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COMMENT: Gaff faces million-dollar quandary

'Andrew lowered his centre of gravity' Andrew Brayshaw's father Mark gives his version of events from the Andrew Gaff incident
Andrew Gaff is consoled by coach Adam Simpson after last Sunday's derby clash - AFL,Trade,Free Agency,Andrew Gaff,West Coast Eagles
Andrew Gaff is consoled by coach Adam Simpson after last Sunday's derby clash

ANDREW Gaff's football future is understandably the last thing on his mind at the moment.

The West Coast restricted free agent will spend the next few days regrouping with family and friends in Melbourne as he comes to terms with the fall-out of his strike on first-year Docker Andrew Brayshaw last Sunday.

Gaff's blow, which had been intended for Brayshaw's chest, fractured the No.2 draft pick's jaw and displaced four of this teeth, and saw the Eagles midfielder slapped with the equal-longest suspension this century, an eight-week ban.

That's a lot to deal with for a player who had never been reported before in 174 previous AFL games and – as his legal counsel, David Grace QC, was at pains to point out at Tuesday night's Tribunal hearing – his entire junior career before that.

Gaff's manager, Paul Connors, told SEN radio on Wednesday morning he had not spoken to his client about his future since last Sunday's incident, and did not anticipate doing so for another week.

But when Gaff is ready to consider whether he wants to stay at West Coast or return home to Victoria at one of the six Melbourne-based clubs chasing him, will the unexpectedly sudden and unsavoury end to his season influence his decision?

Connors was unsure when asked on Wednesday morning.

It appears likely, however, that Gaff's suspension will at least add new – and potentially emotion-charged – layers to his decision.

The following questions, for instance, could complicate things for the 2015 All Australian.

 

Can he walk out on the Eagles after leaving them shorthanded ahead of a finals campaign that had looked so promising before his suspension and Nic Naitanui's season-ending knee injury?

Does he want one of his last acts in a West Coast jumper to be one of which he is ashamed?

On the other hand, does he want to stay in Perth when there's a fair chance he'll be reminded of the Brayshaw strike every time he steps out in public? He knows Fremantle fans won't forget and some of them won't forgive.

If Gaff decides it's easier to make a fresh start back in Victoria, he'll have no shortage of options, with Melbourne, North Melbourne, St Kilda and Carlton understood to be among his suitors.

For much of this year, West Coast had appeared well placed to keep Gaff given he was settled in Perth, entrenched in a team with genuine premiership aspirations, and had repeatedly stated his preference to stay.

The fact Gaff did not rush to re-sign earlier this year was not in itself overly concerning either. The last time he was out of contract, 2016, he did not re-sign until late July. 

However, before the wingman's season abruptly ended last Sunday, West Coast had grown increasingly nervous about whether it could retain him.

Many initially believed the rejuvenated Demons had the strongest prospects of luring Gaff home.

But the cashed-up Saints and Kangaroos now loom as the biggest threats to the Eagles, who are understood to have offered Gaff a new deal of about $850,000 a season for up to six years.

While Melbourne has the salary cap room to make Gaff a highly competitive offer, St Kilda and North can blow them – and the Eagles – out of the water.

The Roos, for instance, had room to add Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly last year on deals that combined would have been worth up to $2.5 million a season.

That money remains unspent. Even if North is successful in its bold bid for Port Adelaide runner Jared Polec, plenty of it will still be left to dangle before Gaff.

As one of the competition's best outside runners and a vastly improved inside ball-winner, Gaff could command as much as $1.2 million a season to move.

The Roos and Saints can offer that amount and, even more concerningly for West Coast, could structure heavily front-ended deals that would make Gaff the highest-paid player in the competition in 2019, say, on more than $1.5 million.

Although Gaff is a restricted free agent, the Eagles – with highly paid stars such as Nic Naitanui, Jeremy McGovern, Josh Kennedy, Luke Shuey and Shannon Hurn on their list – would have no hope of matching such a deal.

West Coast can only hope Gaff's desire to stay is strong enough for him to forgo the riches thrown at him, just as Martin did to stay at Richmond last year.

If he remains truly undecided, we suspect the unstinting support West Coast has given him since last Sunday could sway him to re-sign.

Either way, don't expect a decision anytime soon.

When he's ready, Gaff will have a lot to mull over.

Podcast: Brayshaw says Gaff's hit on brother was 'assault'

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