THERE'S a monster coming over the hill for Collingwood, but the Magpies aren't letting it creep up on them.
In preparation for a massive re-signing period next year, when gun trio Brodie Grundy, Jordan De Goey and Darcy Moore, as well as skipper Scott Pendlebury, all come out of contract, the Magpies are working through plans to keep their premiership-contending list together.
The methods have been in place for some time, but there's still steps to take as the Pies continue to find ways to manoeuvre their salary cap and retain their star-studded group.
De Goey and Pendlebury are among those out of contract next season. Picture: AFL Photos
The next consideration could be extending the contract of star midfielder Adam Treloar.
The former Giant's six-year deal with Collingwood is not due to expire until the end of 2021, giving him at least another two years after this season.
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But it is understood the Magpies are looking at Treloar as being another player they lock in for the very long-term as they organise their total player payments.
An extension as long as three extra years – which would make him a Magpie until the end of 2024, when he will be 32 – has been mooted. Treloar, who leads the competition for disposals this season and was best afield in the Pies' win over Gold Coast on Sunday, passes the durability, quality and consistency tests for a long commitment.
There are varied rationales behind the 'smoothing out' strategy and extending key players to extra seasons before their current contracts are up.
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One is that Collingwood can do so at a reduced rate with some players. The deals offer the players extra security but come at a fraction of their market value, something the Pies have been able to sell to their players after their rise to last year's Grand Final.
Some players also took pay cuts last year to accommodate midfielder Dayne Beams back into the club's tight salary cap.
Dayne Beams' return to the club was met with plenty of fanfare. Picture: AFL Photos
By deferring payments (a number are understood to have forgone upwards of $75,000 this year in a restructure of their contracts) until later years in their deals, the club is able to open up space for the here and now as list manager Ned Guy worked through a challenging retention phase.
Guy has won praise from a number of player managers for his planning and clever deals to shape the Pies' spending so they can keep their big names. Of the senior list of 38 players, more than a third (13) are committed to the club until at least the end of 2021.
The Pies' list management team was masterly last year in keeping their group together, then adding Beams' lucrative four-year salary, without losing any senior regulars.
Collingwood's tactic to get ahead and extend its most important players to longer deals was evident over the off-season, when Steele Sidebottom, who was already signed until the end of 2021, added an extra year to his tenure.
The club signed vice-captain Taylor Adams to a five-year extension this year, making him a Magpie until the end of 2024 (longer than any other player), while they have also signed Jack Crisp (to 2023) for the next four seasons.
Taylor Adams will remain a Magpie until at least the end of 2024. Picture: AFL Photos
Will Hoskin-Elliott, Brayden Maynard and Isaac Quaynor have also signed new deals this year to remain at the club until the end of 2022, while midfielder Tom Phillips penned an extension to the end of 2021.
It is in anticipation of a bumper year of Pies coming out of contract in 2020. All Australian ruckman and free agent Grundy heads the list, and he will not start talks until next year, while De Goey will also wait it out before opening discussions. There is little rush – or reason – for them to dive into talks.
Grundy appears destined to be the million-dollar Magpie, while De Goey can also command that much, having knocked back a five-year deal worth $5 million from North Melbourne last year.
Moore's value is lower, given his injury battles, but the first half of this season underlined the defender to be Collingwood's most important key position player. The Western Bulldogs' interest in him, as reported by AFL.com.au, shows Moore's fitness concerns won't stop rivals circling.
Industry sources estimate the Pies could need to find a combined $650,000-$750,000 per season to add on to the trio's next set of contracts to retain them, with captain Pendlebury and ruck/forward Mason Cox also out of contract at the end of 2020.
The Pies will open up some cap space this season, with Daniel Wells set to depart after another injury-riddled year, and veterans Travis Varcoe, Ben Reid, Levi Greenwood, Tyson Goldsack and Lynden Dunn among the others out of contract. Jamie Elliott is also a free agent but is on a reduced wage this year, like several of the others.
Collingwood doesn't have a first-round draft pick in 2019, after trading it as part of the Beams deal last year, with its opening selection a second-round choice (currently No.31 overall). Could they jettison a player to get back into the earlier stages of the draft and in the meantime open up more cap room?
Next year is a vital one for the Pies, but they've known that for some time.
When are the Magpies contracted to?
*Full 2019 senior list plus rookie Brodie Mihocek
Dayne Beams, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Brayden Maynard, Isaac Quaynor, Steele Sidebottom
Jeremy Howe, Tom Langdon, Tom Phillips, Jaidyn Stephenson, Josh Thomas, Adam Treloar
James Aish, Atu Bosenavulagi, Callum Brown, Tyler Brown, Mason Cox, Josh Daicos, Jordan De Goey, Brodie Grundy, Will Kelly, Chris Mayne, Brodie Mihocek, Darcy Moore, Nathan Murphy, Scott Pendlebury, Jordan Roughead, Matt Scharenberg
Ben Crocker, Lynden Dunn, Jamie Elliott, Tyson Goldsack, Levi Greenwood, Ben Reid, Brayden Sier, Travis Varcoe, Rupert Wills, Daniel Wells