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How to Make a Good Trade in Fantasy Football and Win Your League

On the surface, making a trade in fantasy football is straight math, but not necessarily the kind of math most fantasy football players use. Ultimately, understanding this unique math is key to a successful fantasty football trade and a winning strategy.

Frequently, one fantasy football participant will offer a competitor a straight-up, one player for one player deal, and justify the trade along the lines of "Tom Brady is averaging 20 points per game and I'm giving you Calvin Johnson in return, who is also averaging 20 points per game." While most fantasy football players would agree that this trade is, on its surface, fair, it's also possible that the trade puts one of the players at a huge disadvantage because they're overloaded at the position that's being traded. For instance, if the player getting Tom Brady already has Aaron Rodgers, then the trade makes no sense.

This is one of the many keys to a successful fantasy football trade. There's a lot more to getting good value in your trades than merely adding up the production and trading for equal production. Trading in fantasy football can involve a mix of complex and not-so-complex strategies that, used properly, can give the skilled trader a huge advantage over his opponents.

Below are a number of strategies and tips that can be employed to get the most value from your trades in fantasy football.

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  • Make sure your overall scoring expectations go up - This is one of the big keys to any fantasy football trade and one that many people, for whatever nutty reason, overlook. Actually, a lot of people suck at math, so that's probably the reason. Anyway, the first evaluation you should make is whether or not your overall team scoring expectation will go up or down. So, if somebody is trying to get Aaron Rodgers from you and offering Joe Flacco and Eric Decker but you already have two or three quality wide receivers, all you're really doing is lowering your scoring expectation at QB. On the flip side, one way to make a great trade is to somehow increase your team's scoring expectation while also increasing the scoring expectation of your trading partner while also not giving up anyone on your starting lineup.
  • Attempt to trade non-starters for starters - Anytime you can make a trade for a quality starter by giving up bench players, you've made a good trade. If you look at the above roster, I traded Ryan Torain and Heath Miller to get Andre Johnson. Although Johnson was injured at the time, I gave up two players who weren't even starters on my team, so I lost nothing even if Johnson never came back from injury.
  • Always scour the waiver wire - A player you pick up on the waiver wire one week can turn into trade bait the next, particularly if he has a good game. Sometimes a waiver wire player can turn into a trade the same week. Always pick up players on waivers unless you have the greatest bench on earth.
  • Always counter offer any trade unless it's perfect - Rarely, if ever, will another player offer you the best possible trade, so you should always counter. This is just a basic lesson in negotiation: don't start with your best offer. Likewise, when you're initiating a trade, don't offer the best option first. Always see if your trading partner will accept less than you're willing to give. In other words, don't show all your cards right away.
  • Don't trade away one stud for two lower level players - The classic crappy trade is something like Russell Wilson and Miles Austin for Adrian Peterson. Somebody in fantasy football is always trying to convince somebody else that just because the point production of two players is better than the average point production of the player being traded for, that somehow that makes the trade fair. NEVER use that kind of calculus in fantasy football. It's a complete sham.
  • Propose trades during BYE weeks - Fantasy football players feel vulnerable during their bye weeks, particularly if they drafted without a thought to the fact that four of their players were going to be on bye the same week. If you can offer up a trade that fills a couple of spots for somebody during a bye week, odds are it's going to be a weaker trade for them and a better trade for you because they're feeling vulnerable.
  • Prey on weaknesses - Teams with losing records are always ripe for a good trade because it's obvious that if a team is losing, it needs to do something. This is the situation where you're likely to be able to trade them two mediocre players for one stud. It's always worth a try. Similarly, always look at teams and identify at what positions they're weak and try to upgrade them at that position without hurting yourself.
  • Trade unreliable players at their maximum value - Maybe you picked up a passable RB during your bye week and he had a huge game. That's the time to trade him away. You know he's mediocre, but you're going to sell high and offer him to a team with a weakness at running back.
  • Be flexible trading with teams that can help you by beating others - Some trades can just be a fairly even swap of players at the same position. Why do this? Because that team might be playing teams with winning records that you need to lose in order to win your division or make the playoffs. If you make a trade that results in a team losing and you making the playoffs even though you didn't really benefit your scoring average by doing so, you still made a great trade.
  • Look toward the playoffs - If you've got a winning record and look to be on the road to the playoffs, start checking the schedules of players you covet and seeing who is playing weaker teams and who has a brutal schedule. If you can stockpile your roster with players whose schedule eases up around fantasy football playoff time, you put yourself in a great position to be champion of your league.
  • Offer a fair trade, but one that's to your advantage - This seems like the simplest thing, but nobody is going to trade with you if you offer bad trades all the time. The trade has got to be fair. You don't even necessarily have to sell it, but it should always favor you.
  • Don't get hooked by a name, only by performance - Sometimes a player has a great reputation because of their performances in past seasons but are having a bad season this year. During the 2011 NFL season, Chris Johnson was probably the classic example. Just because the guy was great last season does not mean he'll be great this season, so don't give up Calvin Johnson just because somebody is trying to convince you that Chris Johnson is going to turn it around any game now.
  • Attempt trades during critical junctures during the season - When's the best time to make a trade offer? When the other team realizes that they're on the precipice of failure. In other words, if everyone in your league knows that it takes 7 wins to make the playoffs and they're 3 games left, target teams with 4 and 5 wins. Those teams are going to be desperate to improve, knowing that if they don't do something, they won't make the playoffs.

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Actual Value vs. Potential Value

We'll call this "AV vs. PV" for short because maybe it'll go viral and I'll be invited to write a column for ESPN. Actual value vs. potential value is a critical component of understanding what value a potential trading partner places on players. This can work both for you and against you. I'll offer up a couple of examples. These both occurred during the 2014 football season. The first trade was this one: Alfred Morris, the Miami defense, and Michael Floyd for LeSean McCoy and Rueben Randle. At the time this trade was proposed, in the ninth week of the season, Alfred Morris had outperformed LeSean McCoy. He had scored more fantasy points. However, the trade was not made because the owner with McCoy placed a very high value on him based both on his potential value and on his value the previous season.

Do I think this is a good trade for the McCoy owner? I don't know, but if you're not willing to consider it, then you value both potential and reputation over actual value, which means that you are susceptible to being conned by a player's reputation though he may not be performing. Such a trade occurred earlier in the season: Randall Cobb for Frank Gore. The owner who got Cobb benefitted far more than the owner who got Gore. Sure, it was impossible to predict at the time that Gore was going to tank, but that trade was made more on reputation than on reality. If an owner values reputation more than reality, take advantage.


Father Of Four from Just ahead on January 06, 2012:

You know your stuff and this is really well put together. Well done.

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