For some clubs, it’ll be weeks of tricky negotiations to strike the best deal possible.
At others, they need to make decisions that will determine their next five years.
With free agency to open on October 1 and the trade period not long later, Foxfooty.com.au analyses every AFL club’s burning trade question.
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Which talent should the Crows pursue to keep in line with their trade strategy?
Crows chief executive Tim Silvers said post-season his club was committed to making the most of its early first-round selection (Pick 4) and “go into the draft, get some young talent”. But foxfooty.com.au reported last month Adelaide would specifically target South Australian talent over the next two trade periods to help it accelerate the rebuild it has also committed to. That means SA products and Swans duo Dylan Stephens and Jordan Dawson are near the top of their trade wishlist for the next few weeks. Dawson, one of the AFL’s most improved players in 2021, officially told Sydney last week he wants to move back to South Australia but hasn’t decided on a club of choice yet. The Crows have the cap space to meet Dawson’s financial demands, but Port Adelaide appear well placed too due to its recent success and the fact it might be able to strike a deal with Sydney easier as the Crows don’t want to give up Pick 4. Stephens, who was taken with Pick 5 two years ago, is exploring his options after limited senior opportunities from his first two AFL seasons. There’s definite interest from Adelaide, but Essendon has also emerged as a suitor for the left-footer. Nonetheless, the draft will be the Crows’ focus – and there are some gun SA-based prospects, namely South Adelaide duo Arlo Draper or Matthew Roberts, they’ll have their eyes on.
Do they go to the draft or trade to top-up?
It’s for the best that they’re keeping Lachie Neale; he’s a Brownlow medallist in his prime, after all. But if he did request a trade, the Lions’ already solid draft hand would have gotten even stronger. As it is, Chris Fagan’s side has two first-round picks (14, their own, and what is currently 18, Melbourne’s). It gives them options. They can easily go to the draft and bolster a maturing list with good, young talent, or trade either one or both of those picks – perhaps to a team that wants to turn one higher pick into two lower ones, or for a ready-made player. Do they need a Grant Birchall replacement, or perhaps a wingman if they want to move Hugh McCluggage inside more? There’s no obvious hole to fill; the Lions simply copped a lot more injuries in 2021 than they did in 2020 or 2019. Maybe they just need more depth, then.
Is it as simple as pick No.6 for Adam Cerra?
Clearly, the first thing the Blues need to do is get themselves sorted off-field with a new CEO and head coach, which will then pave the way for the approach at the trade table to become clearer. Their draft hand isn’t overly impressive barring pick No.6, with just 25 and 61 to follow. Pick No.6 to Fremantle for Adam Cerra looms as probably the best-case scenario for Carlton given the Dockers picked him up with pick No.5 back in 2017 before putting a heap of time into his development. Their first pick should be the starting point in any negotiation, but they’ll need to be prepared for some bold requests from the Dockers. After all, this is a side that is keen on Luke Jackson from Melbourne as part of any potential deal for Cerra. Sam Petrevski-Seton is a name that continues to be brought up along with Zac Fisher. This could be a deal that takes a bit of working through from both sides and, once again, Carlton will be a key focus in the trade period.
How do they get enough points to land Nick Daicos?
We don‘t need to back over the decision to trade out their first-round pick last year; they should get the father-son prodigy either way. But not having Pick 2, which they could‘ve used to simply draft Daicos (if the Kangaroos could be convinced not to bid on him), makes it much more complicated. Daicos will receive a bid inside the top three, meaning the Magpies will need between 1787 and 2400 draft points to match it. Right now their four useful picks (34, 39, 41 and 45) add up to just under that minimum, at 1747, so they’re going to need to make at least one more deal. There’s some interest in back-up ruckman Max Lynch, and he could warrant a second or third round pick, but there aren’t a lot of obvious trade-out options on the list right now. And if they’re keen on Patrick Lipinski, it’s unclear how they’d bring him in while also adding picks…
Is the tall forward solution of their dreams even out there?
Not this year at the trade table, but probably next year. In an ideal world, they‘d approach contracted Suns star Ben King – but he’s not leaving Gold Coast in the next month. Most reports indicate, though, the Bombers will instead make a big move for King next year. But considering the Bombers’ rapid improvement this season – and the inevitable expectation for them to push for finals again in 2022 – should they pounce now and look for key forward support? Harrison Jones is an emerging star, but he needs some more support, especially with Cale Hooker gone and Peter Wright likely to still be pinch-hitting in the ruck. Hawk Jack Gunston would be a great inclusion, but he turns 30 in October, so he’d be a short-term solution. Demon Sam Weideman (24) and Giant Jake Riccardi (21) are younger but have been on the fringes of their respective teams this year, so how much of a difference would they make at the Bombers? Collingwood’s Mason Cox was linked to the Bombers in late 2019, but doesn’t loom as the answer this time. The Bombers could, instead, target a key forward at the draft with their strong first selection (Pick 11). WA products Jye Amiss (195cm) and Jack Williams (196cm) have both had excellent 2021 seasons and could be available by the time the Bombers’ pick comes around.
What are they willing to accept for losing Adam Cerra?
While the Blues will be hoping to part with just pick No.6 for Adam Cerra, the Dockers have indicated that is highly unlikely to get the deal done. As footy boss Peter Bell pointed out after Cerra’s trade request, this is a player they took with pick No.5 back in 2017 before playing 76 games in his first four seasons. The time put into him is considerable and as such it would be a massive loss for the Dockers to see him depart for a pick lesser than what they gave up to get him. Judging by their request for Luke Jackson to be part of any trade with Melbourne, it’s clear Fremantle aren’t going to part ways with Cerra without considerable compensation coming back the other way. Lachie Neale opting against a trade request to the Dockers hurts in the short-term, but this is a side that is on a steady and assured build with players like Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong being gradually handed the keys to the engine room. Adding more young talent along with a healthy addition to their draft hand would be the key goal for the Dockers now that Cerra’s mind is made up.
How many fringe players can they afford to lose?
It’s a delicate balancing act the Cats have tried to pull off in brining in veteran talent while not compromising their future – but it feels like it’s reached breaking point. Charlie Constable, Jordan Clark and Quinton Narkle are just three up and coming guns that could look elsewhere this trade period in a bid to get more senior game time that they’ve more than earned. Constable and Clark are in the under-23 age bracket that the Cats need to keep flowing if they’re to seamlessly transition to their next phase rather than fall off the cliff in a big way in the coming years. It’s all well and good to suggest the youth brigade can head elsewhere without having an immediate impact on the Cats’ on-field success, but the reality is 12 of their players are over 30 years of age, with all bar one (Josh Jenkins) in their current best 22. It’s not a list that is primed for long-term success, but rather immediate success. And the immediate success hasn’t happened. Given the Jeremy Cameron deal, the first pick Geelong has in this year’s draft is 30, so it’s not like they’re guaranteed to bring in talent via that mechanism. It is such a vital off-season coming up for the Cats.
GOLD COAST SUNS
Are more fringe players enough, or can they do something better?
The Suns have made a habit of becoming the home for players ‘seeking opportunity’ – usually from Richmond – with Hugh Greenwood, Oleg Markov and Sam Collins among their impressive recruits. But even they aren’t A-graders (maybe Collins can be/has been at times), and Gold Coast has ended up paying quite a lot to players who wouldn’t get that much cash at any other club. Call it the ‘Never Having Played Finals’ tax. So they’ve been linked to another pair of Tigers, Callum Coleman-Jones and Mabior Chol, and perhaps they’ll get one or both of them, and perhaps they’ll grow into excellent players. But it’s like the Suns are chipping away at a sculpture with a spoon rather than taking a pick-axe to the marble; is it time to go hard, even if they risk going too hard and ruining the art? Stuart Dew is under pressure and another unsuccessful season might be his last at the helm; with three draft picks inside the top 22, including 3, can the Suns find a ready-made player willing to join them and lift them out of the cellar?
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Is a ready-made ruckman really worth a dogged pursuit?
Shane Mumford is set to leave a significant, ruck-sized chasm at the Giants. The natural advice many will give the Giants is to look at a fringe big man at a rival club to fill the hole, such as Collingwood’s Max Lynch or one of Richmond duo Callum Coleman-Jones and Mabior Chol. But remember the Giants have been without arguably their No. 1 ruckman all year in Braydon Preuss – the player they targeted and traded in 12 months ago – due to injury. With (hopefully) a full pre-season under his belt, Preuss can be a key pillar for the Giants in their push to return to the top eight next season. Young rucks Kieren Briggs and Matt Flynn both showed at times they’re more than capable at AFL level, even playing in the same side three times. Both players remain out of contract, however, at this stage, so if one of them leaves – Flynn would be the more likely to depart – the Giants might have to consider their positions. But if both stay on, a dogged pursuit probably wouldn’t be necessary.
How aggressively do they trade established talent for high-end picks?
Sam Mitchell won’t be eased into the main job given the calls looming on the list. He has a massive decision to make on just how aggressively the side leans into its list regeneration. Jack Gunston, Luke Breust, Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara are all names that have been spoken about externally as potential moves for the Hawks to get an extraordinary draft hand. As it stands, the Hawks have got picks 5, 21, 24, 56 and 62. They should be looking to add at least one more top 20 pick to their hand, it’s just a matter of how they go about doing it. As first reported by foxfooty.com.au senior reporter Tom Morris earlier in the year, Tom Mitchell is open to a trade if it’s deemed to be mutually beneficial. There’s no shortage of options for the Hawks if they want to move up the draft – the decision for Sam Mitchell is how hard he decides to go in that direction at the expense of immediate on-field leadership.
How greedy is too greedy?
By early next month, the Demons could have the ultimate trade pitching ace up their sleeve: “Come join the reigning premiers, where our premiership era is only just beginning.” Even if they fall short in two weeks’ time, Melbourne would loom as an attractive proposition for most rival club players. From a list demographic perspective, the Dees don’t have a lot of ‘needs’ as they’re well stocked across most positions on the field. Yet they’ve already been linked to contracted Hawks veteran Jack Gunston, while they have some interest in outgoing Docker Adam Cerra, who’s expected to land at Carlton but has yet to officially nominate his preferred destination. Imagine adding one – or, god help us, both – of those players to the Demons’ list? But there’s several barriers stopping Melbourne from getting greedy, namely a tight salary cap and a lack of draft picks.
It doesn’t make any sense to trade out Pick 1… right?
You have to listen to every deal; after all, someone could fall in love with likely No.1 pick Jason Horne-Francis and be willing to trade a boatload of picks for his rights; perhaps Adelaide, holding Pick 4, would be keen on the South Australian. And there’s an argument the Kangaroos have already invested heavily in their midfield and, given their list, would do better making multiple top-10 picks instead of just one at the start. But simply taking Horne-Francis is probably the right option, as we’ve seen what taking the top midfielder in the draft can do. Think Carlton in 2018; they’d be pretty happy with Sam Walsh right now.
Are you fine not entering the draft until Pick 60 if it gets you Jordan Dawson?
Probably, yeah. Another disappointing preliminary final loss doesn’t take away from the fact this list is primed for success right now – or at least, it should be. A gun 24-year-old doesn’t become available too often and the Power are still the most logical option for Dawson to join. After all, they have a better pick to trade to Sydney (16 instead of Adelaide’s second-rounder, 23) and can offer Dawson a clearer path to success. Both SA clubs have offered long-term deals on good money after Dawson’s breakout season, which saw him finish third in the Swans’ best and fairest count and become a fringe All-Australian contender. There’s no question Dawson is going to make Port more likely of winning the 2022 flag than whoever they could get on draft night.
They’re loaded with picks for the first time in years; how many do you trade and how many do you keep?
Compared to the past five years, the Tigers are now in unfamiliar territory. Not only did they miss finals this year, they’re now approaching a trade period with a stacked draft hand that includes two picks in each of the first, second and third rounds. The Tigers could also add more picks to their arsenal should Callum Coleman-Jones (trade) and/or Mabior Chol (free agency) ask to move to a rival club. That would give the Tigers ample scope at the trade table to add players to a list still seen by experts as flag contenders next year, yet it would also present them with a golden chance to regenerate via the draft. Considering their predicament, you’d expect the Tigers to retain the majority of their early picks, but they’re arguably better placed than any other club to strike a juicy deal for a big fish, should one emerge. At this stage, though, there’s not a lot of big fish for sale.
After going hard in recent years, is it time to go to the draft, or do they need to trade out their top-ten pick to ensure they play finals in 2022?
The Saints are in a pickle, having gone hard in recent trade periods but failing to find much success. They were arguably the best team outside of the top eight this year, but injuries cruelled most of their season, and so Brett Ratten heads into the final year of his contract under a bit of pressure. They‘ve made just one pick in the top 25 in the last three drafts; they can’t afford to win just one final in this period. But at the same time, going too hard and trading out pick 9 would put them at risk of leaving the cupboard bare in 2023 and beyond, with not enough young talent to fill the spots of the big-money free agents when they decline. It’s always a tough balance to strike. St Kilda was not one of the clubs reported by Foxfooty.com.auin July of being strapped for cash, so if there’s a talented and gettable player out there – perhaps a key defender? – a move makes a lot of sense.
Jordan Dawson is going; will the cap squeeze force them to lose anyone else?
As foxfooty.com.au reported last month, the Swans are negotiating a tight salary cap. They’ve successfully retained co-captain Luke Parker on a four-year deal, but will lose Dawson to either the Crows or the Power. Dawson mightn’t be the only South Australian product that leaves the Swans, with top-10 draftee Dylan Stephens attracting interest from Adelaide and Essendon in his search for more senior footy. George Hewett could be the other key player that finds a new home, with reports the midfielder is keen to exercise his free agency rights amid interest from Carlton. Veteran utility Sam Reid also remains unsigned, as does ruckman Callum Sinclair and lively half-forward Sam Wicks. It’s a delicate balancing act for the Swans, who are looking to reshape a list that appears capable of contending for the flag next season but also try and fit everyone in. The reality is, they won’t be able to.
WEST COAST EAGLES
Should a star veteran be on the trade table to kickstart the side’s regeneration?
Being the second-most experienced and third-oldest list while not playing finals is a terrible mix. Having been on a steady decline since the 2018 flag, with a semi-final exit followed by an elimination final loss and this year’s 10-12 mess, the Eagles have one decision to make – not whether to start a rebuild, but how hard to go. They could ease into it, using their first top-10 pick since Andrew Gaff (2010) plus two second-rounders to rejuvenate at the draft, but is that enough? Or does it make more sense to accept a bit of 2022 pain for 2023 and beyond gain? Do players like Gaff and Elliot Yeo do more for them as trade assets? That might be too big a pill to swallow, but just losing a couple of fringe players surely isn’t enough? Maybe Jarrod Brander goes back to Geelong after years of speculation, and maybe guys like Tom Cole and Jackson Nelson could have some value, but you’re not getting more than a second-round pick for any of them. You can’t just run it back and hope for the best, and they don’t have much salary cap room, so it’s not like they can top up for one last push with this core group.
Can they find a way to address their biggest need down back?
The father-son and Academy bidding system is set to hand the Bulldogs another top-three prospect, but it‘s hard to have enough draft capital to match consecutive bids for players of that calibre when you’re playing finals. Last year, it cost the Dogs picks 29, 33, 41, 42, 52 and 54 to match Adelaide’s bid at No.1 for Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, and the son of club great Luke Darcy will warrant another hefty haul of picks this year. But they have the lowest amount of draft capital in the league and need between 1787 and 2400 points, if Darcy receives a bid in the top three as expected. Making the Grand Final only hurts in a draft sense (though they’ll happily cop that). Their natural first-round pick, 16 or 17, will give them 1000-odd points, but they traded out their second-rounder in the Adam Treloar deal. Could they get a fresh second-rounder for Patrick Lipinski? Something in the 20s for him, combined with splitting their first-rounder for two lower selections (that are worth more points) would get them there.