THIS time last year, club list managers were locked in negotiations with players over list-wide pay cuts. 

The salary cap reduction for 2021 after the COVID-19 impact in 2020 left clubs with the task of cost-cutting. 

Some, such as West Coast, St Kilda, Richmond, the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn, introduced percentage cuts for their players, while other clubs asked big-name players to defer significant chunks of money into the future to shore up their cap positions.

The tight caps led to a trade and free agency period that lacked the movement seen in previous years of top-line players as clubs, save for Carlton adding gun midfielder Adam Cerra and free agent George Hewett, couldn't afford a cash splash.

2022 FREE AGENTS REVEALED Your club's crunch re-signings

A year on, clubs are more ready to attack the market again. There have been no requests from list managers to playing groups for list-wide cuts again and for players thinking about changing clubs it is a better season to be out of contract.

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2022 free agency special, spotlight on flag contender

AFL.com.au's star reporters Riley Beveridge and Cal Twomey unpack the 2022 free agency list

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But does it loom as a free agency group that will test the waters? 

AFL.com.au last week revealed the full list of 104 free agents across the competition, headlined by 10 free agents at Sydney and nine at the Western Bulldogs.

2022 FREE AGENTS REVEALED Your club's crunch re-signings

Isaac Heeney is the Swans' highest profile re-signing but negotiations are already underway for a new deal, while the Dogs' biggest priority is Jack Macrae, who was last week named vice-captain and stated his desire to be a one-club player. 

Defensive pair Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale also loom as targets for rivals but are well positioned at the Bulldogs, who have managed their cap knowing that 2022 loomed as a big signature season with Bailey Smith, Tim English and Josh Dunkley also out of contract.

Caleb Daniel in action at Western Bulldogs training on February 11, 2022. Getty Images

Collingwood pair Darcy Moore and Jordan De Goey will command attention but talks have started on a Moore extension, with the star defender a future leader at the club, while demand for De Goey – from Collingwood and rivals – will depend on his performances and application this season after his New York incident over the pre-season.

Angus Brayshaw knocked back a big offer from North Melbourne the last time he was out of contract in 2018 but has a premiership medal around his neck at Melbourne, while Karl Amon tried to get back to Victoria at the end of 2018 but is now a key part of Port Adelaide's midfield and flag push.

West Coast's list of free agents is mainly veterans, while Richmond is the same bar Jayden Short, who should command a strong deal at the Tigers having won a best and fairest in a premiership year since his last contract was sealed. 

Brisbane's Dan McStay will attract interest as a versatile key position player, while James Sicily looks likely to get back into his groove at Hawthorn after his 2020 knee reconstruction before he jumps into contract talks as their most prominent free agent signing. 

It leaves the top end of the free agents pool looking more likely to be a group that stays than goes, albeit clubs being in a position this year to offer deals that may tempt them more than recent times.