With the AFL season over another has dawned – not one in which games are won and lost but one in which the seeds are sown for premiership glory.
Trade season, in October and November, is when clubs build their lists. Intensive strategising and high-stakes wheeling and dealing are behind the movement of players from one club to another. A lot of jargon gets bandied about that can be confusing, particularly because the AFL tinkers with rules and player acquisition mechanisms regularly.
How many different kinds of free agent can there possibly be? Well, several. When is a selection period not really over? When the supplemental selection period begins. And if picks are the basic unit of transaction, what’s a split pick?
Here is a refresher on a few of the more technical terms you’ll be hearing over the next couple of months. We’ve also included the key dates when various moves can be made.
Players don’t have to be involved in trades. Clubs may exchange draft selections. One club could be desperate for an early pick to take a certain player in the draft, while others may be content to slide back. A club will trade a high-ranked pick for two later selections. This tactic is known as “splitting” a pick. Draft picks can be traded even after the completion of the primary trade period.
Clubs have been able to trade draft picks not only for the current year but for the following year since 2015. These are known as “future picks”. This allows clubs greater flexibility to reach deals as they have more assets to utilise. If a club trades its future selection to another club, the second club’s pick remains tied to the ladder position of the first club. This occurred last year when Adelaide and Carlton traded first-round picks, meaning both clubs wanted the other to play poorly this year in order to get the best possible position in this year’s draft. Essendon last year traded two first-round picks – its ninth pick in 2018 and a future first-round selection – for Dylan Shiel and the Giants’ second-round pick this year.
Since last year, clubs have been able to conduct live trades of picks during the draft itself. This has opened up a massive new tactical dimension, with clubs working the phones on draft night to manoeuvre favourable positions as the landscape changes.
Academy or father-son bids
Several prospective draftees each year are subject to rules that allow clubs to gain priority access to the player in question. They may be father-son players – whose dads played 100 or more games for an AFL club – or academy players who have come through an AFL club’s junior system. Examples this year include Finn Maginness (Hawthorn father-son) and Tom Green (GWS academy).
Another club may select one of these players but the club with bidding rights over the player is able to play a trump card to acquire the player. They do this by matching a bid. Matching bids comes at a cost, though. Each draft selection has points allocated to it and, by matching a bid, a club loses points equivalent to that selection, meaning they are shuffled back in the draft order in coming rounds.
Clubs won’t always deem it worthwhile to match a bid as they feel the academy/father-son player isn’t worth the number of points they need to pay. Last year Hawthorn opted not to match a bid made by Essendon for Irving Mosquito, who had been part of the Hawks’ academy.
Delisted free agency
Players who have been delisted by an AFL club this year can join any AFL club that offers up a contract. Axed Fremantle player Harley Bennell looms as a high-profile delisted free agent this year.
Free agency for life
There are new rules implemented this year whereby any player who has previously been a free agent automatically becomes a free agent at the end of every ensuing contract. James Frawley, who joined Hawthorn as a free agent from Melbourne at the end of 2014, falls into this category – although he recently chose to re-sign with the Hawks.
Restricted free agent
An out-of-contract player who has played nine or fewer years with their current club and is in the top quarter for salaries at that club is a restricted free agent. That means that their existing club has the right to match any free agency offer made for the player. Richmond’s Brandon Ellis is a restricted free agent expected to join Gold Coast this year. The Tigers have the ability to match the Suns’ offer, though this is unlikely. If an offer is matched, the player can choose to remain with their new club or request a move via a trade or the draft.
Unrestricted free agent
A player who has played eight or nine years with their current club, is out-of-contract and is not in the top quarter for salaries at their current club – or an out-of-contract player who has played 10 or more years with their current club regardless of salary, is an unrestricted free agent and may walk to another club with no recourse available to their current club. Examples this year include Jamie Elliott (Collingwood) and Adam Tomlinson (GWS).
Supplemental selection period
A new window was opened late last year whereby clubs could add undrafted or delisted players to their rookie list – even after the rookie draft – until shortly before the season, provided the club had a list spot open or a long-term injury. Sydney Stack (Richmond) and Shane Mumford (GWS) were both picked up in the SSP during the off-season.
A relatively new phenomenon whereby players who are one year away from becoming free agents are traded by their clubs in order to maximise their value rather than be at the mercy of the AFL’s free agency compensation scheme. Lachie Neale, Dylan Shiel, Steven May and Chad Wingard all moved clubs last year as pre-agents. Joe Daniher and Brodie Grundy are pre-agents this year.
A mechanism whereby a club trades a player to another club largely to clear space under the salary cap. The player’s new club therefore generally gives up very little to get the player. This occurred in 2017 when Carlton absorbed the salary of Port Adelaide ruckman Matthew Lobbe, who joined the Blues in exchange for pick 95, a very late selection.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter