The AFL introduced free agency at the end of the 2012 season, giving players another vehicle where they can transfer from one club to another. Free agency is a common form of player movement in major football and sporting codes around the world.
Under rules agreed between the AFL and AFL Players’ Association in February 2010, restricted and unrestricted free agents may consider offers from rival clubs during the post-season period.
An unrestricted free agent can automatically move to the club of his choice.
An offer to a restricted free agent may be matched by his club, which has right of first refusal over his services. If the unrestricted free agent does not wish to remain with his original club, he must enter the draft or seek a trade.
Compensation in the form of AFL allocated draft picks apply to clubs with a net loss of free agents. This is based on a formula determined by the AFL.
The Veteran’s List allowance has been amended to apply to players with 10 years’ service at one club and will be based on a set amount of Total Player Payment (TPP) per player calculated as a percentage of TPP.
The free agency system started at the end of 2012 and will remain until the end of 2016.
Restricted Free Agents
Players who are in the top 25 per cent of salaries at their club (that is, in the club’s top nine-10 paid players) are eligible for restricted free agency the first time they are out of contract, if they have served at least eight years with the club.
For example, a player who is contracted after his seventh year for one, two, three, four or five years will be eligible for restricted free agency when next out of contract having completed either eight, nine, 10, 11 or 12 seasons respectively.
A top 25 per cent player is eligible for unrestricted free agency when next out of contract, provided a player can never be an unrestricted free agent until completing at least 10 years’ service at one club.
For example, a player who signs a one-year contract after his eighth season is not eligible for unrestricted free agency until he has completed at least 10 years’ service.
Restricted free agents have the right to move to a club of their choice, subject to the current club’s right of first refusal over their services. That is, if the current club can ‘match’ the offer from a suitor club, the player must stay or enter the draft. The tabled offer includes only football payments and Additional Service Agreements (ASA) amounts.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Players delisted by a club are unrestricted free agents but a player who retires or delists himself is not eligible to be a free agent.
Players who are not in the top 25 per cent of salaries at their club (that is, in the club’s top nine-10 paid players) are eligible for unrestricted free agency if they have served at least eight years with the club.
A rookie list player who retires is not eligible to be a free agent.
A first-year rookie not receiving a second-year rookie contract offer is considered a delisted player and therefore is an unrestricted free agent.
A first-year rookie not accepting a second-year rookie contract offer is not considered a delisted player and must nominate and go through the draft.
A second-year rookie not accepting a third-year rookie contract offer is considered a delisted player and therefore is an unrestricted free agent.
How the Top 25% is Determined
The top 25 per cent of players on a club’s list (top nine-10 paid players) are based on the guaranteed contract values in the relevant contract year (including ASAs).
The AFL releases the names of those eligible players before round one of each season. An updated list of restricted and unrestricted free agents is issued during the season when changes occur and a final list issued during Grand Final week.
A contract offer is matched if the football payments and ASAs are equivalent under the offer and the contract proposed by the player’s current club. To qualify as a matching offer, the player’s current club must make an offer on the same terms as the new offer tabled by the player including:
• Contract length;
• Base payments;
• Total match payments;
• Total ASA payments;
Total performance incentives based on AFL awards or honours, club best and fairest finish or games played (not including finals). Any incentives for team performance do not have to be matched. A player cannot table an offer to be matched for less than a two-year contract length.
A club that has a net loss of players transferring to/from other clubs as free agents in one transfer period is entitled to compensation via National Draft picks allocated by the AFL.
The compensation formula produces a points rating for players based on:
1. The new contract of the free agent;
2. The age of the free agent.
Draft picks are allocated to clubs based on the net total points for free agents lost and gained during the transfer period.
Draft picks will be allocated to one of five places:
• 1st round
• end of 1st round
• 2nd round
• end of 2nd round
• 3rd round
In applying the formula, an expert committee reviews the formula outcomes. The committee has the power to recommend alternative outcomes to GM – Football Operations where the formula produces a materially anomalous result.