Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson will be anxious to lock away Lance Franklin's contract
THAT LOUD GAGGING sound you might have heard on Saturday morning was that from Hawthorn supporters as they digested over breakfast the news that superstar forward Lance Franklin has rejected a new deal of close to $4 million over four years and has put off further contract talks until the end of the year.
Think back to Travis Cloke this time 12 months ago and in the words of New York Yankees legend (and master of the malaprop) Yogi Berra, "It's déjà vu all over again".
There is a long time to go and much water to go under the bridge in football's latest soap opera, but for Franklin and the Hawks, these are the issues that will now dominate their thinking.
1. Would he want to leave?
There's no doubt that Franklin is emotionally invested in Hawthorn. He came to Hawthorn in the same draft as Jarryd Roughead and Jordan Lewis and they remain as thick as thieves. A look at Franklin's Twitter feed shows a picture of him celebrating his birthday the other night with those two and his more recent Hawthorn BFF (best friend forever) Josh Gibson.
By any measure – financial, football and lifestyle – Hawthorn has been good for Franklin and Franklin good for Hawthorn.
It would be hard to walk away from all that.
2. What could Hawthorn get for him?
The Hawks will doubtless sharpen their pencil that little bit more in a bid to get Franklin over the line. But if that fails, they need to take a firmer and longer-term view.
Hawthorn could reasonably expect mid-first round pick. Two first round picks next year (one for Franklin plus their own) would allow them the chance to find the eventual replacements for champion midfielders Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell and Luke Hodge, who are aged, respectively, 30, 29 and 28.
Hawthorn, it must be remembered, is the club that once traded out the popular Trent Croad in his prime so it could select Hodge with the no.1 overall draft pick.
Franklin is a superstar, no ifs, buts or maybes. He's a key reason why the Hawks have 60,000 members and have sponsors lining up around the block to attach themselves to the club's name.
But it should also be noted that the Hawks went 5-1 while he missed six weeks with a hamstring strain last season. Among the wins were a 94-point belting of Essendon and a 47-point defeat of Collingwood. The only defeat was against Geelong, courtesy of a goal after the siren. And they still kicked 17 goals against one of the best backlines in the competition.
Without Franklin, Hawthorn would likely still be strongly competitive and with three first round picks at their disposal, will have made a big start at replenishing their playing stocks for the future.
3. Where would he go?
If the asking price is $1 million plus a year, then few clubs could afford that sort of price tag without making serious changes to their own playing lists. Big name players would have to be jettisoned, or others sacrifice significant chunks of their own contracts to make room in the cap for Franklin.
The only club, at least publicly, that has admitted to having room in its cap for a player on that sort of wage, is Fremantle.
4. What about Freo?
Franklin hails from country Western Australia, so while a move to Fremantle would amount to a homecoming of sorts, his family did move across to Melbourne when he was drafted by the Hawks. The unmissable Lance Franklin Snr, and other family members are regular fixtures at every Hawthorn match.
By playing for Fremantle, Franklin would have to factor cross-country travel into his preparation every fortnight. Is that the best thing for his body as he enters the second half of his career? He would be playing for an emerging club, to be certain, but there are commercial considerations that come into play as well.
Franklin's status as a superstar player at a powerful and successful Victorian club has cemented his position as the most popular player in the AFL in terms of merchandise sold. Advertisers love him.
But in any sport, how many team sport athletes from outside Victoria or New South Wales have appeal to national advertisers? Not many.
Would Foxtel still throw bundles of cash at Franklin if played for Freo? Freo fans don't even need Foxtel because every game is shown on Channel Seven.
The question of how marketable will he remain if he plays for a club located in Australia's most remote city is something Franklin and his advisers will need to take on board.
5. So what will happen?
Until now, Franklin's manager, Liam Pickering, had been quite relaxed, almost laconic when asked about Franklin's future. His re-signing with the Hawks appeared to be a formality.
But this quote in the Herald Sun report on Saturday morning was most illuminating. "He doesn't want to entertain discussions and, whilst Hawthorn aren't happy, that's how it is, unfortunately."
That can be read a few different ways, but the guess here is that Franklin may have rejected the advice of his manager in deciding to hold out to the end of the year.
Has someone else been in his ear? He counts among his mates a few rugby players such as Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor, who have each moved clubs for money. Former housemate Sharrod Wellingham moved back to Perth to play for West Coast this year.
Did interests aligned with (but not in an official capacity) Fremantle bend his ear when Franklin spent some time in Western Australia over Christmas? We know that he was there, again courtesy of Twitter.
The chances are that he will re-sign with Hawthorn. But it will take an almighty effort for the issue not to prove as destabilising for Hawthorn as the Ablett and Cloke sagas were for Geelong in 2010 and 2012.
Free agency speculation is the part of the new world order of AFL free agency. Collingwood and St Kilda endured it last year; now it is Hawthorn's turn and as chief executive Stuart Fox wrote in his letter to members on Saturday morning, the club accepts that.
But it is now an official distraction for the Hawks and it is precisely what they don't need in a year when they remain firmly in the hunt for another premiership.
The distraction is a bigger disappointment than the prospect that he might leave.
You can follow AFL Media senior writer Ashley Browne on Twitter @afl_hashbrowne.