RIVAL teams could find it tough to prise Steven May away from Gold Coast this year given the Suns will be sitting on another golden compensation pick if they hold their captain to his contract.
May is due to become a free agent at the end of 2019, but there has been speculation for much of this season he could leave Metricon Stadium this year, with Victoria emerging as his most likely destination.
Now that May's former co-captain, Tom Lynch, has reportedly informed Collingwood and Hawthorn he has chosen Richmond as his new home, the Magpies and, possibly, the Hawks can officially join the race for the key defender.
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Collingwood is already the early favourite to lure May south in next month's NAB AFL Trade Period.
The Magpies have the salary cap space to make May an extremely lucrative contract offer, given they would have set aside at least $1 million a season for Lynch.
But can they broker a trade attractive enough to convince Gold Coast to part with its captain a year early?
Historically, it's proven hard for clubs to convince their players to become part of trades with the Suns, so let's assume the Magpies would have to base a deal around draft picks.
As things stand, the Pies don't hold a draft pick that would satisfy the Suns.
At best – if they bomb out of the finals in straight sets – their first-round pick will fall at No.14.
If, as expected, May only considers clubs that can offer him immediate on-field success following his eight lean years on the Gold Coast, his other Victorian suitors will also finish 2018 with late first-round picks.
Such selections won't be enough to convince the Suns to part with the star defender when they could almost certainly net another early first-round compensation pick just by waiting for him to leave as a free agent.
This year Gold Coast should net pick No.3 when Lynch lodges a free agency offer from Richmond, expected to be worth at least $1 million a season.
May won't receive offers that sizeable, but as one of the AFL's best key defenders he could expect to be tempted with deals worth at least $800,000 a season, which would comfortably earn the Suns another first-round compensation pick.
Considering the Suns will enter 2019 off the back of consecutive 17th-place finishes, and will be without Lynch and almost certainly any big-name recruits, it's all but impossible to see them making the finals and easy to see them finishing close to – if not at – the bottom of the ladder.
A bottom-four finish seems a safe bet, which would net them a compensation pick between No.2 and No.5 if May left via free agency. That's a return worth waiting for.
Besides a rival club making an equally compelling offer this year, what else could sway Gold Coast to part with May next month?
Some opposition teams believe the Suns would prefer to bring things to a head now if the defender won't commit beyond 2019, keen to avoid yet another year of endless speculation about a club leader's future.
There's no doubt Gold Coast would like to avoid the type of media frenzy that surrounded Gary Ablett's uncertain future last year and Lynch's this year, but not to the extent they would be prepared to trade him for significantly less than they could get via free agency.
It's understood the club has indicated it would like to start talks with May about a new contract, but has been told that won't happen while he is on end-of-season leave.
If May is not prepared to discuss an extension when he returns for the 2019 pre-season, that lack of commitment could prompt the Suns to go with a new captain next season – but not to push him out of Metricon Stadium.
It's also been speculated trading May this year could appeal to Gold Coast on salary cap grounds.
The Suns' cap is tight and won't be helped next year when 2016 top-10 picks Ben Ainsworth, Jack Scrimshaw, Will Brodie and Jack Bowes all graduate into third-year deals worth about $400,000.
At first glance, it's surprising such a serial underperformer should be in this position, but it also reflects the reality that clubs – especially the Suns, Brisbane and Greater Western Sydney – often need to pay overs to retain interstate players.
Despite getting Lynch's $1 million-a-year salary off its books, Gold Coast still has work to do to get its salary cap where it wants it to be. But it does not need to jettison May to achieve that.
The strength of the industry talk linking May to a move to Victoria suggests much is left to play out before the end of next month's trade period.
For now, however, any club hoping to add the 26-year-old to its backline next season will need to stump up a trade that compensates the Suns as well as free agency would at the end of next year.