Help and Resources for the Fantasy Football Commissioner

Trade Settings Philosophy

In this post, I want to write about how you determine what your philosophy (and therefore settings) should be around trades within your league. This post will be irrespective of what format you're playing, but I will talk about how format may influence your settings.


The most common two settings (sometimes combined as one) regarding trades are who should review the trade and how long before that trade processes. The “who” typically ranges from the commissioner to a league vote to no one. The how long general ranges from immediate to a few days.

My general philosophy around trades is that you want to encourage them as much as possible, no matter what format you're playing. Trades are huge fun in the real NFL and that translates to fake football as well – they're exciting! You want that excitement in your league.

To facilitate that excitement, I believe your default position for any league should be that trades process immediately and are reviewed by no one. That's how the real NFL works (minus paperwork) and that's the position you should begin with. You want as little friction as possible for a trade to occur – overhead creates friction.

Before we talk about some of the logical objections to this default position, let's talk about why overhead creates friction. Starting with reviewers, the options outside of “no one” are generally the Commissioner (you) or the league managers voting. The problem with the former is that puts more work on you and the problem with the latter is that now you invite many more opinions into the trade and you have to give managers time to vote. That slows the trade down, which leads us to the wait period. If the traders have to wait for people to vote or you to approve, the trade itself is anticlimactic. You invite second guessing, people wanting to cancel the trade, etc.

“But, but, but – if there is no review or voting, what if people make a lopsided trade?” There are two problems with that question:

  1. That you know right now what the impact of a trade will be in the future, and...
  2. That you think all trades should be perfectly fair in accordance to some higher objective power that knows how to perfectly assess trade value with no subjectivity.

Teams in the NFL make crazy trades all the time. Writers and analysts dissect those trades and some think a team was crazy while others think the same team was shrewd. There is no right answer. And more importantly, what looks like a crazy trade on paper may not bear out in real life as such.

The same approach should be taken in fantasy. If teams want to make highly curious trades – let them! Assume both managers went into the trade with authentic intentions. Some trades will appear even, others will not. But that's football! Let everyone in your league argue over who got the better deal – that is fun and engaging! Go back and revisit a trade months later – who really got the better end of it???

Now, I said this should be your default position. There are things to consider here:

It is not uncommon in large leagues full of strangers for managers to collude with each other. “Trade me this guy this week so I can beat your nemesis and I'll trade him back to you for next week.” Or, “hey, you are out of it, so trade me this guy and if I win, I'll give you some of my prize money.” Sadly, this can happen. It's more common in Redraft, and it's more common in leagues where managers don't know each other as much. You as a Commissioner need to guard against that somehow. You don't need to guard against this as much in leagues where everyone's character is vouched for by someone else and everyone is there to have fun.

In addition, your platform may have settings in other areas that help you prevent outlandish trades. For example, you may allow trading of draft picks in Dynasty, but only 3 years into the future to prevent the, “I'm going to give you my next 10 years of first round picks for Player X,” trade, when you know full well that you may not even be in the league in 10 years. Settings around roster mins/maxes by position, salary caps, and more can help keep trades within a realm that while crazy, isn't absurd.

If you find that you that you're having anxiety over my default recommendation for your league, before you consider imposing reviews and/or votes, there is one last thing to remember: you as a Commissioner typically have Super Powers in your platform. What is done can generally be undone.

Assuming you have that, adopting a “break glass in case of emergency” policy is something you can consider to allow trades to keep free flowing, but knowing you can undo them if necessary. This generally involves something like a coaches challenge – a virtual throwing of the red flag, if you will. A manager can challenge the authenticity of a trade after it happens (hopefully with just cause) and if you find after investigation that the managers weren't authentic in their trade – that they were colluding for one to get some artificial advantage – then you can undo the trade. But if they weren't – don't.

I'll write more in another article about having policies like that and how you can steer your league with them, but for now, I'll wrap up with repeating what I think should be your default position in most of your leagues: trades should process immediately and be reviewed by no one. Happy trading!