CLUBS are not expected to be overly active in this year's free agency period with many already targeting 2014 and 2015's prospective free agents, football industry sources say.
A leading player manager told AFL.com.au he expected most of this year's free agency deals to involve low-profile players, with many clubs having identified the 2014 and 2015 free agency pools as stronger.
"I think the real story about free agency this year is that clubs are already looking at the 2014 and 2015 pools and starting to try to make room for some of those guys," he said.
"There's a real belief that the 2014 and 2015 free agency classes will be pretty good, certainly stronger than this year's group, and clubs are already preparing themselves for that."
The 2013 free agency class: Where your club's players are at
The players set to become free agents next year include Carlton's Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Walker, Collingwood's Dane Swan, Fremantle's David Mundy, Melbourne's James Frawley, North Melbourne's Todd Goldstein, West Coast's Shannon Hurn and Western Bulldogs Shaun Higgins and Will Minson.
The 2015 free agency class at this stage includes Adelaide stars Patrick Dangerfield and Taylor Walker, Carlton's Matthew Kreuzer, Collingwood's Dayne Beams, Geelong's Tom Hawkins, Hawthorn's Grant Birchall, St Kilda's Ben McEvoy, West Coast's Scott Selwood and Western Bulldog Ryan Griffen.
It is not unprecedented for clubs to target opposition players well before they come out of contract. Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney are widely believed to have respectively approached Gary Ablett and Tom Scully a year before officially signing them.
Another player agent agreed the 2013 free agency group was not as strong as 2014 and 2015's, adding that many of this year's remaining free agents were widely expected to re-sign with their existing clubs or retire.
But other 2013 free agents like Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell, Adelaide midfielder Scott Thompson and Carlton small forward Eddie Betts are expected to stay put.
But as attractive as the prospective 2014 and 2015 free agency groups look now, several club list managers said those players' existing clubs would be working hard to re-sign them well before they become free agents.
Alternatively, a number of sources predicted more clubs would consider trading players a year before they become free agents in an attempt to get better compensation.
Clubs that lost free agents last year received substantially less compensation than clubs that previously lost uncontracted players to expansion clubs Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney.
Some clubs and player managers argue free agency compensation should be scrapped altogether.
A list manager said Brian Lake's trade to Hawthorn last year was a good example of the trades that free agency could pre-empt.
Lake was contracted to the Western Bulldogs to the end of 2013 and would been among this year's group of free agents had he stayed.
"You suspect the Bulldogs were mindful last year that if they hung on to Lake he could have left as a free agent this year," the list manager said.
"But trading him a year early worked well for both sides. The club got a better draft pick than they would have under free agency and Lake got a fresh start at a club in premiership contention."
2014 FREE AGENTS
The following are some of the players set to become free agents next year:
Bryce Gibbs, Kade Simpson, Jarrad Waite, Andrew Walker
Harry O'Brien, Ben Reid, Dane Swan
Heath Hocking, Leroy Jetta
Garrick Ibbotson, David Mundy, Luke McPharlin, Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands
Steve Johnson, James Kelly, Trent West
Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell
Todd Goldstein, Lachie Hansen, Lindsay Thomas
Sam Fisher, James Gwilt, Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt
Adam Goodes, Ryan O'Keefe, Nick Malceski, Ted Richards
Shannon Hurn, Daniel Kerr, Matt Priddis
Matthew Boyd, Shaun Higgins, Will Minson, Robert Murphy, Tom Williams
Nick Bowen is a reporter with AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nick