Every Thursday AFL.com.au presents Inside Trading, with breaking news and the best analysis of the Continental Tyres AFL Trade Period covering contracts, re-signings, free agents, the NAB AFL Draft and industry insights.
CLUBS ON PRE-AGENT WATCH
SYDNEY livewire Tom Papley, Carlton goalkickers Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, Melbourne matchwinner Clayton Oliver, Essendon midfielder Darcy Parish and Greater Western Sydney midfielder Jacob Hopper are among the headline acts in this year's group of star 'pre-agents'.
Pre-agency – the year before a player becomes a free agent – has become a significant part of the player movement landscape in recent years and this season's group is among the best to come through.
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Players often use pre-agency to explore their options to see if a move to a rival is possible or to put pressure on their club to put forward a long-term contract extension ahead of their free agency out-of-contract year begins.
Clubs have also at times pushed out pre-agents so that they can negotiate a better trade outcome a year in advance of losing a free agent for a single compensation pick, whilst also using pre-agency at times to ease salary cap pressures.
In 2018, Lachie Neale, Dylan Shiel, Steven May and Chad Wingard all left their clubs as pre-agents. In 2019, Brad Crouch and Joe Daniher both tried to but to no avail, while in 2020 Orazio Fantasia and Aliir Aliir both joined Port Adelaide as pre-agents.
Time will tell which of the 2022 assortment of pre-agents is tempted into a move, but clubs are anticipating a bumper free agency crop next year given the star-power of the pre-agent group.
Melbourne moved quick to re-sign Christian Petracca in his pre-agency year last year and Oliver will be just as much a priority, while Blues pair McKay and Curnow will also be significant signatures for Carlton. McKay had interest from Essendon in 2020 before re-signing with the Blues in 2021.
Papley wanted to move to Carlton in 2019 before trade talks broke down and is more settled in Sydney now but will again be a watch for clubs, while Swans co-captain Callum Mills is also a pre-agent this year.
With the AFL looking to lock in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement for players this year, expect clubs to start more negotiations with pre-agents for quick extensions for their stars.
Adelaide defender Tom Doedee, Brisbane forward Eric Hipwood, St Kilda star Jade Gresham, Dockers runner Darcy Tucker, Bombers half-back Mason Redman and Western Bulldogs backman Bailey Williams are other pre-agents this year.
Generally, players are seen as pre-agents for the year before they become free agents for the first time in their careers, although the same applies to veterans due to become free agents for the second, third or fourth time in their careers, such is the case for West Coast defender Jeremy McGovern and Fremantle champion Nat Fyfe. – Callum Twomey
2022 KEY PRE-AGENTS
Adelaide: Luke Brown, Tom Doedee, Rory Sloane
Brisbane: Eric Hipwood, Rhys Mathieson, Daniel Rich
Carlton: Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay, Jack Silvagni, Lachie Plowman
Collingwood: Jack Crisp, Scott Pendlebury
Essendon: Darcy Parish, Mason Redman, Will Snelling
Fremantle: Nat Fyfe, Darcy Tucker, Michael Walters
Geelong: Mark Blicavs, Sam Menegola
Gold Coast: Sam Day, Brayden Fiorini, Alex Sexton
GWS: Harry Himmelberg, Jacob Hopper
Hawthorn: Luke Breust
Melbourne: James Jordon, Alex Neal-Bullen, Clayton Oliver, Sam Weideman
North Melbourne: Ben McKay
Port Adelaide: Riley Bonner, Charlie Dixon
Richmond: Jason Castagna, Kamdyn McIntosh
St Kilda: Jade Gresham, Daniel McKenzie
Sydney: Callum Mills, Tom Papley
West Coast: Jamie Cripps, Jeremy McGovern
Western Bulldogs: Bailey Williams
MIDFIELDER TO BE IN RIVALS' SIGHTS
CARLTON'S Paddy Dow's hot form at VFL level is expected to make him a trade target this year, despite the midfielder being signed to the Blues until the end of 2023.
The 2017 No.3 draft pick has played only one game this year – in round five when he was the unused medical substitute.
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But he has been in strong form in the club's VFL side, averaging 28 disposals and a goal a game in the first six rounds of the season, including his 33-disposal and two-goal effort against North Melbourne last week.
The 22-year-old, who is into his fifth season at the club, is not eyeing a move from Carlton and is settled at the Blues but rival clubs are tracking him closely as a readymade midfield option.
He was contracted to the end of this year but added an extra season to his deal some time ago tying him to the Blues until the end of 2023.
Dow, whose brother Thomson is making his way at Richmond after joining the Tigers as a first-round pick in 2019, has played 60 games for the Blues since making his debut in 2018, when he played 20 games. – Callum Twomey
NEW ROO CLOSE TO TRIGGER
NORTH Melbourne's free agent pick-up Hugh Greenwood is closing in on reaching his trigger for a contract extension with the Roos.
Greenwood crossed from Gold Coast to North Melbourne last off-season as a delisted free agent after agreeing to be temporarily delisted by the Suns as a list mechanism for the club.
But in the meantime Roos coach David Noble, who had a previous relationship with Greenwood from their time together at Adelaide, set his sights on adding the bigger-bodied midfielder to his mix and North completed the swoop.
He agreed to a two-year deal with a games played clause for a third year, with Greenwood set to hit the mark in the next fortnight which will tie him to the Roos until the end of 2024.
The 30-year-old has played all of the Kangaroos' eight games so far this season, having spent two years at the Suns following three years with Adelaide.
The former basketballer has played 91 games at AFL level since debuting for the Crows as a 25-year-old. – Callum Twomey
KANGAS GET CHANCE TO ENTER MID-SEASON DRAFT
NORTH Melbourne is set to use a season-ending shoulder injury to first-year defender Miller Bergman as a means of opening up a list spot for next month's NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft.
The Kangaroos, who remain a realistic chance of holding the No.1 pick, are set to shape the early stages of June's mid-season draft and are understood to be preparing to use a selection after Bergman's injury.
The club this week ruled the teenage defender out for the remainder of the season after he was forced to undergo shoulder surgery to repair damage he sustained on his AFL debut a fortnight ago.
As previously flagged by Inside Trading, 202cm ruckman Max Ramsden and tall midfielder Jai Culley have emerged as prominent names to watch in the mid-season draft mix just 12 months after North took young tall Jacob Edwards at pick No.1.
Sydney, Carlton, Hawthorn, Fremantle and Geelong currently hold picks for the mid-season rookie draft, while Collingwood (Nathan Kreuger), Gold Coast (Ben King), St Kilda (Nick Coffield and Jack Hayes), Adelaide (Rory Sloane), Port Adelaide (Jake Pasini), Richmond (Josh Caddy) and now North Melbourne (Bergman) can still open spots.
Meanwhile, clubs will use a Fitzroy Cubs exhibition match against Carlton's VFL side this weekend to scout some of the best overage Indigenous and multicultural talent ahead of the mid-season draft.
Northern Bullants defender Mutaz El Nour has caught the eye of AFL recruiters and is currently listed to play in the game, having averaged 18.7 disposals and 6.5 marks per game to start this season's VFL campaign.
The Fitzroy Cubs is a talent program directed at 18-to-23-year-olds of Indigenous and multicultural descent who have been overlooked in their draft year, giving them the chance to play in front of both AFL and VFL recruiters. – Riley Beveridge
TOP DRAFTEE SET TO LINE UP WITH MAGPIES
No.1 draft pick contender Elijah Tsatas is likely to feature at VFL level for Collingwood later this year after spending time training with the Magpies during the pre-season.
Tsatas and Oakleigh Chargers teammate George Wardlaw trained with Collingwood over summer as part of the NAB AFL Academy program, with their NAB League club and the Magpies having close ties.
Tsatas, a 186cm midfielder with speed and line-breaking ability, enjoyed working with the Magpies' on-ball brigade whilst at the club, with a new face at the club taking him under his wing.
"It was definitely Patty Lipinski in the midfield. He was huge. He was really nice and inviting and welcoming with his knowledge. He's such a good player and he was huge with me and George just being able to get around us," Tsatas told the Road to the Draft podcast.
"He was new there as well and we clicked which was really good from him. We've kept in touch a little bit on Instagram. We play in the Pies' VFL in a few weeks so it will be good to see a few boys and familiar faces on the field which will be fun."
The 17-year-old Tsatas has starred in the opening block of the draft season, averaging 33 disposals and nearly six clearances in the first four Chargers games.
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"It was a huge goal for me coming into the year. The first four rounds are obviously harped on a lot by coaches and everyone really wanted to start well and it was something I really emphasised in pre-season to just come out and hopefully show my strengths to everyone who was watching," Tsatas said.
"It was really good for me to achieve that goal. It's always hard to tick off that first thing but to get it ticked off was really good for me to hold me in good stead for the rest of the year." – Callum Twomey
MID-SEASON TRADE PERIOD CONCERNS
GOLD Coast CEO Mark Evans has urged caution on any moves towards a mid-season trade period.
The Suns' boss says he's all for hearing each side of the discussion – "You might come up with something that can help the game in the future," he said – but had concerns it might further expose the gulf from the top to the bottom of the competition.
Evans said consideration would need to be given to how players could easily move interstate during the season.
"It does need to be thoroughly thought through, because you wouldn't want to set up a situation that either doesn't play out equally between clubs or casts an integrity question over the competition," he told AFL.com.au.
"I would worry if it played out unequally, whether that by location because players wouldn't want to move away from Victoria, or whether it could be used to advantage the teams at the bottom of the ladder, which all of our player movement systems should be geared towards."
Evans said the industry generally looked at this system for top teams to fill a gaping hole in-season, usually at the expense of a cellar dweller.
"If that player had come from a team at the bottom, it (compensation) has to be so beneficial to the team at the bottom, otherwise we'll just further enshrine the differences between the top and bottom teams."
Evans believed there was scope for the concept to be explored, particularly if the AFL went down the path of further reducing list sizes, as had been previously flagged.
"If player numbers were to come down, you'd need more mechanisms at which to address player availability during the year, and that would be one of them." – Michael Whiting
HAWKS RECRUITER JOINS AFL HQ
HAWTHORN has had a departure from its scouting team, with recruiting manager Nathan Foley joining the AFL.
Foley, who played 154 games for Richmond before retiring in 2015, then joined the Hawks as the head of the club's Next Generation Academy.
He stepped into more of a recruiting position in 2020 and has been a central part of the club's recruiting and list management team in the past three seasons.
But Foley has left the Hawks and taken up a position in the AFL's commercial department and recently started with the League. The role is separate to the AFL's football operations team.
Mark McKenzie heads Hawthorn's list and recruiting team, having taken over after Graham Wright departed the club to join Collingwood. – Callum Twomey