PLAYER movement is the 'game behind the game' that bubbles along all year and the bye rounds are often when clubs' interest in rival stars gets serious.
With the second half of the season about to kick off, our reporters take a look at every club's out-of-contract players, the free agents they're desperate to keep and the opposition guns they might be eyeing off.
Free agents: Richard Douglas (unrestricted), Cam Ellis-Yolmen (unrestricted), Sam Jacobs (unrestricted), David Mackay (unrestricted), Andy Otten (unrestricted)
Whispers: Jacobs is keen to play on, but he might wait before deciding whether he does that at the Crows. While he's likely to be offered an extension, whether he accepts could depend on the form of Reilly O'Brien and the club's continued interest in Brodie Grundy. The Crows might find the going tough, but 'pre-agent' and South Australian Grundy will be on the club's radar going into next season.
Re-signing priority: Alex Keath and Hugh Greenwood aren't free agents, but they are undoubtedly the club's priorities going into the second half of the year. Ellis-Yolmen has been signing one-year deals for a while now, but that duo could take precedence. Locking away Brad Crouch will be the club's main focus going into 2020. - Riley Beveridge
A fit-again Brad Crouch has re-established himself as one of Adelaide's best. Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Ryan Lester (unrestricted)
Whispers: Lester has played only five games this year, but with the impending retirement of Luke Hodge, the 26-year-old could fill the ex-Hawk's spot in the Lions' back half. A member of the Lions' leadership group, Lester is expected to stay at Brisbane into next season, but discussions on a new deal haven't progressed yet.
Re-signing priority: Dan McStay remains out of contract for the Lions, with his two-year extension to expire at the end of this season. The Victorian was on the radar of clubs in 2017 and will be again given his aerial exploits. Ruckman Stefan Martin is also out of contract but expected to stay at the club, while Lewy Taylor and Tom Cutler are others out of contract at the Lions and have had stints at NEAFL level this year. - Callum Twomey
Will Dan McStay or go? Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Levi Casboult (unrestricted), Ed Curnow (unrestricted), Matthew Kreuzer (unrestricted), Kade Simpson (unrestricted)
Whispers: The form of Kreuzer and Curnow is likely to earn both one-year deals at the very least, while the club will let Simpson's football dictate whether he plays into 2020. Expect the Blues to target a 'big fish' to add to the side's midfield. Stephen Coniglio, anyone?
Re-signing priority: Kreuzer appears Carlton's priority, with the club hopeful of tying the ruckman to a one-year deal shortly. Expect co-captain Sam Docherty to be the club's main focus going into 2020, with the All Australian defender out of contract next year. - Riley Beveridge
Free agents: Jamie Elliott (unrestricted), Tyson Goldsack (unrestricted), Ben Reid (unrestricted)
Whispers: Elliott has had his fitness issues recently, but is likely to push for the security of a two-year deal with the Pies. He's had a decent impact since returning to the side, kicking 12 goals from his seven games this season having not managed to get on the park throughout the entirety of 2018. Coming towards the end of their careers, Goldsack and Reid look like they might have to wait until the end of the year, should they wish to play on.
Re-signing priority: Park this year's crop of free agents for a moment. There's every chance Collingwood immediately goes to work on securing its elite group of uncontracted stars going into next year. Brodie Grundy will headline 2020's list of restricted free agents, while Darcy Moore and Jordan De Goey are also set to come out of contract. The Pies would desperately want to tie all three to long-term deals. - Riley Beveridge
Free agents: Mark Baguley (unrestricted), David Myers (unrestricted)
Whispers: Myers will likely be weighing up his future after omitting himself from Essendon's side a month ago following a form lapse and wanting to see younger teammates get an opportunity. Baguley has also been in and out of the senior side and, at 32, may be into his final season at the club.
Re-signing priority: Darcy Parish has hit form in the past month after being given more midfield time, but is yet to sign on beyond this year. The Bombers need to lock up their top pick from the 2015 NAB AFL Draft. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti also remains out of contract and will have plenty of rivals circling if that stays the case much longer. Next year, captain Dyson Heppell and star forward Joe Daniher will fall out of contract so loom as priority re-signings. - Callum Twomey
The Dons will be keen to lock down Darcy Parish. Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Stephen Hill (unrestricted), David Mundy (unrestricted), Aaron Sandilands (unrestricted), Hayden Ballantyne (unrestricted)
Whispers: South Australian Brennan Cox has attracted strong interest from elsewhere but is signed for 2020 and is set to be a lock for the rest of the season through injury to rivals for his position. Stephen Hill's return from a quad injury will influence what his next offer looks like and he is being tracked by the Suns as they chase outside users. Any potential extension for Alex Pearce beyond 2020 will be slowed after his season-ending ankle injury. Mundy remains the most fascinating of the four free agents and is averaging 25.8 disposals a game this season – his highest tally since 2015. Should his body hold up in the next 10 weeks, expect him to be offered a one-year extension. Ballantyne and Sandilands would need an extraordinary change of circumstances to in order to be reinstated for 2020.
Re-signing priority: Ed Langdon is at the top of the list as he enjoys a career-best season. With Fremantle's offer lodged, the ball is in Langdon's court and his strong relationship with Ross Lyon could be the deciding factor. - Mitch Cleary
Ed Langdon has drawn considerable interest from clubs in his home state of Victoria. Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Jed Bews (unrestricted), Harry Taylor (unrestricted)
Whispers: Taylor's return to full fitness this year has increased the possibility of him going into 2020. A decision on any one-year offer will be decided in coming months. As Bews pushes for a senior recall after injury, early discussions have commenced on a fresh deal after concerns he may be forced to look elsewhere. Expect a meeting to come in September on whether Gary Ablett will extend his career into a 19th season.
Re-signing priority: While the Cats are considering a number of different options to retain Tim Kelly for at least 2020, he is demanding a long-term deal. The Cats are sweating on Nakia Cockatoo's return from a knee injury before committing to an extension. Brandan Parfitt's one-year extension for 2020 provides a curious conversation over summer about how big his next deal will be. - Mitch Cleary
Free agents: Sam Day (unrestricted), Tom Nicholls (unrestricted), Michael Rischitelli (unrestricted)
Whispers: Day broke back into the Suns' senior line-up last weekend after toiling away at NEAFL level all season. The Suns have put a contract offer to the key forward and the parties are discussing an extension, but there will be suitors out there given his ability. The club has also been linked to Fremantle speedster and free agent Stephen Hill.
Re-signing priority: Jack Martin is the one here. The midfielder put off talks until the second half of the season and is likely to address where it sits during the Suns' bye this week. He asked to be traded last year and has Victorian and WA clubs interested, but is likely to wait until nearer to the end of the season to make his decision. Top-10 pick Callum Ah Chee is also out of contract and broke back into the senior side on the weekend. - Callum Twomey
Will Jack Martin request a trade again? Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Matt Buntine (unrestricted), Stephen Coniglio (restricted), Adam Tomlinson (unrestricted)
Whispers: After sitting in seat 1A on the flight from Hobart after the Giants' win over North, is Coniglio in Melbourne for business interests or to meet with clubs? For every week he stays out of contract, rival clubs including Hawthorn and Carlton start to take more notice. Tomlinson admitted earlier this year he sat behind Coniglio in the pecking order, with Buntine even further back. Tomlinson has received interest from St Kilda and Western Bulldogs, among others. Veteran Brett Deledio wants to go on again, but the Giants are keen to see how his soft-tissue history stacks up in the back half of the year.
Re-signing priority: Pre-agent Jeremy Cameron, who will be a restricted free agent next year, is joined by Tim Taranto, Lachie Whitfield and Sam Taylor in falling out of contract in 2020. Attention will quickly turn to them for fresh deals once Coniglio is over the line. - Mitch Cleary
Free agents: Grant Birchall, Shaun Burgoyne, Paul Puopolo, Ryan Schoenmakers (unrestricted)
Whispers: The Hawks' list is in a state of flux with a bucketload of players yet to be re-signed. Hawthorn is also being linked to coveted free agent Stephen Coniglio – as are multiple other clubs – and fellow Giant Jon Patton, who is contracted until 2020 but recovering from another knee reconstruction. Patton would help remedy the club's scoring headache if he can prove his durability.
Re-signing priority: Key defender James Frawley may turn 31 in September, but he is still a pivotal piece of the Hawk puzzle, although the club policy for over-30s means he will likely get a one-year deal. Looking ahead to next year, James Sicily, Jarman Impey and Mitch Lewis must be retained. - Marc McGowan
Mitchell Lewis has taken important strides up forward this year. Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Nathan Jones (unrestricted)
Whispers: The Demons made big plays in each of the past two years, highlighted by bringing in defenders Jake Lever and Steven May and offloading Jesse Hogan and multiple first-round picks. There is a feeling in the industry they will be quieter this off-season. Melbourne's done a good job of locking away their highest-priority out-of-contract players, with Sam Weideman the most recent of them. Decisions loom on veterans Jones and Jordan Lewis, with Jones the likelier to play on.
Re-signing priority: Sam Frost has become a regular in the Dees' backline and remains without a new deal, as does out-of-favour runner Alex Neal-Bullen, Billy Stretch and Jeff Garlett, who is fighting for his career. There are some big names on the list next year, such as Jack Viney, Christian Petracca, Michael Hibberd and James Harmes.
Free agents: Todd Goldstein, Majak Daw, Scott Thompson, Sam Wright (unrestricted)
Whispers: Goldstein is the fascinating one here. He's spent 13 seasons at the Kangaroos and remains one of the club's highest-paid players, but he will likely have to take a pay cut to stay. North is understood to be in the ruck market, while St Kilda is one of several clubs that would consider signing him in the off-season if he chooses to leave.
Re-signing priority: Nick Larkey's development this year and ability to ease the load on Ben Brown – beyond just the basic numbers – has been a key part in the Roos' mini-resurgence. He's now someone they must prioritise, because rival clubs will undoubtedly be sniffing around. Jed Anderson, Ben Brown, Ben Cunnington and Jy Simpkin are out of contract in 2020. - Marc McGowan
Free agents: Matthew Broadbent (unrestricted), Justin Westhoff (unrestricted)
Whispers: Westhoff is looking to trigger a one-year extension for 2020 with a strong back half of the year which would offset any free agency claims. However, after a quiet month, the 32-year-old could soon have a fight on his hands to retain his spot. Broadbent remains on leave for personal reasons and contract talks have been parked. Midfielder Karl Amon attempted to leave last year but was tied to the Power for 2019 and should his recent form spike continue, could receive rival offers. Small forward Sam Gray is yet to be offered a new deal despite playing every game since round three.
Re-signing priority: Out-of-contract veteran Paddy Ryder is seeking a two-year deal, but the Power want him for one. Developing forward Todd Marshall, signed for 2020, will quickly become a signature of significance. Robbie Gray and Travis Boak both quietly extended for 2020 during last year. - Mitch Cleary
Free agents: Brandon Ellis (restricted), David Astbury, Shane Edwards, Bachar Houli (unrestricted)
Whispers: The unrestricted free agents are all integral parts of the team. Richmond will be determined to ensure they stay. If everything keeps going well for Sydney Stack, he is expected to ink a contract to remain at Punt Road. There shouldn't be any hiccups with Patrick Naish, who has slotted in well to the senior line-up over the past fortnight. His management will meet with the Tigers over the next few weeks, and it's anticipated a deal will be done. Premiership forward Dan Butler has spent time in the VFL, which would reduce his bargaining power.
Re-signing priority: After Ellis' spot in the side was up in the air to start the season, he has established himself with an excellent run of form. It's likely to see him have plenty of suitors. He doesn't turn 26 until August and has been durable, so could slot in across half-back or on a wing elsewhere if club and player can't reach an agreement. - Dinny Navaratnam
Brandon Ellis remains one of the most high-profile free agents still available. Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Jack Newnes (restricted), David Armitage, Jarryn Geary (unrestricted)
Whispers: Captain Jarryn Geary had a trigger for next season, and although injuries have ruined his year, he will stay at the Saints in 2020. Similarly, Jake Carlisle has a trigger for next year, but back surgery wiped out his first half of 2019. St Kilda is keeping in touch with Newnes' management, with the wingman's form having tailed off after a hot start. The Saints are looking at North Melbourne's Todd Goldstein and Port Adelaide's Paddy Ryder as big men who could help out. Billy Longer and Lewis Pierce are struggling with concussion but were on the outer anyway, so there could be turnover in that part of the club's list. The Saints have been happy with Jonathon Marsh since he was picked up in the Supplemental Selection Period, so he will stay on. Experienced defender Nathan Brown could be in his final season, and it's probably also the final year for Armitage, but the strong form of Shane Savage will be rewarded. Negotiations are at a relatively advanced stage.
Re-signing priority: Billings has become a gun midfielder and is set to be rewarded as such, with a two-year deal coming his way. That will take him through to free agency. - Dinny Navaratnam
Free agents: Harry Cunningham, Jarrad McVeigh, Nick Smith
Whispers: All Australian defender Smith's future is clouded because of an ongoing hamstring injury that will ensure he doesn't play a game this year. At 31, he may have already played his last AFL match. Speedster Zak Jones finally broke into the midfield in 2019 before a hamstring injury, but his performances have also caught St Kilda's eye. Meanwhile, ruckman Darcy Cameron seems certain to leave for greater opportunity. Could the Swans look at free agent Lion Tom Cutler, who has played only three senior games this season?
Re-signing priority: Zak Jones is a player the Swans need to do their utmost to keep as they remodel their midfield. Jones is averaging career highs in disposals, inside 50s, tackles and clearances and boasts the speed that Sydney has lacked much of in recent years. The rapidly improving Jordan Dawson is another priority. - Marc McGowan
The Swans have missed Zak Jones' speed in his absence. Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Chris Masten, Fraser McInnes, Nic Naitanui, Will Schofield (unrestricted)
Whispers: Speedster Lewis Jetta is going well, so a new deal should be worked out there. The situation isn't quite so rosy for Masten, who hasn't been seen in the seniors since round seven. There have been just 14 career games for McInnes, who is in his eighth season. His work rate, and the difficulty of finding depth ruckmen, means the Eagles have kept him for an extended stint. Naitanui's return after two knee reconstructions will probably influence whether McInnes is kept on, while Nathan Vardy's form might be another factor. Big-bodied midfielder Brendon Ah Chee is coming out of contract at season's end. It's a tough midfield to crack into, and if he can't do that, the former Port player might be on the way out at season's end.
Re-signing priority: Naitanui is the one. He's coming off a couple of knee reconstructions but if the spring is still there, he will be extremely dangerous, and especially important considering Scott Lycett's departure and Nathan Vardy's struggles. A three-year deal is on the table. - Dinny Navaratnam
What does Chris Masten's future hold at West Coast? Picture: AFL Photos
Free agents: Tory Dickson, Dale Morris, Fletcher Roberts (unrestricted)
Whispers: Flag hero Morris is nearing a return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. At 36, a decision on whether he plays on likely hinges on how that situation proceeds. Last year, sharpshooter Dickson was signed up relatively late, in September. Club and player are content to follow a similar timeline. Roberts has managed 14 games since the 2016 premiership – that doesn't bode well for him. Bailey Williams looks a likely type but was forced to bide his time in the VFL at different stages this season, so rival suitors might come for the out-of-contract backman. Raking left-footer Matthew Suckling is also unsigned, and despite turning 31 in July, hasn't dropped off.
Re-signing priority: It may have flown under the radar but the signing of Josh Dunkley is a big deal. He's a seriously good player, as is Caleb Daniel, who also committed for a further three seasons. The Dogs have locked up all their big guns for, so will set their sights on securing captain Easton Wood, impressive first-round pick Bailey Smith and young gun Tim English, who come out at the end of 2020. - Dinny Navaratnam