Negotiation Strategy: Five Tips for your Fantasy Football Trades

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It’s a wonderful time of year! A new era of football players is being ushered into the NFL — and fantasy dynasty leagues — via the annual draft. For both professional GMs and avid fantasy managers, all of this activity creates countless opportunities for trades. Want to move up in the first round? Eschew your pick for a steady veteran? Trade with a less patient manager for a better future pick?

While every trade is different, there are a number of useful principles that can guide us across the fantasy landscape. I took a negotiations class this spring and could not wait to apply the strategies to fantasy football trades. Without further ado, here are a couple of crucial takeaways.

Be Aggressive — But Not Too Aggressive — With Your First Offer.

Everyone knows that fantasy trades can have plenty of back and forth. Can I give you a 2nd rounder instead of a first rounder? How about I throw in $30 FAAB to seal the deal?

If you are aiming to trade for a certain player, it’s likely that you are going to make the first offer. Leading experts suggest that the initial offer should be tilted in your favor; there’s no reason to give unnecessary concessions right off the bat. For example, if you think that Justin Fields brings the same value as a first and a second-rounder, it can’t hurt to ask for two firsts.

This serves two purposes. First, maybe your counterpart will just agree to the aggressive offer, and any concession you made would have been unnecessary! Second — and more likely — is that they reject the first offer, but the negotiation has been anchored. This concept of ‘anchoring’ is popular in psychology: the first number thrown out has a powerful, enduring effect on people’s judgments. Anchoring helps to frame the conversation in your favor!

Of course, you don’t want to be too aggressive, since this could just lead to your league-mate rolling their eyes and walking away. For example, you might offer Justin Fields for three first-rounders, which is a pretty ridiculous price. “Well,” your league-mate thinks, “that’s nowhere near what I am willing to give up, so I’m just going to ignore this.” Negotiation over.

So, to sum up: don’t worry about sending a trade offer that slightly favors you. It pays to be aggressive, since people are often uncertain about the proper valuation of a trade… but don’t get too crazy, or the door will close in your face.

Reputation is Important

Dynasty league trades are, essentially, repeated games. You are going to have long relationships and repeated interactions with your league-mates, and it doesn’t help to swindle them in a trade.

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My colleague Nate Henry wrote about the idea of re-framing fantasy football trades to not have a clear winner or loser. This is a similar idea: if you ‘trick’ or ‘outwit’ your trade partner, they are bound to realize it eventually, and then they (and the rest of the league) are unlikely to trade with you again.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. You still want to look for an edge in your trades and do your best to add more value to your team than you are giving up. But — it doesn’t pay in the long run to engineer trades that are so egregious as to earn you a reputation as a con artist. If you are a hard but fair negotiator, teams will be more willing to listen to your overtures.

The Power of Walking Away

An important concept in game theory is the ‘credible threat’. You can always threaten to pull out of a deal or play a move that will hurt your opponent; if that threat isn’t credible, though, then you will be mostly ignored.

The same holds true in fantasy football. If another team knows that you are desperate to make a trade by any means — that can include trading for one of their players, or trading one of your players away — then they can drive the price up, because they know you won’t walk away. If you aren’t interested in a certain trade, be decisive and clear to that end.

One way to achieve this strategy is to know your ‘walk away point’ beforehand. If you won’t accept anything other than an early first-round pick for DeVonta Smith, then stick to that. This helps to avoid ‘deal fever’ which is wanting to complete the trade so badly that you settle for something you didn’t originally want.

Cool as a Cucumber

It’s easy to let emotions run amok in fantasy football, and it’s especially easy when your league-mate just isn’t accepting your spectacular offers. It can be tempting to lambaste them, to their face or over the group chat. Why can’t you see that this trade works for both of us? How could you be so foolish?

In general, employing this type of response (and otherwise heated emotions) is a bad idea. This is partly because of the reputation piece discussed earlier: people are going to be less likely to trade with you if they know they might be on the receiving end of a roasting (no matter how warranted it is). You are also more likely to spark a stubborn response: your league-mate digs their heels in and refuses to cede to your yelling.

In these situations, it’s better to calmly explain your trade rationale and, if they still aren’t biting, take the trade off the table (see one point above). Easier said than done, of course!

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Use the Trading Environment to Your Advantage

Most modern fantasy football trades are offered, countered, and discussed on a mobile app. These apps have lots of nice features that can augment the trading process: exploding offers (that expire in a short period of time), optional messages that you can send to your trading partner, options for multiple packages, etc. You want to construct these processes so as to be as advantageous to you as possible.

What does this mean? Generally, I won’t respond to exploding offers, since I don’t want to be subject to the time pressure that they imply (which might make me accept a worse deal). Take advantage of the ‘counter’ option to come back with an offer that’s slightly more in your favor. And, if you sense that you are in a bidding war — i.e., your opposing manager is shopping the deal to other players in the league — then don’t get caught up in a competitive fervor. No need to drive the price of a deal up unnecessarily.

However, if you are shopping for a specific deal, you want as many counterparts in play as possible… for the exact same reason (more competitors probably means a better price for you). Make sure people are aware that you are interested in moving a specific player so that other teams have the opportunity to come to the table. Of course, don’t appear desperate, as we’ve discussed above!

Remember that these are general rules of thumb, not intractable laws. Every situation is different. And yet — leveraging the concepts discussed above will help you be the best negotiator you can possibly be!

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Want to hear more? Let me know on Twitter.

Thanks to Professor Graeber for the introduction to many of these concepts.

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