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Week 9

Last Week’s Question #1

In last week’s column, I opened two different cans of worms concerning trading in fantasy football leagues. I had an abstract question from Vince (who wants to know whether its ever acceptable for owners to trade future draft picks along with players in the middle of a fantasy season) and a concrete question from JB (who wants feedback about a particular trade involving Steven Jackson and Derrick Mason).

I warned readers that trade discussions often become shrill and emotional before they even have a chance to get started. I was pleased that the vast majority of responses I received were even-handed and coolly reasoned. I was also something between delighted and overwhelmed to have received so many different insights from so many different fantasy players/commissioners. After eliminating all answers that repeated the content of previous answers, I was still left with 15 full pages of remarks from readers.

That’s more than I will be able to tackle in one column, so I will be extending this discussion of trades into next week’s column. If you have anything to say about trading that isn’t covered below, I’ll be happy to consider including your comments next week, but please bear in mind that there simply won’t be room for me to include everyone’s remarks.

I’ll start with responses to Vince’s question about future draft picks. Joe was the reader who shared Vince’s anxiety most intensely:

If I were commissioner, I would not allow the trade involving future draft picks. Even if the two swore on their lives that they were returning next year, there is no guarantee that other owners will always return, so it would be creating a precedent that could easily lead to future problems. It's simply a bad precedent all around because it encourages teams that are doing badly this year to trade all their best players for future considerations. I would tell [the two owners that if they really want the league to allow the trading of draft picks in addition to players,] they need to bring it up before all the owners for a vote before the next season.

Joe makes a fair point; and he isn’t alone. Matthew wrote in to express his reservations as well:

This issue has come up in our league in the past. I had the same issues as [Vince], so we just said it was not allowed.
I can understand why some commissioners would prohibit this kind of trade. The practice of trading draft picks could lead to what certain fantasy players might perceive as an extended form of reciprocated collusion. “Since my team is off to a horrible start this season,” one owner might think to himself, “I’ll simply unload my best player(s) to my buddy for top draft picks next year.” The collusion could be explicit and calculated—with both owners agreeing to share this year’s pot with the team built out of great players and next year’s pot with the team built out of fabulous draft picks. But the more insidious problem is that the owners don’t have to consciously decide to do anything amiss. If I give you my best players this year for your top draft picks next year, the effect could be the same as collusion even if that isn’t our purpose.

Although concerns such as this one carry some weight, they can be countered somewhat effectively by arguments that other owners can do the same thing. And for what it’s worth, most of the FFers who wrote in did not share Joe’s or Matthew’s fears about potential abuses of these kinds of trades.

Most of the readers who wrote in had no problem with the idea of trading future draft picks, and the single most common response I received concerning Vince’s problems was along the lines of what John had to say:

Any league that wants to allow the trading of next year's draft picks should implement a simple rule to ensure that the team(s) giving up draft picks return the following year: Any team giving up any of next year's draft picks must pay next year's entry fee now, before the trade is finalized. If they don't return to the league, they forfeit that deposit. Problem solved.
It does seem like a simple enough solution for Vince’s problem, and it leads nicely into a similar suggestion from Bruce (whose league has already implemented a rule to cover just this contingency):
Our leagues have a simple rule with respect to trading future picks. Both owners involved in the trade have to prepay for the year in question. If an owner doesn’t come back, then the team is paid for and it’s easy to get any fantasy junkie to take over a free team, regardless of how bad it is or how many picks it’s missing.

This creates a small issue of accounting for the treasurer, but I simply keep a spreadsheet that I distribute on a weekly basis to keep everyone abreast of finances.
My guess is that John’s solution would be adequate—i.e. that it’s enough to have the owner of the team who is giving up the draft pick pay in advance. The owner of the team who is getting the draft pick already has an incentive to return, so I’m not entirely sure why Bruce’s league makes both owners pay. Nevertheless, I’m enough of a pragmatist to say that Bruce’s recommendation is probably worth considering if only because he claims that it is a rule that has been used effectively by his league. Cheaters have to sense that other people can cheat too—and they might not want to pony up a season’s entry fee a year in advance if they fear that another couple of players in the league could out-cheat them with a trade involving even more and better picks in next year’s draft next week.
A different John speaks for a fair number of readers by drawing a distinction between keeper and redrafter leagues:
For me, the answer to the first question depends largely on whether or not you are in a keeper league. If so, I have no problem with trading future draft picks. A new manager who takes over a team in a keeper league is implicitly agreeing to accept whatever roster mistakes the previous manager might have made. If the player acquired was good enough to command a high draft pick, he's probably still going to be on the roster and thus part of the core of players from which the new manager can form his/her own team. I'm less inclined to saddle a new manager in a non-keeper league with the loss of a draft choice for a deal that carries no benefit for him/her.

John makes a lot of sense here, but redrafter leagues that would really like to allow for the trading of future draft picks can probably make peace with a solution along the lines of Bruce’s suggestion or perhaps a modification of one of the suggestions below. Chris thinks that something along the following lines might work:

If an owner trades away a future draft pick, and then does not return to the league next year, the league agrees that the NEW owner only receives a minor penalty. For example, Vince trades away next year's 4th round pick and then doesn't return the following year. The new owner does have to forefeit his position in the round, but perhaps we give him the last pick of the 4th round (instead of say the 5th pick where he would have been drafting). Or, we agree that he forefeits the 4th round pick, but gets two 5th round picks instead. If you gave me one of these options, then as a new owner I wouldn't mind losing the pick, but I'm never joining the league knowing I'm getting one less pick than my rivals.
Obviously, some leagues have more “draw” than others. I’ve heard from commissioners of leagues with waiting lists and from FFers who tell me that they are simply biding their time in the leagues they are involved in now until there is an opening in the league that they really want to join. In such leagues, new owners might be willing to accept a minor penalty along Chris’ lines, but my guess is that this solution would only work in extremely attractive leagues. I think I speak for most FFers when I say that I wouldn’t consider paying full price to join a redrafter league in which I had to accept the slightest penalty for a decision made by the owner who preceded me in the league. However, in leagues with steep entry fees, I might consider a discount (as Matthew suggests):
One possible solution is to get a monetary deposit from the team giving up the draft pick next year. Not sure how much really. . . maybe half or so. Then if the team comes back, they owner gets a credit toward his season. If he does not come back, the new incoming team gets a discount that year. It would make it more palatable for the new team. If half off is not enough, it could be raised, but 50% of the fee to give up a draft pick is not bad.

I hope these suggestions for how to handle the trading of future draft picks are helpful, but I caution readers (and particularly commissioners) to think carefully about whether to allow these sorts of trades in redrafter leagues. This response from a third reader named John does a great job of explaining both what is tantalizing and what is unsettling about this sort of trade:

I am a commish in several leagues, so I will try and answer this from my perspective. I do not like the idea of trading draft picks, although I think it does make the ownership of a Fantasy Team much more real, and turns you into a General Manager, not just a drafter who picks a starting lineup each week.

The owners is some leagues will trade draft picks in good faith; owners in other leagues might abuse the option (as Dan’s league apparently discovered):

We had a "future draft pick" trade come up last year, and I was initially OK with it (I'm the commissioner) as long as the team trading its pick turned in its fee for the next year at the same time. That way, if they left, someone else could take over the team for free, which ought to cover the fact that they'd be short a draft pick or two. However, there was a lot of backlash from other owners based on the idea that a team could mortgage its future to win now. The league as a whole wanted a level playing field in each year, and I came to agree with this view.

But don’t shy away from this option just because you think it can never work. Larry wrote in on behalf of a league that has allowed the trading off future draft picks for more than 2 decades—apparently with no negative results:

I've been commish of our currently 12-team league, which has waxed to 14 and waned to 10 over the 20+ years we've been playing. It occurred to me years ago that I could guarantee any trades with serious implications for the future wouldn't impact those seasons by requiring the participants to pay for next year right now. That way, whether or not either of them remains in the league is immaterial. We can get a replacement who will agree to keep the constrained circumstances because someone else is paying for his season. This has occurred 3 times in roughly 40 playing seasons (between both our NFL and MLB leagues.) We've got a core of 6 who have been in the whole time, and 3 who have more than 15 years with us, and another in for more than a decade. And back when we were 14, a couple of the guys started another league utilizing our exact rules and format, and it's still thriving more than ten years later. Can't be all bad.

Last Week’s Question #2

For details concerning the Jackson-for-Mason trade (and details are always terribly important in trades), please consult last week’s column. I won’t get into the nuances of responses to that question until next week, but I know that JB and his league are waiting to hear what the rest of the world thinks of the trade, so I’ll provide a few excerpts from reader responses now as I gear up for next week’s column (in which I’ll go into greater detail).

JB, you can tell the folks in your league that the answer to your question is . . . drum roll please . . . opinions were split!

Paul answered unequivocally on the no-veto side: “First off, the trade should not be vetoed. Everyone is still going on name value it seems.” John, however, is justifiably skeptical:

I wonder why a team that is willing to trade Steven Jackson wouldn’t offer him up to the whole league. Make an announcement, "I have S Jackson on the trading block, looking for a WR", and see what kind of offers you get. I bet you could do better than Mason.

Another thing that jumps out at me on this trade; it's a 10-team league, and only 14 roster spots per team. There HAS to be a bunch of W/R's out there who are getting close to the points that a Derrick Mason is getting. Why not just drop T Heap or V Davis and pick one of them up? Losing your number 1 draft pick for a D Mason, thats terrible.

One last thing I look at: D Mason may never play again for the team getting him once Driver comes back, so you are trading S Jackson for 1 week?
Although the specific answers concerning the trade were interesting, I’d like JB to know right away that most readers were far more interested in the theoretical questions he posed about trading than they were in the specific details of his trade. Some readers didn’t even weigh in on the Jackson-Mason question because they were so eager to tackle JB’s question about whether vetoes should come from a set number of owner votes or from a commissioner. I heard strident voices from both ends of the spectrum on this question. On the commissioner side of the question, Paul wrote:
How were things handled before the commish became so lazy that he lets others do his veto job?

Kent, however, spoke just as powerfully against commissioner vetoes:

Finally you can't let the commissioner be the sole decider of anything in the league unless he is a non participatory commissioner(which I doubt there are few of those). How could he be the sole arbitor of his own trade? or of a trade between teams he is competing against? Trust your owners, commish!

Because I’ve gone past my usual length, I’ve shortened the answers I received concerning JB’s questions. The best thing about the answers I received, however, was that they were generally thoughtful and supported. I’ll share those thoughtful and supported qualities next week (along with as many additional answers as possible).

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Paul Moore)

I’ve been in and out of airports all day—and unable to connect with Matthew “the LMS guy” Schiff.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would mean that readers are stuck with the picks of yours truly, but luck is with us, as another reader (one Paul Moore) sent me his picks this week. Take it away, Paul . . .

I thought last week could be sneaky difficult. It didn’t turn out that way. This week is a lot tougher, since this year’s patsies (MIA and STL) are on bye.

There are only 2 games where Vegas has set the spread by more than a touchdown. A Monday night division match up and a road favorite. Both going against the survivor rule: Stick with home favorites i non-division games (40-13 in 2007). Teams coming off a bye have an 11-5 record this year (6-2 at home) and this week we have six teams coming off a bye.

#1. Washington over New York Jets - (8-0, Used SEA, CHI, BAL, IND, DAL, SDC, WAS, NEP)

The Jets are struggling and now will start a rookie QB. That will likely spell trouble for the J-E-T-S.

#2. Atlanta over San Francisco - (6-2 Used IND, DEN, NEP, SDC, TEN, sea, DAL, NYG)

As fate would have it Atlanta is coming off a bye and at home (double bonus). It helps that San Francisco and Alex Smith are pathetic on offense.

#3. Tampa Bay over Arizona - (8-0 Used SDC, JAX, PIT, NEP, HOU, GBP, NYG, IND)

Tampa Bay is 3-1 at home. Arizona is having troubles, but Warner will be back under center after a much needed week off.

Trap Game: Tennessee over Carolina

Carolina is 0-3 at home and 4-0 on road. What’s up with that? Granted the teams they played on the road have been bad teams, but how can you be winless at home (losses to HOU, TBB, and IND)?

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.