FREE agency was introduced to the AFL in 2012 to allow simpler passage of long-term players from one club to their next destination of choice. 

But the expansion of the rules have meant for an even greater and more fluid player movement landscape that has exceeded early expectations.'s reveal last week of the 140 free agents for this season across the competition shone a light on the explosion of players able to more freely transfer clubs through a range of rule tweaks and add-ons. 

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The total players eligible for free agency accounted for nearly one fifth of the AFL, a huge percentage that had many factors. 

Some of it was COVID-19 based: high-profile players who would usually have been signed up a year before hitting free agency, such as Western Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli, have had to wait as clubs come to grips with how the salary cap is shaping up in forthcoming years.

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Uncertainty over the collective bargaining agreement after 2022 is another aspect of those discussions for the game's best who are looking to secure long-term extensions.

Then there are the free agency rule additions that have progressively been passed in previous years that have added to totals, such as free agency for life (players like Chris Mayne and Reece Conca who crossed to rivals as free agents become free agents as the end of every other contract they sign).

Delisted free agency also applies in this case, meaning if a player was delisted at any stage they will qualify as a free agent. Jarryd Lyons, who was delisted by Gold Coast and promptly picked up by Brisbane, is one such example this year as his three-year deal expires with the Lions. 

And then there are the nearly 30 players who were delisted by clubs but automatically retained as rookies last off-season under the AFL's rule shift. These included Carlton's Matthew Kennedy and Swan Robbie Fox, who will both now qualify as free agents because of that move off the senior list. 

All of the player movement changes have been driven by a desire to give clubs more flexibility to manage their lists and fast-track their strategy. The days of having one week to trade for players, and one day to draft them, are long gone. 

The AFL is intent on giving more opportunities for clubs to make list changes across a larger time cycle. They have reintroduced the mid-season draft for this year after it was wiped out last year by COVID-19, while the pre-season supplementary selection period runs from December through to March and allows clubs to sign players to fill their respective lists.

It has also put forward other ideas, which are on the backburner for now but will be kept up its sleeve. 

It has been keen on a mid-season trade period, which has been met with pessimism from the non-Victorian clubs, and also considered a second trade period on the eve of the AFL season. 


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The League also proposed a waiver-style mini-draft after rounds four, eight and 12 this season before reverting to the one-off mid-season format.

Clubs have also pushed to be able to trade their draft selections two years into the future, which would give them more capital to play with when wheeling and dealing. 

It would seem an obvious next step to further open the gates for clubs to make more things happen, which is clearly the design of the League as free agency reaches its milestone 10th season.