Every Thursday AFL.com.au presents Inside Trading, with breaking news and the best analysis of the player movement landscape covering contracts, trades, free agents, the NAB AFL Draft and industry insights.

HAWKS TO LOCK AWAY CRUCIAL DEFENDER

HAWTHORN is closing in on securing the signature of backman Blake Hardwick – the club's most important out-of-contract player in 2021. 

It's understood the Hawks and Hardwick's management – Phoenix Management Group – are working towards a three-year extension that will tie the 24-year-old to Waverley Park until at least the end of 2024. 

The Hawks have ample salary cap room to distribute this season, with the early retirements of Jon Patton and Tom Scully opening up close to $1 million in extra space on top of what was already budgeted. 

Hardwick has been one of the Hawks' most consistent and durable players in recent times and finished second in the club's best and fairest in 2018. He has also missed just one game in the past four campaigns. 

Blake Hardwick in action for the Hawks in R16, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

After agreeing to terms with Hardwick, attention will turn to deals for unsigned pair Jacob Koschitzke and Harry Morrison. 

Tim O'Brien qualifies as an unrestricted free agent this year, along with small forward Dylan Moore who was delisted last November, re-rookied and has featured in all 11 games this season. 

Running defender Changkuoth Jiath holds a games trigger to hit an extension for 2022

The Hawks have been open in their desire to improve their list and haven't ruled out the possibility of trading an experienced player – such as Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O'Meara or Chad Wingard – to fast track their rebuild. – Mitch Cleary

Changkuoth Jiath during the round four match between Fremantle and Hawthorn at Optus Stadium on April 11, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

CARLTON TOP-10 PICK'S FUTURE UNCLEAR

THE FUTURE of Carlton defender Sam Petrevski-Seton remains unclear, with the former first-round pick staring at a sixth straight week out of the starting 22 and heading towards a critical period in his contract discussions.

It's understood the Blues are yet to open talks with the uncontracted Petrevski-Seton regarding an extension beyond this season, as the club balances a number of tricky list management situations.

Petrevski-Seton is one of a host of first-round picks from Carlton's dramatic list rebuild that is coming towards the end of their contract this season, with the club currently focusing its attentions on new deals for star pair Patrick Cripps and Harry McKay.

Co-captain and restricted free agent Cripps is still locked in negotiations with the Blues having not yet fully agreed terms on an extension, while Coleman Medal leader McKay will wait until the club's bye next week before opening talks.

Sam Petrevski-Seton feels the pressure against Richmond in round one, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

But Petrevski-Seton, the sixth pick in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft – as well as former top-10 selection Lochie O'Brien and fellow first-round pick Brodie Kemp – remain without deals for next season.

Petrevski-Seton hasn't been named in the senior side since being shifted from half-back to a wing position in a round six loss to Brisbane, coming on as the medical substitute in rounds seven and eight before being dropped entirely for the last three matches.

He returned to a midfield role in a VFL loss to Box Hill a fortnight ago, winning 13 disposals and laying 11 tackles, where his progress was closely monitored by a host of clubs in attendance at Ikon Park.

O'Brien has played just two AFL games in the last two years, while Kemp has long been hopeful of returning from successive knee and syndesmosis injuries before opening talks on a new deal. – Riley Beveridge

Sam Philp (left) and Brodie Kemp after being drafted by the Blues. Picture: AFL Photos

LIONS, POWER LEADING THE RE-CONTRACTING CHARGE

BRISBANE and Port Adelaide enter the second half of the season with the fewest players out of contract for next season. 

The premiership contenders both have 13 players without a deal for 2022 ahead of West Coast (14) as clubs await details on how next year's salary cap and list sizes will look.  

The Lions are expected to prioritise re-signing their current crop rather than attack the market with several big names still to be worked through. 

Jarryd Lyons this year qualifies as an unrestricted free agent and is in the All-Australian conversation, while veteran Mitch Robinson is in arguably career-best form and should warrant a one-year extension to start next year at 32. 

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Mitch brings the crowd to their feet once again

Brisbane's Mitch Robinson kicks an astounding goal to surpass his career best tally

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Small forward Lincoln McCarthy has also started talks to extend his stay beyond the three-year contract he initially signed when crossing from Geelong. 

Star Power veteran Robbie Gray will be rewarded with another contract for next season, while Steven Motlop qualifies for unrestricted free agency, as does Hamish Hartlett who has started talks on a new deal

Collingwood and Adelaide come in next at 15 with Crows wingman and former Pie Paul Seedsman off the market after triggering a contract extension for 2022 as he enjoys a super season. 

Sydney (21), Geelong (22) and Essendon (23) sit at the other end of the scale with the most players to be re-signed. The Bombers have a host of big names to deal with – headlined by restricted free agent Zach Merrett, emerging midfield gun Darcy Parish and explosive forward Jake Stringer. – Mitch Cleary

Paul Seedsman tackles Hamish Hartlett in round eight, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

EAGLES START TALKS WITH YOUNG MIDFIELDER, BRANDER SETTLED 

WEST Coast has opened contract talks with third-year midfielder Xavier O'Neill after a disjointed start to the season for the promising 20-year-old. 

And while official negotiations are yet to start with Jarrod Brander, there is a growing sense the out-of-contract Eagle will remain with West Coast after settling into a role this season. 

O'Neill has been on the radar of opposition clubs this season after struggling for opportunities in a deep but injury-hit West Coast midfield, playing four of 11 games. 

Bringing burst out of stoppages, neat skills and an ability to get the ball in dangerous positions, O'Neill has produced some big performances at WAFL level to constantly press his claims for senior selection. 

A recent knee injury to star midfielder Tim Kelly could now open up the opportunity for an extended run in the team while he negotiations his future. 

Brander, who has played a career-high nine games this season and appears established as a hard-running wingman, is arguably the Eagles' most improved player this season. 

While contract terms have not been thrashed out, general conversations about his future are ongoing. – Nathan Schmook

Xavier O'Neill gets a handball away during the 2021 Community Series. Picture: AFL Photos

MID-SEASON MARKETPLACE UP IN THE AIR

IT IS the AFL's equivalent to a buy, swap and sell market but for the second year running it might have been stopped in its tracks.

Prior to 2020, the NAB AFL Under-16s Championships on the Gold Coast had often been viewed as the pre-Trade Period gathering of the industry.

Club recruiters and list managers, who are largely based in Victoria, travel north to watch the future draft class to know more about what they're giving away by offloading future picks.

But the week-long stint has also been used as an important mid-season catch up period for the wheelers and dealers of player movement who board up at coffee shops in Broadbeach to chat through the players who want to move, are open to a change and are happy staying put.

Agents and clubs were set to be back there in early July this year with the NAB AFL Under-17s Championships to be completed over a week of games in Queensland, however doubt has been cast over the fixturing now given Victoria's latest COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown.

Father-son prospect Will Ashcroft and (inset) Marcus in action for Brisbane in 1998. Pictures: brightongrammar.vic.edu.au | AFL Photos

As much as the out-of-contract discussions play a key part in what had been an annual getaway from Melbourne, it had also loomed as an important week for scouts to watch the under-17s crop, whose under-16s carnival was wiped out because of the pandemic last year.

The AFL, however, is determined make sure that if any games are missed due to the lockdown or have to be changed that they will be made up and played.

The League has built in time to the NAB League fixture to be able to play the games that are missed, including last week's round of games in Victoria and any upcoming clashes, and is also adamant that the under-17s carnival will go ahead, mindful that it is crucial the players are able to complete the championships.

As for the standout for the 2022 crop? Will Ashcroft, tied to Brisbane as a father-son pick where his dad Marcus is a club legend, is one of the early leaders. – Callum Twomey