I was getting dressed the other day when I discovered that my mound of unpaired socks had curiously dwindled down to a group of crew socks with holes and a couple unwashed gym socks that migrated from the "must wash" pile to the "possibly wearable" mound. I'm not very good at laundry. I do have some standards, though, and so I rushed to find an acceptable pair. I went to the living room and found Chief laying on the ground among a pile of his bones, tennis balls and my socks. I knew we were in for a duel. As soon as I reached down for one of my favorite low-cuts, he snatched it with his mouth and made a break for the bedroom. Yeah, it's frustrating but I would be lying if I said I didn't admire his spirit of competition. Of course I could have bribed him with a Milk Bone but he had taken something of mine so I was determined to take something of his. I grabbed one of his tennis balls and followed him into the bedroom where he was perched on the bed. We stared each other down.
I knew he wanted that tennis ball more than the sock. Tennis balls are King in our household. I held it out before him and offered it up. Not wanting to show weakness, he bit down on the sock and stared at me. He judged my face, then he looked at the ball, looked back at me, at the ball, the sock, the ball, the sock, and back at the ball; he clearly wanted the ball. And in a few short seconds he made up his mind, dropped the sock and pounced on the ball, nearly taking my hand off with it. I snatched the sock once he let it go. Not even a puppy can have it all.
So here's the rub: everything in life, puppy-dueling and yes, fantasy football, is a trade-off.
At this point in the season you have a good idea where you stand. Your team might stink and it might be dominating, but in both cases, it can certainly get better. So Chief's dilemma got me thinking about what lessons could I glean from his daily plight to help make a team better via trade. Here's what I came up with:
1. Identify what you want and go get it: I didn't feed Chief a lick of "human" food until he was about nine months old. But that never stopped him from begging and scavenging for any scrap he could find. He has often succeeded in his relentless pursuit for anything edible, or anything inedible that might be edible.
Last week I was standing at the kitchen counter eating chips and accidentally dropped one onto the floor. Chief came sprinting in hot pursuit but discovered that the chip had landed behind a stool that I placed in the corner to block him from getting into the pantry to ravage cereal boxes (he learned how to open the pantry by smashing his head into door until it pops open). Rather than remove the chip and throw it away or eat it myself (just being honest), I decided to leave it there and see if he could get it. He bounced back and forth to either side of the stool and even tried to go through it to no avail. Eventually, he threw his body weight into a leg of the stool and nudged it out of the way enough to lunge back and get the chip: mission accomplished.
Owners covet certain players the same the way that Chief covets food. Some are attainable, others not so much, but there's a creative solution for just about anything. In either case, you have to start by making an offer or starting a conversation. In my experience the better practice is to initiate trade talk privately with separate owners rather than posting on the message board that a player is on the block. If you opt for the latter, I think that other owners tend to take it as a sign of desperation or a willingness to make any deal just to get a deal done. After all, that owner has openly declared his desire to trade a certain player. So start by making separate offers or sending emails. If need be, make a posting. You can--and should--use offers received to play them off one another.
2. Use all available resources: For Chief, this means using all his skills and abilities to conquer the ultimate prize. He's short and stocky but deceivingly athletic. His belly looks like a barrel but he's surprisingly quick, though he lacks the endurance to run for any great distance. He understands angles and he's a master of his surroundings. He's kind of the Dwight Freeney of bulldogs. In his quest for food and socks, he has jumped over tables, climbed onto snack trays, crawled through coffee tables and sacrificed his body in every conceivable way to achieve the ultimate goal.
For you, this means using all your players, including your bench players, to improve the starting lineup. Bye weeks are in full force and indeed depth is worth something, but the bottom line is the bottom line: your starters have to put up a lot of points. It's already week five. It's nice to have legitimate starters on the bench that you can plug in when need be, but don't hoard players at the expense of an inferior starting lineup. Of course if you have a known injury risk starting, e.g., Matt Schaub, it's not a bad idea to keep a good backup. But if you have a glut of talent at any position and an obvious weakness elsewhere, it's time to make a trade.
3. Know your opponents (to get what you want): Chief knows that my girlfriend and I are suckers for his pathetic look when he wants a bite of our food. At this point he's broken our resolve to keep him on a diet of exclusively dog food, so it's a losing battle. He doesn't always succeed, though; I've threatened to get Michael Vick on him if he will not give me space.
It's important to know your potential trade partners. Even if you don't know them personally, the draft results, standings and obviously previous trades is useful information. There's usually a homer in every league that will find a way to collect a number of players from his favorite team. And there's usually someone in the league that has a habit of making an impetuous trade after a big loss. A great trade target is the "hard luck loser", the team low in standings with a ton of points. Tell them that they ought to "shake things up". You might be surprised but the power of suggestion actually works sometimes. Just don't be a jerk about it.
4. Be persistent: Bulldogs are notoriously stubborn. Chief is very stubborn. Call it stubbornness or persistence, the pooch simply does not give up. Case in point: I was laying down recently with a book and he approached me with a tennis ball in his mouth and shoved it in my lap. "Not now Chief," I said. He snarled, shook the ball and shoved it back in my lap. I laughed. "Chief, I'm reading." Dogs aren't exactly receptive to reasoning. He did it again. "Not now!" Then he growled, snarled and hopped up, shoved the ball into my chest and knocked the book out of my hands in the process. I caved. We played fetch for 20 minutes.
Even if someone in your league says they don't want to trade, just keep throwing offers in their face. Eventually something might intrigue them, or maybe they will counteroffer. Here's a classic line that worked for me once: "I would be really disappointed if we couldn't get something done here." The owner opened up and sent a counter that worked for me and deal was done. I think that everyone, however risk-adverse, gets caught up in the excitement of making a team-altering trade. Take advantage of that dynamic and keep someone engaged until you can finalize a deal.
5. When in doubt, sleep on it: One of Chief's greatest skills is his ability to fall asleep anywhere at a moment's notice. Don't settle for the first offer or just a decent offer. Shop players around before accepting something. And when in doubt, sleep on it.
There's enough of a sample now this season that you can identify the players that may be overachieving, or underachieving. Target the underachievers (Matt Forte) and trade the overachievers (Pierre Garcon?).
So what would the Dog Whisperer say about the way I have raised Chief? I'm not sure I want to know. But he's my dog and your team is your team, so just do the best you can.
Check back in here every Friday around lunchtime where Brett Smiley will fill you in on everything in the world of sports and fantasy sports from the bizarre to the practical to the relatively unimportant.