The fantasy football playoffs are approaching at light speed, and if you're looking to make those final little fine tunings to your team's roster, with the waiver wire picked clean, the only way that's going to happen is to pull off a trade.
In some leagues, that's easier said than done as the "veto" rears its ugly head regardless of the fairness of the trade in question. However, before you can present any deal to the rest of your league for the stamp of approval, you first have to be able to get an agreement in place -- one you're happy with, as well.
Here, then, are a few tips and some rules of trading etiquette to take into consideration to make the wheeling and dealing a little easier to accomplish, and that championship trophy a little bit closer to a resting place on your mantel.
1. Look at the schedule: Sometimes the hardest thing to do when planning a deal is figuring out which players to target in the first place. Although it's no guarantee of success, you certainly want to consider players who are facing the weaker defenses in the league the rest of the way, and, by Week 11, most of these teams "are who we think they are." So if you need running back help, Jonathan Stewart, who has games with the Indianapolis Colts and two versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- both among the five most generous in terms of fantasy points allowed to RBs this season -- should be on your radar. Similarly, with Buffalo set to play all three "worst" fantasy defenses against the pass (Miami twice, New England and Denver) perhaps dealing for Donald Jones and David Nelson would be a good idea.
2. Look at the standings: Even if the upcoming schedule seems tasty, you can't ignore the fact that teams that are headed for the playoffs might opt to rest their starters as the regular season winds down to prevent the likelihood of unexpected injuries. There's nothing worse than playing in your league championship and having to hope you can get enough points from your studs in less than a quarter of play to win. So if you have a playoff berth well in hand, maybe it's time to consider dangling Aaron Rodgers, Frank Gore or Arian Foster out there to avoid a "Peyton-ing" in Week 16 or 17.
3. Say "bye" to your bench: Yes, injuries can still take place, and it's good to have an insurance policy in place in case one of your stars gets hurt. Having said that, if you need to start only two wide receivers and you have five top-20 guys on your roster, what good does holding on to someone like Julio Jones do for you if you're never going to start him over Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker or Mike Wallace? Now that the bye weeks are packing up for the year, it's time to lose the love toward those "15th-round steals" stashed on your bench and trade up for players who can actually help you by getting into your lineup.
4. Say "Helu" to handcuffs: A wiser use of that coveted bench space is to trade for handcuffs to your top-tier players. Deji Karim is far more valuable to the Maurice Jones-Drew owner who is holding his breath each and every time the Jaguars back is a little slow getting up after a hit than to any other owner in the league. Sure, the understudy might not perform as well as the star if disaster strikes, but if he's on your roster, at least you'll have somewhere to turn. Plus, if you're having trouble securing a deal for a player you really want and you see that solid second-stringer to one of your trading partner's starters on the waiver wire, you can grab him and add him to the deal to sweeten the pot enough to get the job done.
5. Value is in the eye of the beholder: As my esteemed editor Pierre Becquey likes to say, "You're trying to win the league, not the trade." Is Jake Ballard (54 points in ESPN standard formats) better than Roddy White (66 points)? It would be hard to make that argument. Still, if you've been stuck starting a tight end such as Anthony Fasano (34 points) each week and you have a wide receiver alternative such as Marques Colston (60 points) sitting on your bench gathering dust, who cares that a Ballard-White deal is not "equal value?" If trading Tom Brady for Marshawn Lynch is likely to give me five extra points a week, then show me where to sign.
6. Don't use the veto as a weapon: If you signed up to play in a league where trading is allowed, then allow trades to take place. Judge each deal on the merits, keeping in mind what we learned in Rule No. 5 above. If a deal makes both teams better, let it go through. Far too many owners ignore this and veto solely based on the league standings, making sure that a deal that benefits an owner battling with them for a playoff spot can't get done. That's no way to play the game. The veto should be used to stop shady and collusive trades, not deals you simply wish you could have made yourself.
7. Stay out of it, Nick Lachey: If you're in last place and have had only a passing interest in your league all season, don't suddenly jump into the mix and decide to try to have some influence over who wins it all. Don't trade your stars just because another owner asks you to. Don't send half your team to the waiver wire because you don't care anymore and have no chance to win. The best thing you can do is stay out of it and not get involved in the trading game at all.
8. There's always next year: Of course, if you're in a keeper league, Rule No. 7 need not apply. There's a difference between "dumping" in a one-and-done draft-from-scratch league and building for the future in a league where you can protect players. If you're 0-10 in 2011 but can trade away an aging Tony Gonzalez for Christian Ponder and a No. 2 draft pick, go right ahead. And if you're finishing last with Drew Brees as your quarterback, you can finish last without him. Trade him away for two or three up-and-comers who can form a more solid foundation for your 2012 fantasy hopes.
9. It is better to give than receive: Would you ever consider trading Ben Roethlisberger and getting only Kendall Hunter in return? Perhaps not, and such a deal may well be vetoed for being "unfair." However, let the league make that call. If Big Ben is your backup but is a better quarterback than the one on the team playing "the team you need to lose in order to make the playoffs," why not at least make the offer? If what you're receiving in return is something you actually need -- in this case, let's assume that you own Gore, so acquiring Hunter makes sense -- then this isn't collusion. It's simply smart.
10. Sleep on it: This works both ways. You never want to assume that your team can't get any better, so when an offer comes your way, don't dismiss it out of hand. Take some time and consider the deal -- even an insulting offer -- and all its implications for the future before rejecting it out of hand. Maybe it doesn't make sense in its current form, but perhaps you can turn it into something you'd be happy accepting. At the same time, just because your team might be struggling, don't simply make deals for the sake of making deals. Yes, if you're suffering through Chris Johnson and his disappointing season, you may want to kick him to the curb -- and that may well be the best course of action -- but don't simply grab the first deal that falls into your lap just because it's sitting there. Make sure any move you do make is one that won't cause you any sleepless nights three weeks down the road rather than just clicking "Accept" out of frustration.
Follow AJ Mass on Twitter: @AJMass