PLAYERS have begun meeting with rival clubs via Zoom as trade talks start to heat up.
With footballers under strict COVID-19 protocols for their movements outside of the AFL bubble, agents and list managers have confirmed that players weighing a move have been using Zoom to speak with officials from other clubs.
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It is another example of the unique nature of the 2020 season, with the end of year free agency and trade periods set to also be impacted by the fallout from the pandemic.
By August in most years, out-of-contract (and some contracted) players considering moves to new clubs had usually spoken with interested parties.
Often in-person meetings would be staged between the player and the pursuing club's list manager, coach, fitness boss and football manager.
But the social distancing and tight biosecurity measures in place to ensure players' health means this year clubs and player managers are getting creative to ensure that moving clubs at the end of the season is still possible.
North Melbourne players were crucial to the Roos' pitch for Dustin Martin in 2017, with a group meeting the Tigers superstar as he considered his future. This year those chats will need to be done virtually.
The touring of facilities, which is regularly used as a selling point for clubs who have recently redeveloped their respective headquarters, will also be off-limits under the COVID-19 rules.
It has led some to believe the role of IT staff could be increased in meetings, with online presentations becoming more important to make an impression for players wanting to swap clubs.
Clubs are bracing for explosive trade and free agency periods this year with nearly half of the competition out of contract with less than two months of the season remaining.
Some clubs believe that the difficulties in meeting rivals could see the host clubs hold the whip hand in keeping players who are being pursued.
But others think that the unique circumstances of this year will see players with leverage unaffected as they are lured away from their current clubs.
There is little doubt, though, that the AFL's contract freeze from March to July has delayed some discussions progressing in the player movement world.
Player agents believe that generally by August a player would know whether he was due to request a trade or not, but that the uncertainty of list sizes has made for clubs keeping their cards closer to their chest.
By this time two years ago, Gold Coast free agent Tom Lynch had met with Richmond, Collingwood and Hawthorn as he decided on his future.
But things will be very different for this year's top free agent Jeremy Cameron, with the Greater Western Sydney goal kicker yet to sign on beyond 2020 as Geelong and Essendon continue to be linked as possible suitors.
There have been only two new contracts announced since the AFL agreed to lift its contract pause, with Brisbane star Charlie Cameron and Gold Coast young gun Matt Rowell signing new deals.