The Trade Period is over for another year, but the player movement news doesn't stop. AFL.com.au presents Inside Trading, with breaking news and the best analysis of the AFL trade landscape covering contracts, re-signings, free agents, the AFL Draft and industry insights.
INSIDE THE MCKAY CHASE
THE PURSUIT of Ben McKay told the wider story of this year's trade and free agency period, the tactics clubs are undertaking and some of the future of player movement.
Essendon's successful recruitment of McKay as a restricted free agent came after a long period of wooing, which saw Hawthorn and Sydney also vie strongly for his commitment.
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All clubs knew it would be a competitive market, but the McKay chase, and subsequent dominoes of key defenders moving clubs, showed the tall backs environment to be even more fierce than predicted.
The North Melbourne free agent was one of eight key defenders to move through the Trade Period, along with Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher to Port Adelaide, Tom Doedee to Brisbane, Joel Hamling to Sydney, Chris Burgess to Adelaide and Bigoa Nyuon to North Melbourne. The Kangaroos also signed former Swan Toby Pink as a delisted free agent. Ratugolea signed a five-year deal with the Power and Doedee a four-year deal with the Lions, with both having multiple suitors as the other high-priced defensive additions.
McKay toured Sydney's facilities and spoke with the Hawks and Bombers multiple times as he weighed his decision, with the Swans stepping up their interest after Tom Barrass decided to stay at West Coast.
Ultimately McKay wanted to stay in Victoria, with the Bombers edging out the Hawks as his preferred new home after a lengthy process. Bombers leaders Zach Merrett, Jordan Ridley, Mason Redman and Andrew McGrath had pushed to be part of the presentation to McKay and their message had resonated with him.
Ridley already had a good friendship with his now defensive partner, having trained over pre-seasons with a private running coach alongside McKay. Two of McKay's best games this season were against the Bombers, with the pair now central to Essendon's hopes of rising up the ladder.
McKay's deal of six years through to the end of 2029, plus a trigger for a seventh season, was lodged with the AFL on the opening day of the Trade Period – and the fourth day of free agency – before it was processed the following day and delivered the Kangaroos a band one compensation pick (No.3 pick overall).
The Roos had said they would have matched the deal and forced a trade if it was not at that level, with the deal believed to be around the $800,000 mark per season.
Essendon wasn't willing to trade for McKay, instead protecting its draft hand. It did that throughout the period, bringing in McKay, Jade Gresham and Todd Goldstein as free agents and Xavier Duursma as a trade but still remaining with three picks inside the first 35 selections (No.9, 31 and 35 overall).
The structuring of his deal also leant into Essendon's current position. The Bombers have been in a strong salary cap position in recent years and used some of that money to bring across their acquisitions.
It is believed McKay's deal will also be front-ended, meaning the Bombers will tip in more at the start of his deal while they have cash reserves to play with in the hope they continue to be aggressive in the free agency market.
McKay is understood to be going to be paid around $1.4 million to $1.5 million in 2024, with front-ending smart business and expected to be more common practice particularly for clubs with salary cap room given the expanded total player payments under the new collective bargaining agreement, which is kicking in next year.
Clubs are expected to use that more and more, particularly after the reminder they were given by the AFL at the start of the Trade Period that they must still hit the 95 per cent spending threshold. The cap's increasing level again in 2025 means clubs will likely look to pay off more of their bigger deals with room in their cap. It pays off their owings earlier while their cash haul rises significantly year on year.
As many clubs push to be able to trade salary cap space as the next frontier of player movement, money has become the major asset in trade and free agency dealings. The Bombers have been proponents of pick purchasing – a mechanism to be able to buy draft picks for salary cap space – and despite their haul of additions this year, they remain in strong shape for more tilts in coming seasons. – Callum Twomey
LION HEADING TO NEW DEAL
BRISBANE star Keidean Coleman is closing in on a contract extension with the Lions after a starring finals series.
Coleman was close to best afield in the Lions' preliminary final win over Carlton and gathered 26 disposals in the Grand Final defeat to Collingwood, coming second in the Norm Smith Medal behind Magpie Bobby Hill.
He is due to come out of contract at the end of 2024, however, talks have been progressing on an extension. A three-year extension would take Coleman to his free agency year at the end of 2027.
Coleman played 23 games for the Lions this season and became a key player off half-back in his fourth season at the club. He was an Academy graduate for the Lions who arrived as a pick no.37 in the 2019 draft, having been overlooked the previous year when he was first eligible. – Callum Twomey
BOMBERS LEARN FATE
ESSENDON on Wednesday delisted pair Will Snelling and Patrick Voss after weeks in limbo, however, mid-season recruit Jaiden Hunter is looking likely to remain at the club.
The Bombers trio were made to wait through to the end of the Trade Period before decisions were made on their future, with Snelling and Voss delisted this week.
However, it is now expected Hunter remains at the Bombers, having had positive indications on a new deal for 2024.
Hunter had an unlucky beginning to life on an AFL list, with the key forward joining the club at this year's mid-season draft and then two weeks later had a back stress fracture discovered and missed the rest of the season. – Callum Twomey
AFL TO REVIEW BIDDING INCENTIVES
THE AFL will assess whether clubs retain the 20 per cent discount they currently receive on father-son and Academy players as part of the League's wider review into the bidding system.
As revealed in Inside Trading earlier this month, the League's new football boss Laura Kane has written to clubs explaining the ongoing review on the bidding system and to gather feedback on potential improvements.
Clubs who are set to inherit either a father-son draftee or a prospect through their Academy, be it a Next Generation or Northern Academy, currently receive a 20 per cent discount through the Draft Value Index to match bids.
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However, speaking to AFL.com.au's trade and draft show Gettable on Wednesday, Kane said part of the review would involve evaluating the incentives given throughout the bidding process.
"You have to pay fair value," Kane told Gettable.
"That's important to the bigger picture. But I also think we need to acknowledge the work that clubs are doing with those players. Just because you see a father-son or a Next Generation Academy player at 19 years old, playing in a Grand Final, it doesn't mean the club hasn't put in 10 years or work or more into that player.
"It's a balance and that's what we look at, what should it look like and when should the player start having involvement in the club and the club having involvement in their development?" – Riley Beveridge
PICK SWAPS DECLINE
CLUBS are continuing talks on potential pick swaps but many expect their trade decisions to be held until draft night.
The numbers of draft selections traded in the pick swaps window has declined dramatically in recent years, with 26 picks traded in 2019, 20 in 2020, eight in 2021 and seven in 2022.
This year there remains ongoing discussions on deals however clubs may still hold over deals until the draft on November 20-21 before pulling the trigger on moves.
As revealed on Gettable this week, West Coast has had more offers for the No.1 pick, with Melbourne putting forward picks No.6, 11, 42 and a future first-round pick and North Melbourne has floated pick No.2 and two of its later first-round picks for No.1 and 23. Neither offer has yet turned the head of the Eagles.
Geelong's pick No.8 has interest from multiple clubs, while Adelaide has been looking at packaging two of its top-20 picks to move higher up the order. – Callum Twomey