I have depth at running back, but one of my receivers just went down for the season. You have depth at wideout, but one of your RBs was just suspended for 4 games. I trade you an RB that I wasn’t going to use anyway for a receiver that you weren’t going to use anyway, and we proceed merrily through the remainder of the season.

One party is likely to benefit more (in some cases a great deal more) from a trade than the other party, but in the case of trades that are close to fair, you will usually have to wait until the end of the season to find out who the primary beneficiary was.

Since most serious FFers play in leagues that last years and years, it also seems obvious to me that it isn’t in anyone’s long-term interest to abuse the gullibility of other owners. Once you become known as an owner who only executes lopsided trades, your commissioner shouldn’t have to block your trades because the other owners should know better than to deal with you.

In light of all this, I’ve long assumed that the many FFers who email me with queries as to whether they have “won” or “lost” this or that trade were simply newcomers to the game of fantasy football. But I’m beginning to wonder whether that’s genuinely the case. So my question for this week is painfully direct and yet endlessly complicated: What is your attitude when you propose or accept a trade?

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

Matt’s Picks

By now everyone should have a fairly good feel for the good, the bad, and the ugly teams in the NFL. Barring a few surprises, most people should still be in their Survival Pool unless they took some real “flyer” on a team. In fact, as mentioned last week, the teams that were expected to win big did just that. This week, however, the games are a little bit harder to pick—and one game, my #1 pick, stands out as the overwhelming favorite. That said, pick the Dolphins with caution.

Trap Game: New England over Denver – The Patriots are almost a touchdown favorite for this week’s game in Foxboro, MA, and while the Broncos have not played great football, this team is VERY capable of routing the Pats. Denver held Kansas City’s running attack in check and won it in overtime at home, but if Plummer can settle down, he should be able to exploit the secondary of New England and make it a close game. Tom Brady doesn’t have the comfort level with his new receivers that he has in previous years, and he will have a hard time beating Champ Bailey and company. This formula is ripe for an upset straight up—let alone against the spread.

#3: Detroit over Green Bay (2-0 Season):
This game has “setup” all over it. Both teams are 0-2, with Favre and company coming into Ford field as underdogs for the first time in many years. The question is which Lions defense will show up on Sunday? Will it be the one that held the Seahawks in check or the one that was toasted for four passing touchdowns by the offensively challenged Bears? While Favre will try and sling the ball all over the field, Jon Kitna should have enough time to throw the ball against the 27th ranked defense in the NFL, 30th against the pass. Kitna has been solid, yet unspectacular, against the 4th and 5th ranked defenses in the NFL.

#2: Washington over Houston (2-0 Season):
Until the Texans can prove that they can beat a “good” team, they should be one of the teams that you should look at their opponent each week to help you in your survival pool. While Washington is 0-2 on the season, they have an offense that should have a breakout week this week. The Texans are ranked dead last in both pass defense and total defense in spite of the fact that they picked Mario Williams over Reggie Bush in this year’s NFL draft. Clinton Portis will be back in the lineup, and Santana Moss should be able to stretch the field deep. While the odds makers have this game as only a field goal spread because of the Texans’ home field advantage, this could be a romp for a ‘Skins team that will have played more games in the state of Texas than either of the Texas teams this season.

#1: Miami over Tennessee (1-1 Season):
The Titans are a team trying to find an identity, and the Dolphins desperately need to win this week if they want to have any chance at the post season. The ‘Fins catch a break as the 31st ranked defense comes to Miami and should help heal some of the pains that Culpepper and company have. While Kerry Collins still is listed as the starter in Tennessee, Vince Young will get plenty of chances to learn the NFL game under the pressure of a Miami defense that is ranked 6th in the NFL. While Miami looked awful against a team that everyone thought the Dolphins should have beaten, this may be the safest game all year to pick them in your Survival Pool. The only other time this year that you might get the chance to use them is next week’s game against Houston or on Thanksgiving Day against the Lions, which is always a risky game because of the Lions’ home field advantage.


Michael’s Picks

3. (1-1) - Detroit over Green Bay - Even when the Pack was good a few short years ago, the Silverdome was their House of Horrors. I like the trend to continue. Detroit’s offense will finally get a break.

2. (2-0) - Baltimore over Cleveland - If you didn't use the Ravens last week against the Raiders, now is your chance. The Raven defense might outscore the Browns.

1. (2-0) - Miami over Tennessee – The Titans have looked bad. This should be the week Miami gets a win at home.

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.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.