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Jack Watts: to stay or go?

Jack Watts of the Demons looks on during the 2013 AFL Round 14 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG, Melbourne on June 29, 2013. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Jack Watts is out of contract at the end of the year, and faces a big decision
THE BEST thing for Jack Watts' football career would be to leave Melbourne.

Demon supporters won't necessarily agree and I'm sure CEO Peter Jackson knows securing his signature will make selling hope easier in the short-term. 

Watts is popular with Demon fans. He is a good character and he can play the game. He also has good relationships with his teammates. 

You would imagine the AFL would see him as a key part of the rebuild. 

But Watts has been used enough as the linchpin for a Melbourne revival and this time he should consider his own best interests. 

And, in reality, the Demons need to move beyond Watts to set up a new era. 

The loss to the Giants on Saturday strengthens rather than weakens that case. 

Watts kicked two goals, took eight marks, and had 15 disposals in the game as the team had just 48 inside 50s.

It was a neither-here-nor-there performance of a player who doesn't look as though he knows whether he should be here or there. 

A move at season's end would guarantee he does. 

On Tuesday, Watts' manager announced he was holding off re-signing until the club appointed a new coach. 

The message that came through was that Watts was coach shopping but it was an unfortunate message to attach to Watts' name. 

The 22-year-old may not have enjoyed his time under previous coach Mark Neeld but his decision on where he plays next year will not be based on whether or not he likes the next coach. 

Watts' decision will be about whether he believes Melbourne can provide the best environment for his future development. 

His current coach Neil Craig addressed that misconception on Wednesday: 

"He didn't give me an indication it [his decision] would be based on the next coach because the reality with that is, if it's not me and Jack probably doesn't know me that well yet, if it's someone else, he may not even know the coach." 

Watts is not a sook. He simply lost faith at times this year in those who didn't show any faith in him.  

You get the feeling Jackson – who is doing a good job in tough circumstances – has empathy for Watts. 

Jackson saw what Jobe Watson went through at Essendon before he emerged and admitted Watts' head is now in a better space in relation to football than it was a month or so ago. 

Watts has played under four coaches: Dean Bailey, Todd Viney, Neeld and Craig. 

He has also had four captains – James McDonald, Brad Green, Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove, two presidents and the club is under its second CEO in his time. 

AFL involvement is a positive yet who will eventually be president remains uncertain. 

From now on Watts deserves to experience how professional clubs operate. And understand that pursuing success at the elite level can be satisfying and fun. 

Fremantle has been watching his progress and Greater Western Sydney is interested in a player of his type. 

Adelaide could surely do with another tall forward, sitting inside 50 alongside Taylor Walker and Tom Lynch, who happens to be a good friend of Watts'. 

There has been strong speculation in the industry that Carlton is interested.

Assessing Watts' value right now is a little difficult but he should carry enough currency to enable the Demons to get a reasonable young midfielder in return. 

If he was packaged up with a couple of Demons and offered to GWS, he might even command a draft pick of reasonable value. 

But he is no Chris Judd, Brendon Goddard, Luke Ball or Tom Scully when it comes to trade discussions. 

He is somewhere just above Farren Ray and Graham Polak. 

Both Ray and Polak were at their respective clubs for five years and 70-odd games before being traded. Watts has been at Melbourne for five seasons and played 69 games. 

Everyone, including Watts, accepts he has to lift his intensity and second and third efforts but those in contention also know that big blokes like Watts are handy on Grand Final day. 

Let's face it: Wayne Carey and Royce Hart would have struggled to mark the ball inside Melbourne's forward 50 with the delivery on occasions this season. 

Watts gets to the right spots more often than not but is often not used. He would be in a better team. 

He's a Melbourne boy and a loyal person so wrenching him from the home environment might be hard but Watts would enjoy the relative anonymity he would have outside Victoria. 

He is understood to have become sick, at various times, of the constant jibes directed his way in his hometown. 

Despite denials, there is little doubt Watts' name was raised as a possible trade last October. Perhaps it was designed as a wake-up call. Perhaps it was another sign of the way he was regarded. 

If he wanted to stay in Victoria, then Carlton – under Mick Malthouse, a person he respects and someone who mentored him last season – would look after him in a way Melbourne has never been able to do. 

That fact is the fault of many (including Watts to some extent), but no blame can be laid at Jackson's feet. 

Unfortunately the CEO might have to wear decisions from the past. 

And he has not really been allowed to settle since.

A dejected Jack Watts leaves the field after another Melbourne defeat. Picture: AFL Media

A quick synopsis of this year shows why he deserves better. 

At the end of 2012, he went to America with good mates from the club and worked hard while away to be fit and ready for pre-season. 

One wonders if he should have just had a complete break because he was in the rehab group before Christmas. 
However, keen to build on the momentum he gained last year, he returned ready. 

Then after showing good form in defence in pre-season, he started 2013 with a shocker in the opening round and was pulled from pillar to post. 

He was substituted during the 148-point loss to Essendon in round two and then later the bewildering decision was made to drop him when the VFL had a bye then reinstate him a week later. He then played forward and back, after spending pre-season back. 

After Neeld was sacked, he was the match-winner against the Western Bulldogs and good against the Brisbane Lions in Darwin. He then struggled against North Melbourne and was OK against the Giants. 

After 69 games he averages 15.2 disposals and 5.3 marks per match. 

Before Saturday he had gained 17.3 per cent of his disposals up forward, 17.9 in defence and 64.8 per cent in the middle. 

With Jesse Hogan and perhaps a fit Mitch Clark to fill the forward line, Watts' best chance with Melbourne would be in an Andrew Mackie-type role down back. 

There is nothing wrong with that but it's a tough position to play for a club struggling like the Demons. 

It won't be an easy call for Watts. 

Many think he should stick things out to emerge from the tough times. You'd guess that runs through his mind too given he has so much time for his teammates and Melbourne supporters. 

But the focus on Watts when it comes to Melbourne is distorted.  

At a new club, he can just get on with the business of being the mid-60s draft pick he sometimes wishes he had been. 

And Melbourne can get on with its next era. 

- Familiar environment
- Loyalty
- Chance to ride out bad times
- Friendships within club
- Money/length of contract
- Play at the MCG
- Likes Melbourne and supporters
- AFL backing
- Fresh start
- Less the face of the club and its failures
- Team success more likely
- Leaders to learn from
- Relative anonymity (if outside Victoria)
- Big games, big crowds
- Slot into a functioning environment with resources and stars
- No safety net
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs