TWO AFL coaches are urging players to cast aside uncertainty and control their own destiny as answers about potentially reduced list sizes remain some time off.
The long list of priorities at League headquarters this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and resultant season interruption, means many key decisions could still be months off a resolution.
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Every club has at least 44 players on its list and several have as many as 47 (counting Category B rookies), while Gold Coast has a competition-high 51 because of special AFL concessions.
List size cuts were being discussed pre-COVID-19, with the AFL foreshadowing a less lucrative broadcast rights deal, as AFL.com.au reported in February.
However, the subsequent financial carnage from the coronavirus crisis means smaller playing lists are increasingly likely.
Where the number lands is a constant point of speculation, from low 30s, to 35, 38 or 40 – and that means footballers without a contract beyond 2020 are even more vulnerable than normal.
>>Scroll down for a list of 10 interesting players out of contract at season's end
North Melbourne coach Rhyce Shaw's immediate attention is on the club's round two clash with the Giants but his preference is for clarity on the future of list sizes to be known soon.
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"There's been a little bit of talk (about it within the players) but we just make sure the boys are focused on the now," Shaw said.
"They control their destiny in a lot of ways, so that's all we're worried about.
"Obviously, it would be a pretty uncomfortable situation when you think about the numbers, and do the numbers, but we just have to make sure we look after ourselves right now and do the best we can."
Hawthorn's four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson echoed Shaw's sentiments.
Clarkson, Brisbane's Chris Fagan and Greg Swann, Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge, and the AFL's legal counsel Andrew Dillon and head of talent Tristan Salter are on the competition's talent pathway committee.
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Clarkson hinted last week the cuts may not be as savage long term as initially feared, saying there is often "an overreaction to a significant event and then there's some form of correction".
The former Kangaroo and Demon said it was important players tried not to overthink the situation and instead focused on what they could do "to give myself the best chance".
"We haven't detected any significant anxieties within our group," Clarkson said.
"What we want to focus on with all our players is just what we can control, and that is we don't know what's going to happen in the future.
"That's going to be guided by decision-makers who are outside of the control of our footy club just at this point.
"Obviously, if it's imposed upon us that we have to make some decisions in that space, then that's a little bit different, but let's not worry about that until the time comes."
Players agents who spoke to AFL.com.au this week said they expected their clients' concern about the issue to heighten if they weren't getting a game halfway through the season.
The list and salary cap squeeze may also create a situation where certain footballers are more highly valued elsewhere.
TEN INTRIGUING OUT-OF-CONTRACT PLAYERS
Cedric Cox (Brisbane)
Cox's played only 13 games in three seasons since being the No.24 pick in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft. The small forward kicked three goals or more three times in the NEAFL last year, including four in the Lions' Grand Final win over Southport.
Matt Scharenberg (Collingwood)
Missed the first couple of months of the 2019 season recovering from a third knee reconstruction. Snuck in seven games in the Pies' defence from there but was dropped for the finals. They were willing to offload Scharenberg in last year's Telstra AFL Trade Period.
Zac Langdon (GWS Giants)
Foot and ankle problems ruined Langdon's second AFL season, after he kicked 21 goals in as many games in 2018. Showed his ability in the pre-season with five goals against the Swans, and kicked one major playing alongside Brent Daniels in round one.
Jayden Hunt (Melbourne)
Hunt was a revelation across half-back in 2017 with his line-breaking runs but he played only six games in 2018 before reinventing himself as a leading forward last year. Wasn't selected for the season opener against West Coast, so will have to work his way back in.
Taylor Garner (North Melbourne)
There's no doubting Garner's talent but his latest hamstring setback this week has placed his season in jeopardy. Has only once played more than 11 games in eight seasons at the Roos, and was an emergency in round one. Mason Wood is another to watch at the Roos.
Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
The bull-at-a-gate midfielder was left out of the Power's senior side three times last year, including round 23, but was selected in round one this season. Powell-Pepper has previously generated rival interest but much will depend on his 2020 efforts.
Oleg Markov (Richmond)
Has struggled to break into the strong Tigers side, playing only 17 games into what is his fourth AFL season, including appearing just twice last year. Much will depend on what Markov can do in 2020 but he's a good size (188cm), is quick and takes the game on.
Josh Battle (St Kilda)
Enjoyed a breakout 2019 season, appearing 19 times as part of the Saints' defence. Can also play in attack and Brett Ratten is even contemplating using him on a wing. Battle was left out of St Kilda's round side, with recruit Dougal Howard and fit-again Dylan Roberton preferred.
Ben Ronke (Sydney)
Burst onto the scene with bags of seven and five in 2018 off the rookie list, as well as six games with at least six tackles. However, the young Swan didn't have more than two goals or four tackles in any of his 13 games last year. Played in round one against Adelaide.
Lin Jong (Western Bulldogs)
Was infamously caught touring Collingwood's facilities in 2016 but has twice signed two-year deals to remain at the Dogs since. Jong's managed only 10 AFL matches since suffering an ACL rupture in round 13, 2017 and none last year. A hamstring injury sidelined him in round one.