With Collingwood crowned the 2023 premiers, focus quickly turns to the AFL’s silly season, with player movement to kick off in earnest when the free agency window opens on Friday.
Last year’s trade period saw 34 done deals and, while this year’s moves may not be as explosive, there’s plenty to play out between now and deadline day.
Foxfooty.com.au runs through the biggest on the table and explains how they could get done.
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McKay had plenty of interest, with Hawthorn and Sydney among the key suitors for his services.
Ultimately, a pitch in part led by some of Essendon’s leaders, and a good working relationship with his former coach Brad Scott, swayed him to nominate the Bombers despite a bigger offer from the Hawks.
The Bombers have the capacity to make this deal very simple: Offer McKay at least more than $800,000 per season. That would trigger band one compensation for North Melbourne, netting the Roos pick No.3 and ensuring they don’t match the offer and force a trade.
Essendon holds pick No.8 in this year’s draft and North Melbourne would at least ask for that selection if it were to match.
Paying players more in exchange for giving up less or nothing in the draft is a move becoming more common in the AFL world, with Collingwood a prime example last season when it signed Dan McStay to a five-year deal worth around $3 million; an offer the Lions weren’t prepared to match.
As it stands, the Bombers are not offering McKay $800,000 per season – but the free agency period opens on Friday and a lot can change before then.
The Bombers are in a good space salary-wise and could be in an even better position if they’re able to offload most of Dylan Shiel’s 2024 salary via a deal with St Kilda.
That deal could also involve the arrival of Jade Gresham, but a longer-term contract would allow them to move money around with far more flexibility.
Essendon will lose Brandon Zerk-Thatcher to Port Adelaide, but the addition of McKay is an upgrade to a back six that needed bolstering.
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Brodie Grundy is set to play for Sydney next season. It’s just a matter of what gets the deal done for the Swans.
Pick 23 or 31 could get this done, given he was moved for 27 last year, or alternatively a future selection could be offered up.
The real intrigue with Grundy is how his salary is paid.
Understandably, both Melbourne and Collingwood would look for any way to extricate itself from paying for a player who no longer plays for them.
Collingwood is contributing between $250,000 and $350,000 to Grundy’s contract, which is believed to be around $900,000 per season, and were reportedly set to ask whether they could escape that deal given it was specifically with the Demons.
Most in the industry expect, however, that Melbourne and Brodie Grundy have a clean cut, with Collingwood to continue paying its portion of Grundy’s contract while Grundy plays elsewhere.
Tom Hickey’s retirement has made the need for an established ruck option all the more pressing for Sydney, with Peter Ladhams performing in spurts.
Ben McKay would’ve been another great addition to the Swans’ backline to help replace the retired Paddy McCartin, but Dane Rampe at least has another two seasons in him.
It means the Swans can keep scouring the market for a successor while contending in the short-term.
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JADE GRESHAM / DYLAN SHIEL
We had a complex three club trade last season, but this year could host an intricate two club trade involving Jade Gresham and Dylan Shiel.
Effectively, it would play out as follows:
Jade Gresham joins Essendon as a free agent, with the contract netting St Kilda either a first round or end of first round selection.
St Kilda cannot trade that pick back to Essendon, but would then trade one of its other selections to the Bombers in exchange for Dylan Shiel, who the Herald Sun reported on Monday night has two seasons to run on his deal.
Essendon could offer to pay some of Shiel’s remaining contract in exchange for netting Gresham and an extra draft pick.
For the Saints, they would still have their draft hand intact, but would also clear more cap space and be better positioned to go after top-end talent in 2024 and beyond.
It is a complex negotiation and one with plenty to play out, but one that has the AFL world talking in earnest about what should and shouldn’t be allowed in the world of trading.
At the end of Adrian Dodoro’s last trade period in charge, the Bombers could’ve brought in Jade Gresham, Ben McKay and an extra first round draft pick in exchange for paying some of Dylan Shiel’s remaining contract.
Todd Goldstein will also walk into the club as an unrestricted free agent, giving the Bombers greater ruck depth as Sam Draper recovers from groin surgery.
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PORT ADELAIDE’S TRIPLE THREAT
Another fascinating element of this year’s trade period centres on Port Adelaide, with three players having expressed a desire to be traded there: Esava Ratugolea, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Jordon Sweet.
That’s great news except for the fact Port Adelaide doesn’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft given the moves it made last year.
Next year’s first-round pick may have to be up for grabs if Port Adelaide is to be able to manage a clean sweep of its targets.
Geelong has set the stage for robust trade talks with the Power over Ratugolea, who for the second straight season is seeking a trade there.
Sweet stayed at the Dogs in hope of more senior opportunity but that never eventuated and the club’s surplus of talls means a deal won’t be as difficult to orchestrate.
Adrian Dodoro has in the past played hard ball with some of the club’s players and Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph told Fox Footy’s On The Couch this week the Bombers have opened with an asking price of a first-round pick.
There is plenty to play out and stances usually soften in the leadup to deadline day, but it shows the balancing act the Power must perform in order to get all three deals done.
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THE TOP-END PICKS
Two picks are of significant interest heading into the trade period: Picks No.1 and 4.
West Coast holds the best pick in the land at the moment, but some believe the club would be better off splitting it to get multiple high-end prospects to help accelerate its rebuild, rather than one incredibly promising talent in Harley Reid who could leave after his initial contract expires.
North Melbourne looms as the club best poised to strike, already holding picks No.2, 14 and 19 along with next year’s first rounder and two end of first round 2024 selections courtesy of the AFL’s assistance package.
Ben McKay could net them pick No.3 if Essendon’s offer is juicy enough, giving the Roos ample draft capital to make a play at the top pick.
Pick No.4 is up for grabs at Gold Coast, which needs to amass draft points in order to match bids for their three gun Academy prospects.
The Western Bulldogs look poised to be the club that has the best offer, with picks No.10 and 17 to offer along with a future first-rounder if needed – something flagged by foxfooty.com.au last month.
It is a fascinating state of play at the top of the draft order, with at least two of the top four picks likely to switch hands before draft night rolls around later this year.
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