LET'S call it the Cripps clause. Or the Bontempelli bonus. Or maybe the Kelly cash or Merrett money. 

In the NBA, it is called 'Bird rights', a rule named after former great Larry Bird and included in the League's collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players to new deals.

In basic terms, it is a reward for loyalty, permitting clubs to pay beyond their salary caps to ensure their best players make comparable money to what they could earn from rival offers. 


The AFL player movement landscape is as open and free as it has ever been. 

A decade into free agency has seen flow-on effects of pre-agents growing in power, two and four-year players naming trade destinations and more windows for clubs to make list decisions across the season.

But should clubs be able to reward their players who stay put? Should an incentive be placed on players finishing their careers at one club? 

Patrick Cripps, Marcus Bontempelli, Josh Kelly and Zach Merrett are the four highest profile free agents of this season. All will get paid very well to stay at their clubs – Kelly perhaps more so than he would elsewhere given the unique eight-year trigger option he can choose at the Giants – but giving clubs the ability to pay over the cap for free agents who stay at their original club would hand them a chip to ward off pursuers. 

Consider this scenario. Carlton is in the midst of negotiations over a new deal for co-captain Cripps, while also about to open talks on a new deal for Coleman Medal leader Harry McKay, who will be commanding more money than the Blues would likely have anticipated.

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They have Sam Walsh, possibly already their best player, coming out of contract at the end of next year and would be keen to tie him down to a new deal, too, that would be pushing the $800,000 a season mark by the end of his fourth year. They have also brought in Adam Saad, Zac Williams and Jack Martin over the past two off-seasons on lucrative deals. All this in a time when the salary cap was slashed last year due to COVID-19 and clubs forced to ask their players for increased cuts or deferred payments. 

But a 'Cripps clause', like the Bird rights, would give them a better ability to keep the group together – and reward Cripps for knocking back rival overtures throughout his career, the lure of a return back home to Western Australia and the patience for leading the club through its rebuild. 

There are caveats that could be placed on the Cripps clause: it can only be offered once a player has reached free agency, and for only once in their career; only up to 15 per cent of the player's contract (which fits inside the cap) can sit outside the salary cap, and only three players per club can have the outside-the-cap bonus enacted at any one time. 

The drawbacks are that such a move would separate the rich clubs from the poor, and widen that gap. Already some clubs don't pay their full salary cap, and some are even considering not participating in the upcoming mid-season draft because of financial restrictions on paying the rookie salary. 

The AFL, for its part, hasn't considered bringing in a Cripps clause (or Bontempelli bonus, Merrett money or Kelly cash) type of arrangement, having worked hard to ensure that clubs are on as equal as possible footing for their total player payments, which is its ultimate equalisation tool. It has also had a form of this in the past in the veterans list, which was phased out. 

But that's not to say it isn't worth the discussion.  

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick says it often: Tigers players knock back bigger money elsewhere to remain at Punt Road. 

It is why, over their four-year period of dominance, only two premiership players – Dan Butler and Brandon Ellis – have departed the club to take up bigger contracts at rival clubs, and Butler was for opportunity. This year, the Tigers have again re-signed premiership stars on deals well short of what they would receive elsewhere if they moved. 

After three flags, Richmond's success, culture and program will entice players to stay rather than tempt them to leave. But should loyalty come at a cost?