AFL chief executive Gill McLachlan admits he isn't sure if list sizes will be settled by the start of this year's Trade Period as clubs clamour for answers on how many players they will take into 2021.

The AFL and AFL Players Association have been in discussions over the Collective Bargaining Agreement but have yet to formalise how many players clubs will take into next season as the financial impact of COVID-19 continues to hit the game. 

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Although clubs believe any change would be at the minimal end, some have held off on list management calls in the hope they know before the Trade Period what the number would be.

The free agency period begins on Friday, October 30 before the Trade Period kicks off on November 4 and runs through to November 12, but McLachlan conceded he wasn't certain that it would be resolved by then.

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"Short answer is I don't know. I hope so," McLachlan told AFL.com.au's Footy Feed.

"Discussions are ongoing with the players association. They're not probably progressing at light speed, but we'll get there and clearly it would be better to know that prior to the trade period, I accept that."

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The free agency system has been questioned after two of this year's highest-profile restricted free agents – Giant Jeremy Cameron and Essendon's Joe Daniher – nominated top-four clubs (Cameron to Geelong and Daniher to Brisbane) as their new preferred homes.

But McLachlan said the system should see clubs at the lower rungs of the ladder be able to use their salary cap space to attract big-name players. 

"Free agency has been in a long time now," he said.

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"There's a couple of outliers with great players going to really good clubs who have made them better but it's incumbent on all the other clubs to create an environment and an offer and a package and theoretically use their salary cap because they should be able to use it better than the team in the Grand Final to attract them.

"It's incumbent on clubs to keep them and those to attract them. If Geelong is able to get him (Cameron), well done for creating an environment and for having a salary cap available to do it. 

"That's the big trick in this and they've obviously done that because not many people could normally afford them."