THE AFL'S most exclusive club now has even fewer members after just two players earned more than $1 million in 2014.
The number of players in the league's top bracket of earners fell for the second successive season, going from a high of eight in 2012, to five in 2013, to just two in 2014.
However a record 78 players earned more than $500,000 in 2014, driven largely by a sharp increase in the number of players earning between $500,000 and $700,000 a season (41 in 2013 to 57 in 2014).
The AFL did not disclose the names of its million-dollar men, but industry sources contacted by AFL.com.au believe Gold Coast superstar Gary Ablett remained a $1-million-a-year player in the fourth season of his five-year contract.
Lance 'Buddy' Franklin, who signed what was understood to be a record $10 million, nine-year contract to join the Sydney Swans in 2014, is not expected to earn $1 million a year until 2016 as his contract was heavily back-ended.
The other player in the million-dollar club is difficult to predict, with the different weighting of lucrative long-term contracts making industry assessments speculative at best.
Greater Western Sydney signed three players – Callan Ward, Tom Scully and Phil Davis – on long-term contracts that are understood to have earned those players million-dollar pay packets in individual years since the contracts began in 2012.
However those contracts were heavily front-ended to ensure the Giants had room in their salary cap to secure their talented youngsters beyond 2015.
Emerging stars Dylan Shiel, Jeremy Cameron, Devon Smith and Adam Treloar are among the big-name Giants out of contract at the end of 2014.
Ward, Scully and Davis were all in the third year of their GWS contracts in 2014. Their annual payments are understood to be reducing from 2014 onwards.
Ward has led the club with aplomb, finishing top two in the club best and fairest each season.
Chris Judd was once the game's biggest earner but his best-paid years are behind him. Picture: AFL Media
Some of the game's biggest names – Carlton's Chris Judd, St Kilda's Nick Riewoldt, and Fremantle pair Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands – have been on shorter contracts as they play on in their 30s. Their peak earning years that might have seen them earn $1 million in a season are now likely behind them.
Elite midfielders who have stayed with their original clubs, such as Essendon's Jobe Watson, Geelong's Joel Selwood, Port Adelaide's Travis Boak and Collingwood's Scott Pendlebury, are among the top tiers of earners but not in the $1 million club.
Emerging stars such as Fremantle's Nathan Fyfe, Richmond's Trent Cotchin, Brisbane Lions' Dayne Beams and West Coast's Nic Naitanui signed new, lucrative deals last year but they do not begin until 2015.
The Western Bulldogs' high-priced recruit, Tom Boyd, will be on a set payment in 2015 – his second season in the AFL – but will start earning big money in 2016.
Sydney Swans forward Kurt Tippett is also among the best-paid players in the game but his contract is believed to sit below $1 million a year over its four years, without breaking the seven-figure mark in any single season.
Premiership team Hawthorn maintains a stringent total player payments philosophy that means none of its stars earns above the million-dollar mark.
The average AFL salary in 2014 was $283,029, up from $265,179 in 2013, with a total of 719 players across the competition not including listed players.AFL clubs paid a total of $188.9 million in player payments, before deductions allowed for injury allowances, veterans' list payments, finals incentives and other reasons, increasing 4.07 per cent from the 2013 figure of $181.5 million.
The highest-paid player to miss the entire season earned between $500,000 and $600,000.