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Getting sick of my analogy that building a winning fantasy roster is like building a sturdy table? I'm about there. This is the last time. I swear on the life of Bramuel L. Jackson.
My three favorite legs of the winning fantasy table are the draft, lineup decisions, and free agency. Create these legs with knowledge and skill and your fantasy table will be sturdy enough to support your league's trophy.
There are four-legged fantasy tables in existence that can support a winner. This may seem like common sense. I find that you first have to believe there's such a thing as "common sense."
Four-legged fantasy tables that can hold up a winner are a lot like four-leaf clovers. Both exist, both are rare, and people talk themselves into thinking that they found one.
I don't like building four-legged fantasy tables. Most of them are too lopsided.
What is this fourth leg that's so problematic? Mastering the art of the trade. It's usually the leg that's the shortest on knowledge and skill. Most fantasy owners that rely heavily on this fourth leg wind up searching the basement at midseason for a phone book, a dictionary, or an outdated trade publication to place under that leg.
Without one--or all three--of these emergency props, the trophy often slides off the tabletop and into the greedy little hands of your opponent. Admit it, we all envision our competition having those abnormally small hands like the guy in the Burger King commercial. It's not just me.
Ok, maybe it is just me. But you have to admit, it adds a rich interior drama to the season, doesn't it?
When I really want to take it up a notch, I imagine Jene Bramel's head and face as a Chia version of Samuel Jackson's hitman in Pulp Fiction. 5-ish, one of our most twisted and dedicated Audible listeners, mocked this up for us:
I know, right? Just imagine Bramuel L. Jackson reciting Ezekiel 25:17 as he's entering his lineup in a showdown with your squad.
(Yes, therapy is a good idea. It has been recommended several times.)
I've had enough experiences constructing winning fantasy tables to tell you that while I prefer the three-legged variety, my absolute favorite model has four legs: Three sturdy, evenly balanced limbs under the tabletop and the fourth just big enough to get a good grip so I can beat anyone over the head who tries to steal my trophy. Adding a few rusty nails at the striking end of the leg is a bonus.
Ok, I didn't mean it about the fourth leg. Rusty nails aren't good sportsmanship.
One of the least discussed aspects of fantasy football is the art of the deal. Broaching a conversation, recognizing value, engaging in a winning negotiation, and closing the deal are all important parts of a misunderstood craft. However, few people value the process over the product and it makes some fantasy owners short-sighted about wheeling and dealing.
It's this reason alone why trading is the least appealing method of building a team. Fellow Footballguys writer Matt Harmon and I had this discussion the other day. Fantasy writers fall back on the idea that if you make choice x about a player and situation y happens, you can just flip him later in a trade.
And when the floodwaters rise to threaten your home, you can wipe it all up with a single ply of Brawny.
"Tre Mason is a perfect example this year," says Harmon about the Rams back tabbed for the early workload. "When I read that 'you can just trade him at some point before Gurley returns,' I don't think those writers are accounting for the wealth of information fantasy information out there. Unless you play in a league with a bunch of dunderheads you won't likely pull the wool over their eyes."
Tricking your competition is not the goal of developing skill as a good fantasy negotiator. There are times you will get the better end of the deal to an extent that another owner in the league will see the trade and fire off an email along the lines of Did you at least kiss [him] first?
Turn around and engage that owner in a negotiation and he'll make offers where you feel like he hasn't even asked you out to dinner. We all value players different enough that one offer appears fair to an owner that another finds one-sided. It's why trading is the riskiest way to build a team: One deal can dramatically help or hurt your squad in any format.
Although there is no true rule book of player value, it doesn't mean you should feign ignorance while willfully taking advantage of another. Eventually those owners won't want to deal with you.
This is a point I covered in last year's article, "The One Trade Advice Article You Need to Read." It's a piece that details the philosophy behind a good negotiator:
- Adopting a Negotiator's Mindset
- Being More Process-Oriented Than Results-Oriented
- Be Willing to Lose Big to Win Big
- Know What You're Willing to Give and Take
- Understanding the Framework of the Negotiation as the Seller and the Buyer
- Learning Common Buyer and Seller Motivations
- The Counter Offer
Read last year's piece and you're on your way to developing a sound, long-term approach to making trades that will benefit your team, your reputation, and your connections to your competition as a fantasy owner. This year's article covers a few helpful negotiation techniques.
Make offers to multiple owners
Who cares if you have designs on one player, don't limit your opportunity to create a better deal than you imagined because you need a proven WR1 and you're fixated on acquiring Antonio Brown. Every owner values players a little (and sometimes a lot) differently.
Use this to your advantage. You'll often discover through a negotiation that what you have to give up for Brown isn't nearly as advantageous to your team as what little you have to fork over for Randall Cobb by comparison.
Maybe your initial plan to acquire Brown arose from your need of a WR1, but when you made multiple offers--including one for Jordy Nelson--you received a counter offer that involved DeAndre Hopkins and Jordan Matthews. It helped you realize that your team would benefit more from multiple starters that may lack Brown's upside and you'll get more help than you anticipated while giving up less in return.
Offers to multiple owners could also help you learn enough about how your league values players. Use that knowledge as leverage to negotiate for your intended target.
You make an offer to Team A for Brown and Team B for Nelson in Week 6 of a re-draft league. Through those discussions, you discover that Team B wants one player less--or a less valuable player--for Nelson.
You do a little research on both players and Nelson has faced a much tougher scheduled than Brown the past three weeks and has actually outscored the Steelers receiver. The schedule ahead for Nelson is also slightly more favorable than Brown's.
You can use that knowledge two ways: If the owner shows real interest and need in a player you're offering, attempt to negotiate a better deal for Brown by telling your potential trade partner that you can get Nelson (who has out-performed Brown) for less and they need to adjust the deal. Or, take the Nelson deal right away if you agree there's more value with the Packer's receiver after doing the research.
The main point is to create multiple options for a potential deal. It will broaden your perspective about what will help your team, give you potential leverage for negotiation, and reduce the self-imposed pressure of getting one deal done or bust.
Draft-Day Trades: (a) Encourage Initial Discussions, (B) Encourage Good offers, (C) Ask what They're Targeting and (D) Make preliminary offers around your hopeful landing spot
This technique worked well for me this week in the Footballguys Staff IDP Dynasty League's rookie draft. I have the third spot (1.03, 2.03, etc.) after a 5-8 season where Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy got suspended; Derrick Johnson tore his Achilles; and Stephen Jackson, Roddy White and Reggie Wayne "played old" faster than I hoped.
My "viable starters" at running back to begin the season are Joique Bell (drafted), DeAngelo Williams, and waiver wire addition Jonathan Stewart. I can field 1-2 starting RBs in this league and it's my primary need.
I could have ignored conventional ADP and taken Ameer Abdullah at 1.03. That's the right call if you think a player far exceeds his peer value and you can't make a deal to get him at a more advantageous spot.
Maybe your league doesn't do draft-day trades or your league mates won't respond to your offers. If you can make deals and the player you want has a lower value than where you're thinking about picking him, you should initiate a discussion.
There are two ways to do this:
- Method No.1: Send trade offers to specific teams.
- Method No.2: Email your league and tell them that you'll be picking later this evening/morning/weekend because you're considering offers sent your way.
I generally have offers when I say I do, but you don't have to have any real offers on the table to use Method No.2 unless you find this morally wrong. Then by all means my straight-arrow friend, ignore my advice on this point and continue shooting true in every situation.
I think of Method No.2 as playing "negotiation poker." No one has to know that you didn't have any offers. It frames the conversation to your advantage, because it draws attention to the fact that you're amenable to a trade and encourages others to make offers.
It also encourages owners that see you're already engaged in negotiations to make a higher quality of offer. Not always, but the technique can discourage the sleaze factor--or at least tone it down. Remember, some people value players so differently that you might think the owner is predatory when his intentions are not.
There are some owners that value a first-round pick in a rookie draft as a coupon redeemable for a QB1, RB1, WR1, or a TE1 at their nearest location, and they're confused when they're turned down flat. Other owners believe that same rookie pick is worth a promising, but unproven option and little else. In their eyes, a player like Alshon Jeffery is worth multiple years of picks because he's a proven commodity and none of these rookies have made the gigantic leap from great college player to great NFL producer to earn much anything remotely to Jeffery's value.
Try to think of the differences this way and you'll be slower to respond with indignation when an owner offers a deal that looks suspect. You might be right, but it won't help you remain in a good frame of mind to negotiate with others.
When I emailed the Footballguys IDP Staff Dynasty League and told them I'd be taking my time with the 1.03 because I was considering deals, I had an offer from James Brimacombe:
- My 1.03 and 3.03
- His 1.06, 2.06, and LB Chad Greenway.
I didn't need the 32-year-old Greenway; I have Justin Houston, D'Qwell Jackson and C.J. Mosley--the No.3, No.31, and No.40 players overall in this league last year--and Johnson, Karlos Dansby, and Bruce Irvin as depth. With or without Greenwway, it was a fair offer to me. I figured I could try to get a third or fourth-round pick next year as an alternative to the aging linebacker.
I figured Brimacombe wanted Amari Cooper. With John Norton and Matt Bitonti as the picks separating mine and Brimacombe's I wanted to insure I could get Abdullah. Based on their rosters it appeared Norton had RB depth and was probably more interested in a receiver. Bitonti had use for a RB, WR, or TE.
That was the lingering question with the Brimacombe deal: Would Abdullah be available there? ADP at My Fantasy League filtered to rookie drafts after June 15 indicates Abdullah's ADP was 1.08. He was picked as early as 1.06.
I didn't want to rely solely on ADP. After all, these are Footballguys staffers and many of them follow their own path with success and without apology. The best thing to do was make some preliminary offers to the owners at 1.04 (John Norton) and 1.05 (Matt Bitonti).
Sometimes a preliminary offer has a completely different purpose than negotiating a trade. I had no intention of making deals with either of these owners; I liked the offer from Brimacombe. My purpose for these negotiations was to gain intelligence from Norton and Bitonti about their targets at 1.04 and 1.05?
This league has scoring rules where the best IDP performers are among the most valuable players. Sacks hold high enough value that Justin Houston is a top-five talent. Receptions for tight ends are elevated to the point that the No.6 TE in this league (Travis Kelce) had more value last year than the No.13 WR (Mike Evans).
I had Rob Gronkowski (No.6 overall) , Travis Kelce (No.67 overall), and Delanie Walker (No.76 overall) on my depth chart when this draft began. I can start two tight ends. Walker was also more productive than Mike Evans last year. Both Kelce and Walker were more valuable than Justin Forsett, the No.8 RB.
These are details important to the trade, but not to the overall strategy of floating a preliminary offer. I sent Bitonti an initial deal: His 1.05 and 2016 second-round pick for my 2016 first-round pick and Walker.
Bitonti needed tight ends. While I made the offer high enough that I'd be pleasantly surprised if he accepted it, I expected that he'd turn it down and engage me in conversation that at least explained why he didn't want the deal.
Bitonti did neither, turning me down with no response.
Instead of accepting the sound of crickets, I messaged Bitonti and asked him how he felt about the offer. He told me that he was really torn. He needed a good tight end, but there were only a few blue chip talents that would be available to him at 1.05 and he didn't want to miss out.
I asked Matt if he minded telling me who he was targeting. He shared that he was hoping for Yeldon, Cooper or Kevin White. This information gave me something I could use to continue negotiating the offer from I got from Brimacombe.
I circled back to Brimacombe, told him that I was seeking Ameer Abdullah in the trade down, and if I were to consider swapping firsts I'd need to know if he was considering a RB.
You don't need to be tight-lipped about all of your information. If you approach negotiations with a suspicious vibe then those you're dealing with will often respond in kind.
I didn't tell Bitonti who I wanted only because I was making the offer. I was coming from a place of trying to appeal to his interests, not mine. Brimacombe sought me out, so I could play the card of "this is what I need."
Meanwhile, Norton had asked me what I wanted for my 1.03. When I asked him who he was targeting I didn't get a response. I figured it was a receiver--likely Cooper--and I wasn't going to push the matter.
It didn't matter. If I could learn more about 1.05 and 1.06, I could negotiate to my advantage.
Brimacombe also wanted Cooper and if he coudn't get the receiver, he said he'd be happy with Nelson Agholor. The worst-case scenario was that I'd make the deal with Brimacombe, and barring an odd choice from Norton, I'd get Abdullah and a second, top-20 pick.
Ok, the worst-case scenario was Norton making the improbable choice of Abdullah. If so, I knew enough about Brimacombe's and Bitonti's targets to determine if I could live with that possibility.
The best-case scenario was one I didn't expect when I made my preliminary offer to Bitonti: He was torn about rejecting the deal, which meant he was open to further negotiation. If I hadn't asked him and took his silent rejection as gospel, I would have never known that I could consummate a deal by modifying the offer to my 2016 first-round pick and Walker for his 1.05 and a 2016 third-round pick.
It's exactly what I did and instead of holding the 1.03 and swapping it for the 1.06, I gave up a first next year and depth at TE for 1.05. Now I had leverage over Brimacombe if I needed it.
Before officially submitting the deal, I told Brimacombe that this trade would be going down and I was still interested in negotiating a deal with him. However, I would be taking Cooper at 1.03 and waiting to see if Norton would take Abdullah. If he did, I would have considered negotiating a swap if I could get Abdullah and a little extra for Cooper.
Norton took White. Now I could take Abdullah at 1.05 and either swap Cooper for the 1.06 and elevate my 3.03 to a 2.06 or I could keep Cooper and Abdullah. If I swapped the picks, I'd probably would have taken Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckam, T.J. Yeldon, or DeVante Parker.
I didn't expect to get the 1.05 with my intel-inducing offer to Bitonti. I didn't think I could get Cooper and Abdullah.
Norton saw my deal with Bitonti and next thing I know he's telling me that he's not attached to White. He invites me to make an offer. The idea of getting Cooper, White and Abdullah when my initial plan was to trade down for the Lions RB was not what I expected.
I still didn't expect it would happen, but you can't win if you don't play.
I offered top-35 producer LB D'Qwell Jackson for White, his second-round pick this year, and his third next year. It was more than I expected Norton to accept, but figured it was a starting point to work with.
I also set the price high because I didn't want to prolong negotiations unless the offer was really advantageous. Unless I can get a high enough pick to take a rookie defender to replace him--and there aren't many in this draft in a situation to do that right away--I need Jackson to compete in this league. Norton laughed off my offer and in response floated White and his 4.04 for my 1.05 and 2.03.
This negotiation is a perfect example of one owner (Norton) valuing early-round picks and rookie prospects similar to established fantasy starters and another (me) valuing early-round picks and rookie prospects lower than established fantasy starters. I told him I was glad that we could make each other laugh today and ended the negotiation.
After looking at the landscape of the picks, rookie pool, and my team, I decided to reject Brimacombe's offer and keep Cooper. He understood. How could he blame me? I didn't expect to get Cooper, I was just hoping to gain assurances I could swap down for Abdullah.
Is this a great deal? I don't know. I like it a lot. Two years from now I could regret I didn't take Agholor and that 2.03 or wish I wasn't so bullish on Abdullah to pass over Yeldon.
What I do know is that while going through the pains to insure I got the player I wanted based on in-depth study (you know, that RSP thing I publish in April) and I discovered I could also get a player I liked almost as much as a talent in Amari Cooper who could offer more first-year production and probably a better fantasy career in this league.
Make offers to multiple owners for a position you need. Make offers to multiple owners in the range your trying to move in drafts. Make offers with the intent to gather intelligence as often, if not more often, than you make them with the purpose to consummate deals.
The safest and easiest ways to build fantasy winners aren't through trades. Even so, do these three things as a fantasy owner and you'll feel far more flexible and confident about your dealings.
Then you can recite Ezekiel 25:17 right back to Bramuel L. Jackson.