Before you know it, the fantasy football playoffs will be upon us. With many a league's trade deadline fast approaching (Noon ET on Wednesday, Nov. 21 in ESPN standard leagues), the clock is ticking on a chance to make those final little tweaks to your fantasy rosters. At this point, with the waiver wire likely picked clean, the only way to improve your lot is to finagle a deal.
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 its stamp of approval, you first have to get an agreement in place -- one that you're happy with, at that.
Here, then, are a few tips and some rules of trading etiquette to take into consideration in order to make the wheeling and dealing a little easier to accomplish and get 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. While 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. By Week 11, most of these teams "are who we think they are." So if you need running back help, Maurice Jones-Drew -- assuming he can return to action by Week 12 -- will have a pair of games against the Tennessee Titans and one each against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. All three of those squads rank in the bottom 10 in fantasy points allowed to running backs this season. Similarly, with Carolina set to play two of the three worst fantasy defenses against the pass (New Orleans and Tampa Bay), perhaps dealing for Steve Smith or Brandon LaFell would be a good idea. Christopher Harris did a lot of this work for you in last week's Hard Count.
2. Look at the standings: Even if the upcoming schedule seems tasty, you can't ignore the fact that NFL teams headed for the playoffs may opt to rest their starters as the regular season winds down to prevent unexpected injuries. There's nothing worse than playing in your league championship and having to hope that you can get enough points from your studs in less than a quarter of play in order to win. If you have a playoff berth well in hand, maybe it's time to consider dangling Roddy White, Tom Brady or Arian Foster out there in order to avoid a "Peytoning" in Week 16 or 17. Heck, the way the Denver Broncos are playing, your Peyton Manning may well get "Peytoned" himself.
3. Say "bye" to your bench: Yes, injuries can still happen, 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 Torrey Smith do you if you're never going to start him over Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson or A.J. Green? 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 get into your lineup.
4. Where there's D-Will, there's a way: A wiser use of that coveted bench space is to trade for handcuffs to your top tier players. Robert Turbin is far more valuable to the Marshawn Lynch owner who is holding his breath each and every time the Seahawks back is a little slow getting up after a hit than to any other owner in the league. Sure, the understudy may 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 -- like DeAngelo Williams might be to the owner of Jonathan Stewart -- you can grab him with the goal of sending him away as part of the package in order to sweeten the pot enough to get the job done.
5. Value is in the eye of the beholder: Is Jermaine Gresham (58 points, ESPN standard) better than Cam Newton (143 points)? It would be hard to make that argument. Still, if you've been stuck starting a tight end like Dallas Clark (30 points) week after week and you have a quarterback alternative like Tony Romo (127 points) sitting on your bench gathering dust, who cares that a Gresham-Newton deal is not equal value? If trading Reggie Wayne for Shonn Greene is likely to give me five extra points a week, 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. 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 that you simply wish you could have made yourself.
7. "No matter how you do, no matter what you say": 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 just before Thanksgiving and decide to try to have some influence over who wins it all. Trust me, doing so does not mean "we we we are gonna have a good time." 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 to stay out of it and not get involved in the trading game at all.
8. There's always next year: 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 2012 but can trade away potential retiree Tony Gonzalez for Ryan Tannehill and a No. 2 draft pick, go right ahead. If you're finishing last with Aaron Rodgers 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 2013 fantasy hopes.
9. It is better to give than receive: Would you ever consider trading Andrew Luck away 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 Luck is your backup but he is a better quarterback than the one on the team currently playing the team you need to lose 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 Frank 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. 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 may be struggling, don't simply make deals for the sake of making deals. Yes, if you're suffering through Jamaal Charles and his fairly disappointing season, you may want to kick him to the curb. 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 that 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.