Melbourne, having acquired key players Steven May and Jake Lever and re-contracted midfield stars (and with Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca coming out of contract in 2021 and 2022), have a tight salary cap heading into the next post-season.
Carlton have some space, having banked money under the rules (which allow clubs to spend more than the salary cap if they underspend in the two previous seasons), but have to re-sign skipper Patrick Cripps and emerging forward Harry McKay and allow some room for Sam Walsh post-2022.
West Coast, St Kilda, Richmond and the Western Bulldogs each negotiated across the board pay cuts of 7 per cent, 7.5 per cent, 5 per cent and 5 per cent respectively, in arrangements that benefit certain players more than others. Those clubs are taking the pain this year and will not be deferring payments to most players, as under the AFL’s standard plan (3.5 plus 5 per cent cut).
These clubs took different approaches to the standard cuts of 3.5 per cent and 5 per cent for contracted players, with those contracted for next year getting the 5 per cent restored in their pay for next year. The overall salary cap cut due to the pandemic was about 9 per cent for 2021.
Some clubs are counting on the AFL retaining the current deal for the player payments. This year, the player payment limit – including the capped marketing deals (additional service agreements) – is $13,165,950.
Next year, assuming there is no further cut due to a troubled AFL economy, the player payments are slated to be $14,769,322 – an increase of more than $1.6m on this year’s pay, but the clubs have already factored this figure into their contracting.
The Eagles told their players that they would not bring in players on significant contracts unless they lost players – a pledge that was made when they asked for the 7 per cent cut.
St Kilda, which requested an even bigger cut than West Coast, did not make any such commitment to their players. The Saints have brought in a number of seasoned recruits, headed by Brad Hill, Zac Jones, Dougal Howard, Dan Butler and Jack Higgins, but the Sunday Age has been unable to verify their salary cap situation heading into 2022. They have long been interested in reuniting Max King with his Gold Coast-based twin Ben King, in what would be an expensive acquisition if it ever came to pass.
Fremantle and Sydney, perhaps surprisingly, did not have room to bring in seasoned recruits in the 2020 trade period, with the Swans having to offload Aliir Aliir to make space for ex-Eagle ruckman Tom Hickey.
The Dockers are expected to remain somewhat restricted entering the next trade period, but their salary cap space is set to open up from 2022 (post season).
Sydney has been under salary cap pressure for some years, in no small measure due to the Lance Franklin contract, under which “Buddy” is due close to $1.5m this year and $1m next year, the final year of his nine-year deal.
Expansion teams GWS and Gold Coast remain tight in their player payments, despite the former losing Jeremy Cameron and Zac Williams but with question marks on free agent Josh Kelly and whether he will take up a massive eight-year commitment from the club.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.