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The Art of Swapping

A discussion of fantasy football strategy will be way down the list if you Google 'The Art of Swapping'. And, while there appear to be reams of interesting information on the topic of swapping, there is precious little discussion around the impact swapping has on a successful fantasy football campaign. So, as a public service to all those frustrated swappers out there, I offer the following guide on how best to approach this critical element of your fantasy arsenal.

An eroding skill

More and more, trading in fantasy football is being eliminated from the rule book. Most high dollar leagues disallow trading. Why? Because the higher the stakes, the more competitive are the participants. Even the fairest of trades can become controversial and divisive. I've seen the meekest personalities strike down with great vengeance and furious anger, those who are perceived to be skewing the balance of power through an inappropriate trade. Many commissioners prefer to just bypass the whole mess and disallow trades entirely.

But, what fun is that? This is America, and here we are taught to advance by climbing over the corpses of our competitors. So, if persuasion is something you are good at, then you absolutely need to seek out those opportunities where you can leverage your talent. A well executed trade is something to be embraced, not demonized and outlawed. How boring would the NFL be if trading was disallowed because it might upset some of the owners? How could we ridicule and deride Dan Snyder otherwise!

With that, I'll climb down off of my soap box, and delve into the finer points of trading, and discuss how I think trades should be approached for maximum effectiveness.

Build rapport

Owners are almost always happy with their teams coming out of a draft. So, it makes little sense to start trying to architect blockbuster trades immediately. I make a point to engage in early dialogue with every owner in my league. I want owners to feel comfortable around me, and I want to be very easy to talk to. Without sounding too much like Dr. Phil, I think trades are frequently the product of good relationships, and you have to make an effort to establish that.

This brings us to 'Trash Talk' which I believe is anathema to trading. We're not trying to attract mates for propagation of the species (at least most of us), so leave the chest thumping for the amateurs. If money is on the table, then you should conduct yourself as a professional. You can not afford to alienate anyone. A harsh comment may feel good at the time, but it also may eliminate 16-20 players that might have been instrumental in your stretch run to the playoffs.

On the flip side, if a handful of owners are flaming someone for slow drafting, or questionable selections, I make a point to publicly weigh in with cutting the guy some slack. Everything I do is designed to make every owner think of me 'first' when he/she decides it's time to talk trade.

Team strengths and weaknesses

Sometimes I think owners don't even look at rosters when they are trying to formulate trades. How many times have we been offered the exact opposite of what we need? I'm getting killed at WR, and someone offers me their third best RB for a WR. Hello! McFly!

Be smart. Look for an abundance of strength at one position to bolster weakness at another position. And do this by finding the opposite scenario on another squad. Now we have something to talk about. Assume the other owner is savvy, and is not going to blindly participate in one sided trades. Don't be afraid to go into detail with your logic and why you think the trade is a 'win / win'.

Responding to trade offers

By my way of thinking, there is no such thing as a bad trade offer. No matter how laughable the offer might be, I consider it more desirable than isolation. Why? Because it opens the door to dialogue, and it tells me something about how the owner assesses talent. I do not ignore the offer, and I never express indignant outrage. I'm courteous and appreciative of the offer. If it makes no sense to me, I try to explain the logic from my perspective.

Open ended offers

I frequently lead with an open ended offer as a way to initiate dialogue. Rather than talk about specific players, I try to discuss the situation. "I'm getting killed at WR lately and I see you have some strong receivers that are languishing on your bench. What would it take to get you to move one of them?" Something like this is a great way to get the conversation started without having to tip your hand. I'd much rather have another owner name names if at all possible.

Open ended counter offers are also effective. "Hey, I can't let Westbrook go for Ron Dayne right now, as Westbrook has really been carrying me. But thanks for the offer. But listen, I do see you're stacked at WR. Are you interested in using any of those guys to bolster your RB strength?"

Situations to exploit

A Bye Week Mistake - This is the most likely scenario in which an owner might be receptive to an early trade. It happens even to the best owners. Whoops. Edge and Curtis Martin have the same bye week. Bring it to their attention and see if maybe you can help each other.

Early Panic - Losing a couple of games out of the gate may cause some owners to get itchy trigger fingers. Make sure you touch base with an owner who starts out 0-2, and follow up if he goes 0-3.

Teams that are on the bubble - I especially like to reach out to the teams who are in 'must win' situations. These teams are the most likely to dump a good player, with good playoff matchups in order to maximize the chance of winning an immediate game to get into the playoffs.

2fers

Offering two players for one is not often a successful ploy, but I do think it can sometimes make sense. A twist to the two for one is to offer any two players on your roster for a named 'stud' player on another team. This works best when the stud player you are targeting is surrounded with mediocrity and a losing record. You have to obviously be prepared to lose two good players, but sometimes that is worth it. What is easy to overlook is the other owner has to give you a second player just to make room on his roster. Sometimes you'll be surprised at who they package. And, even if the second player is not a fit, you can drop for a free agent. The impact of visualizing two players for one can be tempting. Before you reject giving two for one out of hand, look at whom you can pluck from the waiver wire and make sure you still don't like the deal.

Sacrificial trades

There are times when it might make sense to sacrifice a little immediate value for longer term gains.

Playoff Positioning - Once I have a playoff spot secured, I start looking at favorable matchups over the playoff weeks. A lateral trade, or even a trade that might be considered a small step backwards, might pay off in big dividends during the playoffs.

Defensive trade - One of the most controversial maneuvers around, but for those owners who feel that this is not crossing the ethical boundary into collusion; they certainly could consider the strategic use of a defensive trade. A defensive trade is made not so much to help you directly, but rather to influence the elimination of an opponent you'd rather not face in the playoffs. We've probably all seen the scenario. A team that got off to a rough start has made some trades and free agent acquisitions and they are now on fire. They have the longest winning streak in the league and no one wants to face them in the playoffs. If a timely loss down the stretch keeps them out, many owners will have no problem with sacrificing a little depth to another owner that might just result in derailing a juggernaut march to the playoffs.

Summary

While the art of the deal seems to be frequently fading from the fantasy football landscape, trading players can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the fantasy football experience. It would be a shame to see trading eventually outlawed altogether. Trades can rekindle a struggling squad, or they can leave you scratching your head in frustration. A well executed trade that has been nourished over time and through sound logic is definitely a point of pride with many owners.

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