IF LIST and salary cap cuts are coming, there is a way the AFL Players' Association can position themselves for a win from the situation.
For many years the players' union has been pushing for free agency qualification to be cut to six years – down from eight years – meaning players would be able to test the market after a shorter period of time at their respective clubs.
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This year, for instance, it would mean out-of-contract players such as Collingwood pair Jordan De Goey and Darcy Moore, who were drafted at the end of 2014, would be classified as free agents after serving six years at their clubs.
The AFLPA tried hard to get this clause through in 2017, when it was renegotiating the new Collective Bargaining Agreement through to the end of 2022, but the AFL did not budge on its position.
Parts of the free agency model have been changed, but the eligibility remains as first introduced by the AFL in 2012: the minimum time required to become a free agent is eight years at the one club.
Would slashing the free agency eligibility by two years be the trade-off for the salary cap or list pain that could be around the corner due to COVID-19?
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The AFLPA wrote to its cohort on Monday that although it had committed to a review of the CBA for its remaining two years (2021-2022), it had not agreed to any amendments.
It has not yet officially renewed its quest to drop the free agency qualification with the hope it won't need to look for a compromise for dramatic list and salary changes.
But the AFL knows it is tucked away in their back pocket.
There are mixed views in clubland about slicing the free agency qualification to six seasons.
Some believe the model would allow players to have more time to build to a premiership at their new club, which was part of the AFLPA's pitch in previous attempts, and that it would assist the middle to lower tier players, who could be hurt most by the tightening of caps, get to new destinations.
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However other list managers and officials say many players are still developing when they are into their sixth season – particularly if they are drafted at 18 – and are yet to reach their peak at the club which drafted them.
Clubs also believe one of free agency's biggest impacts on the competition has not necessarily been more player movement, particularly with restricted free agents, but instead the loading of long-term deals for players approaching eligibility.
Last year, for instance, new Giants skipper Stephen Coniglio signed a seven-year deal with the club after turning his back on free agency.
Crows captain Rory Sloane agreed to a five-year deal to stay at Adelaide in 2018 as one of that season's biggest out-of-contract free agents, while superstars Dustin Martin (Richmond) and Nat Fyfe (Fremantle) also signed mega long-term deals when about to hit free agency in 2017.
To create that marketplace for players who may not have proven as much in their careers within six years could stretch salary caps too far, some say.
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But the stretch might already be happening, and with the AFL set to restart its season next week, attention will then turn to its next big piece of work in aligning the salary cap with list spots and the flow-on effect to the draft, trade and free agency landscape.
Having already had free agency for life implemented last year – whereby any player who has previously been a free agent becomes one again at the end of every ensuing contract – this would be the AFLPA's next assignment.