Late last week the Australian Football League (AFL) released the list of players that will be Free Agents at the end of the upcoming 2012 season. A total of 81 players (62 unrestricted and 19 restricted) will have the opportunity to switch clubs free of having to follow the draft system. St Kilda has the most Free Agents with 10, 7 being Unrestricted. This is the first year of AFL Free Agency, which has led to much uncertainty from clubs and players.
The rules of the AFL’s Free Agency varies from the usual system often found in leagues such as the NFL. First, to be eligible to become a Free Agent you must have served a minimum of 8 seasons at one club. After this, it gets tricky. If you are in the top 25% of highest paid players for your club you are a Restricted Free Agent. If you fall out of the Top 25% paid, or have been with one club for 10 years, you are an Unrestricted Free Agent. For both Restricted and Unrestricted Players, compensatory picks will be given to the old club.
It should also be noted that previously, if you had been de-listed by your club, you had to enter the draft system to obtain a new club. This is not the case anymore, with the players being able to sign with the club of their choice.
Now that the principles behind Free Agency have been established, lets look at players that are eligible.
While superstar players such as Luke Hodge & Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn) and Steve Johnson & Paul Chapman (Geelong) are all unrestricted, it is highly unlikely that they will leave their clubs. They could command a higher salary at other clubs; they are simply club men who are willing to take less pay to build a premiership team.
There are, however, two high profile players who have been the subject to much talk regarding Free Agency- Brendon Goddard (St. Kilda) and Travis Cloke (Collingwood).
With the new Greater Western Sydney (GWS) franchise looking for some ready made talent, it will be intriguing to see if they make a major play for one of these two players. Travis Cloke is part of a promising Collingwood side which will need to take a page out of Geelong’s book and offer their players less than market value to contend for a Premiership. On the open market, it is conceivable that Travis Cloke could command a long term multi-million dollar deal. Brendon Goddard, a former number 1 draft pick, has also been subject to the speculation of leaving. While he is one of the highest paid players at St. Kilda, GWS may come in and propose him an offer too good to refuse.
There are also a number of Victorian born players playing at interstate clubs who may want to return home to a Melbourne based club. These include Stephen Salopek (Port Adelaide) and Matt Rosa (West Coast Eagles). Both are mid-range players who are unrestricted and would receive a similar amount of money at rival clubs.
As I have previously stated, this is the first year the AFL has implemented Free Agency, so it would be a fair assumption to say player movement will be limited. The uncertainty of a new system, level of compensatory picks and team loyalty will see Free Agency start with a murmur and gradually gain momentum over the coming years.