1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002
Pulling the Trade Trigger
Knowing when to hold or fold your players
By Joe Levit
November 13, 2003

Trading players is one of the more difficult things to accomplish in a fantasy football season. It’s challenging to agree with another owner at the same time about the relative values of players in an exchange, especially in multiple-player deals. It’s even harder sometimes to let go of your own players, especially if they have single-handedly won a game for you. Still, since beneficial trades often springboard a team to success in the second half of the fantasy season (the one that includes the playoffs) it is worth your time to pursue outstanding swaps.

There is no bad time to make a good trade, but there are better times in the football season, and in the course of your fantasy year, to make changes to your lineup. Injuries, slumps and even scheduling create optimal moments to trade for certain players or trade away guys on your own team. Below are some of the most powerful trading points in a season. Take advantage of them to make a favorable transaction.

Bust or Breakout

A good time to make a trade is just before a player strings together enough games that everyone realizes he is having his breakout year. These are players you probably targeted in your draft, but just couldn’t get. After all, you only have so many picks and can’t tab every player you think is going to perform better than most expect. The key here is to watch for players who still aren’t known commodities and determine whether they will continue to bear out a hot start. An example this year is Chad Johnson. This Bengal went on a rampage late last year, collecting a ton of yards, but didn’t score many touchdowns and didn’t get rated highly enough by owners this year. So, after he had one or two good games it was time to trade for him. Now, he is a number one fantasy receiver, and harder to get at a good value.

The other side of this type of trading is noticing when a player is going to have a bust year. Amos Zereoue illustrates this idea perfectly. Many people thought this was the year Zereoue zipped past Jerome Bettis to be the full-time starter and a fantasy stud. After only one or two games, it was clear Bettis would remain a key cog in the offensive game plan. Jerome even regained the starter tag a few weeks ago. Anyone who still retains Zereoue on a roster has a player not worth starting who also has little trade value. The time to trade him was when he seemed to still have promise this season.

Breakouts and Busts do happen in-season too. Players are often affected by the loss or return of key injured teammates. Santana Moss has played well this year, but particularly with Chad Pennington now in the lineup. Kerry Collins could see his numbers dip with the sudden departure of his dependable tight end Jeremy Shockey.

In Harm’s Way

Injuries happen at any time, and you should be ready to make appropriate trade offers when they occur. Obviously, a good time to make a trade is when you have a starting player hurt badly enough that he will miss more than a month of football. Owners of the aforementioned Jeremy Shockey should retain him if they can, but must find a replacement that is adequate. Losing a player such as Shockey brings a significant loss of value to a position.

On the other hand (which may be a healthy choice since we are dealing with injuries) it can be advantageous to make offers for injured players if you can absorb the impact it takes to trade for them. Anyone who landed Marshall Faulk in a trade while he was down and out should be feeling pretty good by now. Owners will give up on stars a lot more easily when the immediate prospects for a return on the investment are zero.

By the Bye

Once you have decided to jettison a player, try to coincide the trade with the week leading up to that player’s bye. It’s a good time to get rid of someone because it means that you are using your new value while your trade partner cannot. This is especially effective if you are in a head to head matchup with your trade partner that week.

Squeeze value from circumstance by going for another owner’s star player who just had his bye week. You may get a better deal because the player you are trading for has been “out of sight, out of mind”, at least for one week. As a bonus, many players have a terrific game the first week back from their bye because they are refreshed.

Atypical Box Score

When making trade decisions, look to make offers based on aberrant performances by players. Just after an average starter has a career game is the time to put him on the trading block. It might net you a better player just because it looks like your guy is trending up.

Try to trade for another team’s stud following an atrocious outing – one of those 10 carries for 14 yards and no touchdown days. Any owner knows one bad game is not a sign of the apocalypse, but the poor effort will weigh on the owner’s mind regardless, even if imperceptibly.


Another good time to make a trade is when your winning team has suddenly begun an extended losing streak. A severe shakeup can be just what is required to stop the bleeding. Look to trade for players with great second-half matchups.

Use the same trade to start a winning steak, particularly when you are in the middle of the fantasy rat pack, pushing for playoff time. A key hot spell from a player or two can get you the wins necessary to win your division, or perform well in a points league.

Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes for and He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a devoted Detroit Lions fan. He can be contacted at