THE TIMING isn't great for Brad Crouch.
Just days after the Adelaide restricted free agent effectively put himself on the market by declaring if it's good for the Crows then he would "probably have to" leave at the end of the season, Crouch succumbed to a hamstring injury that could see him miss five games in the AFL's condensed fixture.
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"It was a reminder that it's 'buyer beware' with him because his injury history is real," one rival list boss said this week.
But the fresh injury is just one layer to an already complex situation that looks set to drag into the off-season.
Last year, Crouch and his management approached Gold Coast to see if a trade could be arranged.
A year out from hitting free agency, Crouch explored his powers as a 'pre-agent' – either to land a mega deal with the Suns or by exerting pressure on Adelaide to extend his deal a year before he came out of contract.
Neither eventuated, and things have changed drastically since then.
The main factor is the Crows’ drop. They have plummeted to the bottom of the ladder, meaning a free agency compensation pick for Crouch could see land the No.2 selection at this year's NAB AFL Draft.
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Crouch’s form has been solid but not to the best and fairest level of last year, and interest in him has cooled. So what does he do? And what is he worth?
So far, negotiations are at a standstill with the Crows, with both the club and Crouch's management saying they will leave things until later in the year.
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An accumulating midfielder who was Adelaide's best player in its Grand Final loss in 2017, Crouch has been a financial beneficiary of his pathway into the system when he arrived at the Crows via the 2011 mini-draft.
By his third year, Crouch was earning more than $400,000 – the kind of money most top-10 picks receive for their second contract – and industry sources believe he has maintained his place as a well-paid member of Adelaide's line-up since.
However, they are divided on his value now as he approaches free agency.
Many believe he will leave the Crows if a strong suitor emerges – "One always does," a list manager said – with the view that if he did depart Adelaide, he would attract a deal worth $600-700,000 a season. One club placed his value at approximately $500-550,000 a season, citing his lost zip after missing all of 2018 with groin troubles.
A player agent said if he was managing Crouch he would start his asking price at $750,000 knowing it would likely end up closer to $600,000, adding that the length of the contract was important.
"He's 26, so I would be asking for a five-year deal," he said.
"You don't want to only get a three-year deal because you don't want to be coming out of contract at 29. It means the last couple of years of your career the club will get you cheaper, so I'd be aiming for longer."
Clubs believe a five-year deal at more than $600,000 will be close to the threshold required to meet the AFL's formula for a first-round compensation pick, as could a three-year deal worth around $700,000.
Anything less than $600,000 could mean an end-of-first round pick, with the Crows likely to be wary that Brandon Ellis’ deal - believed to be approximately worth $600,000 over five seasons - only saw the Tigers handed a second-round compensation selection.
A first-round pick would be crucial for the Crows, who could speed up their rebuild by grabbing the two earliest draft picks in their history in the same year. But it takes a buyer.
Gold Coast, having loaded up on midfielders at last year's draft while adding Hugh Greenwood and Ellis, won't be in the mix this time around.
North Melbourne is cashed up and prepared to be active and targeting free agents would allow the Roos to revamp their list without giving up anything other than salary cap space.
St Kilda was interested in Crouch last season and could continue its rival raid that has rocketed the Saints up the ladder this season, while Geelong, too, put in a call in 2019 over Crouch and have an ageing midfield mix. Essendon is also on the lookout for more midfield depth.
Or he could stay at Adelaide, which has the rights to match an offer for him, but rivals believe that’s longer odds.
"If the Crows can get an early compensation pick for him, it's a good result for them. It's rare you see a player talk about possibly leaving a club like he has," one list manager said.