Dockers eye big gun in free agency stampede
Fremantle are positioned to target a marquee player this year under new AFL free agency rules that will open up some of the competition’s biggest names to interstate raids.
St Kilda star Brendon Goddard headlines a pool of 72 players who can change clubs at the end of this season as free agents.
Players who have spent at least eight years at one club will qualify under the new rules.
The Saints have a clutch of key players in that bracket, with Goddard, Leigh Montagna and Sam Fisher all coming out of contracts at the end of 2012.
Geelong’s Steve Johnson, Hawthorn workhorse Brad Sewell, Richmond on-baller Brett Deledio and Collingwood premiership duo Travis Cloke and Heath Shaw are others who fulfil the requirements.
The month-long free agency window starts on October 1. The AFL is due to announce the official list of uncontracted players on March 20.
Fremantle are believed to have at least $800,000 available in their salary cap with which to lure a big-name free agent for 2013.
West Coast could also free up considerable space in their cap if they sign midfielder Daniel Kerr to reduced terms when his contract finishes this year.
The Dockers’ failed bid to secure Mitch Clark in last year’s trade period has left ample funds in reserve.
They can boost their bidding power by shifting three-times All-Australian Aaron Sandilands – the club’s highest-paid player – to one of two veteran slots next year.
The move would allow Fremantle to place up to half of the ruckman’s salary outside of the cap.
The presence of former St Kilda coach Ross Lyon at Fremantle would be significant in any play for one of the Saints stars.
Commenting on Fremantle’s list this week, Lyon said the club had planned for the introduction of free agency.
“Obviously free agency is an opportunity for us that the club has been planning heavily for since inception,” Lyon said. “GWS and Gold Coast have diluted a lot of the talent getting to other clubs, so clubs that were on the rise and would have access to that talent have been stifled a little bit.”
Former Saints coach Grant Thomas said there would need to be a compelling case for one of his old club’s marquee players to leave.
He pointed out the travel factor would make it difficult for interstate clubs to attract high-quality Victorian players, predicting the Melbourne powerhouses like Collingwood and Carlton would benefit the most from free agency.
“Money does talk,” Thomas said.
“I think if someone’s getting 20 per cent less it’s not that big a factor.
“But if a Goddard or a (Nick) Dal Santo were on $500,000 a year and someone comes along and offers them over $1 million a year and it’s for three to five years, well that’s going to make things extremely difficult.”
Under the system, a player who has served at least 10 seasons at one club will be free to move to a new AFL home without using the draft or trade period. The original club would receive a compensation pick.
The same ruling will apply to players that are out of contract, have served eight or more seasons at one club and are not among the 10 highest-paid players at that club.
Restricted free agents are those in the top 25 per cent of earners at their club who have given service for eight or nine seasons.
Existing clubs will be given first option of matching rival offers for players in that category.
Fremantle and West Coast are well placed not to lose out in the first year of free agency.
Antoni Grover, Luke McPharlin and Ryan Crowley are the only Dockers eligible to be poached, but are unlikely to attract strong market interest.
West Coast’s premiership pros-pects mean Kerr, Darren Glass, Quinten Lynch, Mark Nicoski and Matt Rosa are all expected to re-sign at the end of this year.