AFL CLUBS are requesting any future playing list reduction be gradual rather than in one big hit next year as they brace for significant soft cap cuts.

The news comes as Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley calls for player numbers to decrease in line with any coaching casualties, to maintain a similar ratio between the two roles.

AFL.com.au revealed on Thursday that each club's soft cap could be as little as $6 million from next season, after that figure started at $9.7 million this year.

The 18 teams already had to slash $1 million off that for the 2020 season, and originally were expecting to trim it to $6.7 million by next year.

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It's understood roughly 80 per cent of the soft cap is spent on staff salaries, with assistant coaches, recruiters and footballers to be impacted as clubs seek to meet the new restrictions.

"Say you had to drop 20 per cent of your staff, for instance, and they're potentially on 30 per cent less pay … I think the playing list needs to drop pretty much pro rata – and the salary cap would need to drop pro rata as well," Buckley told Essendon's Working Through It podcast.

"I think the ratios of people – staff or coaching to players – is something I would advocate stays relatively even, because I think the mix has been pretty good at the moment.

"If you had less staff with the same playing lists; I think it's a detriment to both staff and players."

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Rookie salaries are currently included in the soft cap, whereas primary-listed players' wage fits under the salary cap.

This developing situation is why list sizes has become such a hot topic, and it was one of the key areas the AFL sought feedback from clubs on.

Most key decision-makers in clubland are now accepting there will have to be a reduction.

Many still believe playing lists will eventually shrink to 35 – teams have about 46 this year – but football and list bosses are advocating for any cut to be closer to 38 or 40 in 2021.

Hawthorn list boss Graham Wright is one who stated publicly he hoped any reduction wouldn't go below 40.

That would help preserve a state league structure at least similar to what's been in place in recent seasons with AFL clubs' involvement.

The fear in such a small list cut is the attrition rate for non-playing staff might have to be worse.

That's why Buckley is also advocating for reduced salaries across the board to play a role in the industry's evolution.

"You need to operate in a lean manner but you still need to provide the right environment for your people – players mainly but also for staff – to optimise their output … (and) contribution to your environment," he said.

"We'll be doing everything we can to keep as many of the people as we can and to invest back into our programs as much as we possibly can, given the economic constraints that are coming."

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The AFL Players' Association would have to agree to any new list changes, while some player agents have told AFL.com.au they are fiercely opposed to any cuts.

The compromise if clubs do have fewer players from next year is they are expected to have an extended window for what's previously been the pre-season supplemental selection period.

The SSP enables teams to add players between December and mid-March if they have list vacancies, while there was also a mid-season draft last year for additional help if required.

Instead, the remodelled SSP would run into the season and have a waiver mechanism, as AFL.com.au previously reported.