WHEN Brisbane, Essendon and the AFL pondered the Joe Daniher recipe after the 2020 season, there were, as usual with free agency compensation ingredients, many herbs and spices thrown into the mix.
A long period of marinating followed by a slow cook left the plate looking like this: Daniher as the main course with a three-year deal to play for the Lions, national draft pick No.7 for the Bombers as the main side dish.
One season into that three-season deal, Daniher and the Lions have signed a new contract, one contracting him to the club until the end of 2025, in an arrangement which wafted across as a bad smell in the noses of some other clubs.
Those clubs were wondering if the Daniher deal to leave Essendon and join the Lions had been a five-year deal from the outset, at say, less money per season compared with the speculated about-$750,000 per year attached to the three-year deal, would have been sufficient enough for such a lucrative draft pick.
The Bombers, despite threatening all along to match Brisbane's deal, ultimately opted not to, more than comforted with the draft pick, which slid to No.9 and was used on young gun Archie Perkins after the Bulldogs and Swans had respectively accessed Academy players Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Braeden Campbell at picks one and five.
It was smart business for the Lions to get Daniher for nothing, and for the Bombers to get access to a prized high pick for losing him, a pick which ultimately was nestled in between two other first-round picks at eight (Nik Cox), nine (Perkins) and 10 (Zach Reid), and for the AFL to sign off on it all under its free agency compensation formula.
But even before last week's announcement of Daniher's contract extension, there were many who felt the exchange of late 2020 was another example of a manipulable system which has revealed great contrasts in compensation afforded to clubs since free agency inception in 2012.
It has been my view from day one of AFL free agency that compensation should not be given to the club losing the player. And while that would obviously pose a distinct set of new issues for certain clubs and the game's controlling body, in my eyes, it would ultimately prove to be a far cleaner system.
With the AFL itself distributing the compensation, natural draft order is regularly changed, adversely affecting clubs which have no bearing on the free agency negotiations by way of lower draft picks.
'I WENT AROUND HIS BACK' Daniher's new deal surprises his coach
Besides, clubs losing an in-demand free agent have already received "compensation" via the years of service performed by that player, and more "compensation" is to come immediately in the form of that player's salary requirements being a thing of the past and of potential use in the pursuit of a gun free agent or rival club player in a separate transaction.
Rules state that clubs get no compensation for loss of a free agent if they bring in a free agent in the same transaction period. That rule is easily bypassed, though, evidenced as recently as last year in Richmond adding free agent Robbie Tarrant via a trade with North Melbourne, and still receiving draft compensation for loss of Mabior Chol to Gold Coast.
There were as many eyebrows raised in 2016 as there were over the Daniher saga during Tyrone Vickery's free agency exchange and compensation between Richmond and Hawthorn, particularly after the Hawks deleted a media release announcing the deal, and amending it very quickly with a change of tenure attached to the deal.
There were actually more eyebrows raised when Melbourne received pick three (which it used to take 2021 premiership gun Angus Brayshaw) for losing James Frawley to Hawthorn in 2014, one year after the Hawks received pick 19 for losing Lance Franklin to Sydney.
Yes, both picks were picks immediately after each club's natural draft order, and yes, the AFL has never said its compensation formula is designed to "fully compensate" a club for loss of a free agent. An AFL email sent to all clubs in September last year stated that compensation was "not designed to make concession for the ladder position of a club losing a player".
But many had wondered in 2014 if Melbourne's plight at that stage (having just completed an eight consecutive season of double-figure ladder finishes, and two 17th-placed results in a row, might have influenced a favourable compo package.
The AFL has always vigorously defended its free agency compensation formula. Its general counsel Andrew Dillon issued all clubs a reminder of its clauses in late September last year when he distributed an email on the eve of the free agency period.
That correspondence referenced "key determinants" as the age of the player and average guaranteed payments. It said "compensation" was applied to a "ranking list stratified into compensation bands – top five per cent - first round; next 10 per cent - end of first round; next 15 per cent - second round; next 20 per cent - end of second round".
"Other considerations" included: "if compensation considered materially anomalous an expert committee reviews and recommends changes to General Counsel".
Of the change to Daniher's contract, the AFL said: "The AFL does not provide comment on individual player contracts and it is important to note all contracts and settlements lodged by all clubs for all players must be, and have been, approved by the AFL and are only approved if they are in accordance with AFL Rules."
It was current North Melbourne coach David Noble who first labelled the AFL's compensation formula as "secret herbs and spices". That was in 2017 when Noble, then the head of football at Brisbane, was furious at compensation attached to losing Tom Rockliff (pick 18), while Geelong received pick 19 for loss of Steven Motlop to Port Adelaide.
'THE ATHLETE WHISPERER' Fagan on Brisbane's new breathing coach
Noble was still at the Lions for the Daniher acquisition and thanked Essendon for its "professionalism regarding the process of Joe's move to our club".