Dan Marino was the first player I ever selected in a fantasy football draft. The year was 1993, and I was starting a keeper league with several of my college buddies. With the sixth overall pick, I claimed the future Hall of Fame quarterback. Five weeks later, I watched in horror as Marino tore his right Achilles tendon against the Cleveland Browns, and his season -- and his tenure as my fantasy quarterback -- came to an end.
At the time, because our league had only eight teams, we had a rule that you could pick up a free agent only if a player got hurt -- but you would lose the rights to said player if you did so. I have no recollection of what signal-caller I claimed off the waiver wire, but he must not have been too effective because I do remember that I ended up starting rookie Rick Mirer and rode him to a fantasy title. No, that's not a typo. Tom Brady owners, take heart. Perhaps a Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco can do the same for you in 2008.
Tom Brady's injury is a crippling blow to anyone who was relying on a repeat of his MVP numbers of a year ago. However, injuries happen every week in the NFL, and while it isn't always going to be a player of this magnitude who goes down -- in Week 1, no less -- your league should handle the Brady injury exactly the same way it would handle the Brodie Croyle injury, or any other for that matter. And yet, Brady had barely limped down the concrete staircase before the vultures started circling
First up, though, I received this letter from David of Colorado Springs on Friday (two days before the dreaded T.B. Day): "AJ, here's a quick question for you. I'm my league's commish, and two owners have agreed to a trade, Steven Jackson and Drew Brees for Tom Brady and DeAngelo Williams. I'm inclined to veto this trade, as I think the team giving up Brees and Jackson is giving up way too much, and therefore I feel this is extremely lopsided. Thanks in advance for any help."
I'm not sure whether or not David ultimately voided this deal, but if he did, Tom Brady's owner probably has a dart board with David's picture on it. Injury aside, Williams ended up more than doubling Jackson's Week 1 rushing totals, and while one week doesn't prove the fairness of the deal, it just goes to demonstrate yet again why you shouldn't substitute your judgment for that of your fellow owners when they've agreed to a deal. Vetoing a trade simply because "you wouldn't make it" is not a good enough reason. If David has indeed overstepped his bounds and vetoed the trade, then this decision has directly impacted the rest of the league's entire fantasy season, and likely changed the fantasy fortunes of both of these owners.
An even more difficult decision befalls the unlucky commissioner who has dragged his feet on approving a trade involving Tom Brady. Imagine the very plausible scenario of an owner agreeing in principle to a deal that would send Brady to a fellow owner, starting in Week 2. He submits the deal on the league Web site Saturday evening, and the other owner signs off on it. The commissioner now has a 24-hour review window to decide whether or not to let this trade go through. This should be a nonissue, but we all know what went down on Sunday. Immediately, the other owner sends out an e-mail saying he wants out of the trade, and that since it has yet to be approved, it should be voided.
Well, tough cookies! You make a deal, the chance of injury comes with it. If the commish had noticed the deal Saturday night, or Sunday morning, or two minutes before Brady's injury, the deal would have gone through. If Brady hadn't gotten hurt, and your commish waited until after the Patriots' game to click his approval, nobody would have whined or moaned. Once you agree to a deal, as long it was made in good faith, it's buyer beware but that's the key factor, being "in good faith." Calling up a fellow owner who is on a fishing trip and concocting a deal in which you give up Brady and Nate Burleson for Jon Kitna and Michael Turner before the poor sap can get to a TV set to hear about the carnage is simply not acceptable behavior.
But that doesn't mean you aren't allowed to take advantage of the situation. Take the question posed by Scoops Callahan on the ESPN message boards: "This guy has Brady and Vince Young as his quarterbacks. So do you think he will accept Jake Delhomme or Matt Hasselbeck for Jason Witten? We can't pick up free agents until Week 3." There's no ethical problem with offering to give a desperate Brady owner a quarterback and charging him higher than market value. If the best thing on the waiver wire is Tarvaris Jackson, then he's going to have to deal with somebody, especially if he was foolish enough not to draft a good backup, based on Brady's past durability -- especially if your league rules prohibit him from presently grabbing the Vikings' signal-caller.
Trading doesn't always have to be fair; it just has to be on the same level. The desperate Brady owner likely will have to overpay for a replacement, but that doesn't make such a deal veto-worthy. But of course, if your league has been foolish enough to give owners the right to veto, perhaps any trade will be blocked out of jealousy for not having won the "screw Brady's owner sweepstakes." If that's the bed you've made for yourselves, then that's where you shall lie down.
It's also not an ethical problem to grab Matt Cassel off the waiver wire if you have the No. 1 waiver priority, even if you don't need him. If you want to steal either Cassel or whoever you feel is the best free-agent quarterback so that your opponent doesn't grab him, that's fine as long as you're following your league rules in doing so. However, if the only reason Owner X was able to grab Cassel was because he was first to log on to the league site, a mere two seconds after Brady got hurt, then perhaps you need to have a better system in place, especially if the same owner then proceeded to grab Kerry Collins and Damon Huard as well. Otherwise, your league has about as much chance of lasting as Tom Brady does of throwing for 300 yards for the Patriots in Week 2.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.