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Slimmer pickings? Why 2019's free agency crop is different

Twelve Tiger flag heroes in the trade and FA sweet spot Mitch Cleary and Nick Bowen discuss this year's free agency pool

THIS year's free agency crop is the oldest in recent years and lacks depth in the 25-26 age bracket that has proved far and away the happiest hunting ground for rival teams.

A remarkable 25 of the 37 players – 67.6 per cent – who have moved clubs since free agency's introduction in 2012 have been aged 25 or 26 at the start of the relevant season.

AFL.com.au has compiled a preliminary list of 2019's free agents, which reveals a distinct lack of targets in this player movement sweet spot.

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The decision of Nick Haynes, 26, to re-sign with Greater Western Sydney on Friday means just 15 of 2019's 67 eligible free agents will be 25 or 26 when the premiership season kicks off on March 21.

Although there is undeniable quality among this crucial age bracket, which includes Stephen Coniglio, Adam Tomlinson, Jack Newnes, Tom Liberatore and Sam Day, it accounts for just 22.4 per cent of this year's total pool.

This is a significant drop from the past two years, when players aged 25 or 26 at the start of the season accounted for:

  • 31.4 per cent of the free agency pool – 16 of 51 players – in 2018; and 
  • 31.7 per cent – 19 of 60 players – in 2017.

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This drop can be partially explained by a frantic last day of the 2018 trade period, when prospective 2019 free agents Dylan Shiel, now 26, Chad Wingard and Lachie Neale, both 25, were traded.

Greater Western Sydney, Port Adelaide and Fremantle were prepared to agree to their respective player's trade request, confident they could broker better returns than if they waited another year for free agency compensation.

Meanwhile, more than half of 2019's existing free agents will be 30 or older as of round one, casting further doubt on how active this sector of the player movement market will be.

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Just two free agents aged 30 or older have changed clubs – Jarrad Waite (2014) and Daniel Wells (2016), who were both 31 at the time – and this year's crop includes a whopping 35 such veterans, who represent 52.2 per cent of the total pool.

This is a significant spike on last year when just 35.3 per cent of the players on the AFL's official free agency list were 30 or older – 18 of 51 players.

In 2017, 45 per cent of free agents – 27 of 60 players – were 30 or older at the start of the season.

Hawthorn has the most 30-year-olds on this year's list with five, Sydney has four, while Adelaide, Fremantle, Richmond, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs each have three.

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See AFL.com.au's preliminary 2019 free agency list below.

Richard Douglas, 32 as of March 21
Cam Ellis-Yolmen, 26 
Sam Jacobs, 30
David Mackay, 30
Andy Otten, 29

Ryan Lester, 26

Levi Casboult, 29
Ed Curnow, 29
Matthew Kreuzer, 29
Kade Simpson, 34

Jamie Elliott, 26
Tyson Goldsack, 31
Ben Reid, 29

Jamie Elliott missed all of last season with soft-tissue injuries. Picture: AFL Photos

Mark Baguley, 31
David Myers, 29

Hayden Ballantyne, 31
Stephen Hill, 28
David Mundy, 33
Aaron Sandilands, 36

Jed Bews, 25
Harry Taylor, 32

Sam Day, 26
Tom Nicholls, 27
Michael Rischitelli, 33
Alex Sexton, 25
Rory Thompson, 28

Sam Day has played 110 games at the Suns. Picture: AFL Photos

Matt Buntine, 25
Stephen Coniglio, 25
Adam Tomlinson, 25

Grant Birchall, 31
Shaun Burgoyne, 36
Paul Puopolo, 31
Jarryd Roughead, 32
Ryan Schoenmakers, 28
Ben Stratton, 30

Small forward Paul Puopolo is one of five Hawks over 30 on this year's free agents list. Picture: AFL Photos

Nathan Jones, 31

Majak Daw, 28
Todd Goldstein, 30
Scott Thompson, 32
Sam Wright, 28

Matthew Broadbent, 28
Justin Westhoff, 32

David Astbury, 28
Shane Edwards, 30
Brandon Ellis, 25
Shaun Grigg, 30
Bachar Houli, 30

Shane Edwards was an All Australian last year. Picture: AFL Photos

David Armitage, 30
Jarryn Geary, 30
Jack Newnes, 26

Harry Cunningham, 25
Heath Grundy, 32
Kieren Jack, 31
Jarrad McVeigh, 33
Nick Smith, 30

Shannon Hurn, 31
Josh Kennedy, 31
Chris Masten, 29
Fraser McInnes, 25
Nic Naitanui, 28
Will Schofield, 30
Brad Sheppard, 27

Injured Eagle Nic Naitanui is one of the biggest names on this year's list. Picture: AFL Photos

Tory Dickson, 31
Tom Liberatore, 26
Dale Morris, 36
Liam Picken, 32
Fletcher Roberts, 25