AFTER talking to senior coaches on their visits to AFL Media through the pre-season, what is clear is that the jury is still out on free agency.
What come across are clear concerns that while there is plenty of traffic of players from struggling clubs to top clubs, there isn't much the other way.
There have been just three off-seasons of free agency and the coaches are keen to see the mechanism play itself out for another few years before changes are contemplated. For that reason they are already concerned at noises emanating from the AFL Players' Association about the qualifying period being reduced down from the eight years it is now.
"If you lower the number of years for free agency by too much then it disincentives clubs to develop players," said North Melbourne's Brad Scott.
Most coaches also believe that compensation picks should remain for clubs that lose players to free agency, particularly given that is the bottom clubs that have tended to have players depart.
Players can become free agents either after eight years depending on whether they are restricted or unrestricted. The AFLPA is suggesting that be reduced to six years and eight years. Would you support that?
Brad Scott (North Melbourne): There has to be an incentive for clubs to develop their own players. If you lower the number of years for free agency by too much then it disincentives clubs to develop players. Clubs will just draft players and then just recruit free agents. They won't spend money on developing players.
Paul Roos (Melbourne): I don't like it at all. Make it 15 and 20 years. I'm not a fan. It's panning out just as I thought it would.
Ross Lyon (Fremantle): Free agency is important. We had to change the rules to free up player movement. We don't know the full effects of it just yet, so before we make any changes lets make sure we understand the ramifications for all the clubs in the land; who can attract them and who cannot.
Nathan Buckley (Collingwood): Eight years is fair. We just need the time for it to settle down.
Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide): As a coach I don't really like free agency because it makes it difficult to hold on to all your players. Hopefully you create a sort of environment that they don't want to leave. Initially it seems to be the lower clubs that are being picked off at the expense of the higher clubs. I'm not a fan of the eligibility criteria being reduced.
Leon Cameron (Greater Western Sydney): Eight and 10 years is fine. It means you have had a good stint at your footy club. I'm not sure about six years because sometimes it takes four or five years just for a player to be established. All of a sudden, they're a free agent.
John Longmire (Sydney Swans): I think it needs to settle a bit. I don't know what the hurry is to change it. Sometimes we make rules and then jump and react pretty quickly. It's here, it's not going to go anywhere so as an industry we need to get used to it, whether that's media, club or supporters.
Should the compensation picks remain?
Scott: I'm probably in the minority here, but they should remain, at least in the short term. The pool of available free agents is still too low and there is a one-year lag period to replace free agents.
Roos: There has to be in our system, because we see in our case that the bottom clubs are losing players. It's easier to cope with the loss of a good player if you're getting a high draft pick. Otherwise it becomes really difficult to replenish your list.
Buckley: I think its fair enough.
Hinkley: Really unfair and difficult for the bottom clubs if they're getting picked off and not able to replenish at the draft.
Cameron: Everyone talks about the immediate compensation, the immediate draft pick and you need something straight away because you have put a fair bit into that player.
Longmire: I'm undecided; perhaps let it remain as it is for a bit longer.
Should there be restrictions on the top teams, say the top four, from taking part?
Scott: It would be too hard to manage. The reality is you work on free agents all through the season without knowing whether you'll finish top four.
Buckley: If the top teams can manage their salary cap accordingly, then good luck to them.
Hinkley: We finished third last year so that's a bad idea! I don't mind free agency if it also works in reverse and players from top clubs join those lower down the ladder.
Cameron: That wouldn't be fair. No doubt there's a trend for players with three or four years later trying to get to a powerful club with a premiership in mind, and that doesn't help some of the younger clubs. But it is also a case of smart management by the successful clubs. As a young side building from scratch you want to work to get into as position to get these free agents because we're starting to become a finals contender.