TO OFFER three, or not to offer three? That is the question.

This crude Shakespeare adaptation is what faces Melbourne's list management team as it contemplates a bold raid on triple premiership Hawk Isaac Smith.

In more simple terms: should the Demons offer Smith, who turns 32 on December 30, a three-year deal, if that's what it takes to break his loyalty to Hawthorn?

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It wouldn't be the first time Melbourne's recruited a Hawthorn premiership star, with the Dees trading for Jordan Lewis in 2016 and handing him a three-year contract.

Smith is a free agent for the first time – an unrestricted one – and attracting genuine rival interest for the second year in a row.

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Last year it was the Western Bulldogs and this time it's Melbourne, which isn't alone in chasing the star wingman but is his most fervent suitor.

Making the decision so difficult for the long-kicking, hard-running wingman is his age and the transitional period Hawthorn is going through.

The Hawks missed finals in three of the past four seasons, and their 15th placing this year was their worst since finishing 14th out of 16 teams in 2005 – Alastair Clarkson's first in charge.

Isaac Smith ahead of the Hawks' round five clash with Greater Western Sydney at Giants Stadium in July. Picture: Getty Images

They want to keep Smith and are believed to be open to breaking their contract policy on players aged 30-plus, which usually sees them offer no more than one year.

These are different times at Waverley Park, even if it's still Graham Wright writing the cheques.

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As for the Demons, they were supposed to be smack bang in premiership contention at this stage, having barnstormed their way to the 2018 preliminary final.

Instead, Simon Goodwin's men missed out on finals in the following two years, albeit narrowly this season after a four-win improvement from 2019.

Melbourne prioritised recruiting wingmen last year, and brought in Ed Langdon and Adam Tomlinson to fill those roles and balance a midfield brigade stacked with inside specialists.

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Langdon's ball-winning ability, speed and work ethic made him an important addition, recognised with a fourth-place best and fairest finish ahead of Clayton Oliver.

A Langdon-Smith combination promises to run opponents off their feet.

Tomlinson started on the wing, but was dropped after round five and reprogrammed as a key defender by the time he finally returned (with Aaron vandenBerg slotting onto the wing).

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Here's where the dominos start to fall if the Dees offer Smith three years and he accepts.

That scenario assumes Tomlinson will stay down back, while Joel Smith – another tall defensive option – recently signed a one-year deal.

With Steven May and Jake Lever established as Melbourne's backline figureheads, Isaac Smith's recruitment would spell trouble for Oscar McDonald, who's out of contract and waiting for an offer.

It might even hurt former captain Nathan Jones' hopes of playing on next year and chasing the 300-game milestone, while vandenBerg would have to return to a forward role.

Isaac Smith by the numbers

YEAR

POSITION

AFL PLAYER RATINGS AVE

RATING

2013

Wing

10.8

Above average

2014

Mid-Fwd

12.9

Above average

2015

Wing

10.4

Above average

2016

Mid-Fwd

8.6

Average

2017

Wing

10.6

Above average

2018

Wing

11.0

Above average

2019

Wing

9.1

Average

2020

Mid-Fwd

7.8

Average


There's the obvious downside of a three-year deal for a 30-something veteran if the Demons don't get their act together and/or Smith's form falls off the cliff.

Since Champion Data began its 'relative ratings' in 2010, there have been only 12 players aged 32 or older playing primarily as a wingman, including just two at 33.

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However, this is a club that hasn't won a flag since 1964 and is rich with young and established talent – but that has underachieved for so long.

Melbourne's list boss Tim Lamb and national recruiting manager Jason Taylor haven't shied away from risky moves in recent years and this looks another one worth taking.