LAST YEAR it was Orazio Fantasia and Aliir Aliir. The previous off-season Joe Daniher and Brad Crouch tried it unsuccessfully, and the year before that Lachie Neale, Dylan Shiel, Chad Wingard and Steven May pulled the trigger.  

Pre-agency – the year before a player becomes a free agent – is now a well-established corner of the player movement world that makes deals happen. It can work as a benefit for many parties.

More often, players are exploring their options a year before they reach free agency to see if they can a) move clubs or b) put pressure on their owner club to come to the table with a long-term extension before their prime out-of-contract season starts. 

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Clubs have also won from players leaving as pre-agents. In that case, they can negotiate a trade outcome that would be better than the single free agency compensation pick they receive via that system a year down the track (sometimes it also serves as a salary cap clear-out).  

Shiel's departure from the Giants, for instance, saw Essendon give up two first-round picks at the end of 2018 for the midfielder. Had he left a year later as a free agent, Greater Western Sydney would have received just one under compensation rules (as well as carrying his heavy contract for another year). 

Under different circumstances, last year the Bombers traded Fantasia, who was due to hit his free agency season in 2021 but had spent two years at the Bombers contemplating leaving, while the Swans also let Aliir go a year before he hit free agency so they could secure ruckman Tom Hickey. 

Other pre-agents, such as Bombers star Zach Merrett and North Melbourne midfielder Trent Dumont, considered their options before remaining with their clubs, while Saint Luke Dunstan and Swan George Hewett were raised in trade talks but stayed put.  

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Clubs will again prey upon the pre-agents this year to see who could get lured into an early exit despite being contracted. With more certainty expected in the second half of the season how the players' next collective bargaining agreement will look, expect clubs to also start negotiations in 2020 to land swift extensions for their own priority players.

Primarily players are referred to as pre-agents for the year prior to them becoming free agents for the first time in their careers, however the same applies for those about to hit free agency for second, third or fourth times in their careers.  

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Collingwood has the most significant pre-agent pack in 2021. Jordan De Goey, Darcy Moore and Brayden Maynard will all reach free agency for the first time next year, while Jamie Elliott and Steele Sidebottom, having had their current deals extended, will also hit free agency again. De Goey and Moore's respective re-signings last year dragged on through the COVID-19 hit campaign before they agreed to two-year deals. 

Melbourne's Christian Petracca is the highest profile pre-agent and might be the AFL's best player by the end of this season, while teammate Angus Brayshaw will also hit free agency next season. Swans star Isaac Heeney, who signed a mega five-year extension in 2016, is another key pre-agent. 

The Western Bulldogs also have two All-Australian pre-agents in Caleb Daniel and Jack Macrae, as well as 2016 premiership player Toby McLean, while Brisbane talls Darcy Gardiner and Daniel McStay and Richmond premiership pair Jayden Short and Kane Lambert also all stand as pre-agents. 

West Coast's Tom Barrass, injured Hawks backman James Sicily and Fremantle's Alex Pearce are in the same bracket, as is Port Adelaide's Karl Amon, who pushed for a move home to Victoria at the end of 2019 before reigniting his career at Alberton oval. 

A number of veterans across the competition also qualify as pre-agents this year, including Essendon duo Michael Hurley and Dyson Heppell, Hawthorn goalkicker Jack Gunston, North Melbourne ruckman Todd Goldstein and Geelong spearhead Tom Hawkins. Hawkins' teammate and former Bulldog Luke Dahlhaus qualifies under the rule whereby any player who has previously been a free agent automatically becomes a free agent at the end of their ongoing contracts. He is out of contract at the end of next year.   

Adelaide, by virtue of turning over its list since its 2017 Grand Final defeat, doesn't have any key players this year as pre-agents. 

2021 KEY PRE-AGENTS

Adelaide – N/A
Brisbane – Darcy Gardiner, Daniel McStay, Ryan Lester
Carlton – Liam Jones
Collingwood – Jordan De Goey, Jamie Elliott, Brayden Maynard, Darcy Moore, Steele Sidebottom
Essendon – Dyson Heppell, Michael Hurley, Kyle Langford
Fremantle – Alex Pearce
Geelong – Tom Hawkins, Luke Dahlhaus
Gold Coast – Touk Miller
Greater Western Sydney – Callan Ward
Hawthorn – Jack Gunston, James Sicily, Liam Shiels
Melbourne – Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca, Tom McDonald
North Melbourne – Ben Cunnington, Todd Goldstein
Port Adelaide – Karl Amon, Travis Boak
Richmond – Jayden Short, Kane Lambert, Trent Cotchin
St Kilda – Daniel McKenzie
Sydney – Isaac Heeney, Jake Lloyd
West Coast – Luke Shuey, Nic Naitanui, Tom Barrass, Jackson Nelson
Western Bulldogs – Caleb Daniel, Jack Macrae, Toby McLean