ESSENDON'S football operations boss Rob Kerr says the Bombers' experience in signing 'top-ups' for the NAB Challenge showed short-term contracts should be a part of the list management process available to all clubs.
The Bombers had to sign 13 players – more than half who were recently delisted players and the rest from their VFL team – as replacements for the pre-season competition while around 18 Essendon players sat out the series with provisional suspensions.
A number of the players competed strongly through the NAB Challenge, including former Geelong defender Mitch Brown, and proved enough for Kerr to believe clubs should be free to add to their lists through the season if a deficiency arises.
"The experience we've had has shown it's a shame that some guys who are possibly still good enough to have an AFL career have to sit a full 12 months out before they are given another opportunity. It is very restrictive, which we all know," Kerr told AFL.com.au.
"I wonder whether there's a role for short-term contracts for players outside the system and maybe you could leave a couple of spots open on your rookie list and have the ability to contract a player short-term if he suits a particular need."
Kerr said the concept would apply to all state league players and recently delisted AFL players, and that the player could still entertain offers from other clubs at the end of his contract.
He also suggested players who became delisted free agents during one exchange period but didn't find new homes could retain their 'delisted free agent' status while they continued to play at lower levels.
It would mean they could recruit a player at the end of 2015 who was delisted last year without using a pick on him at the NAB AFL Draft.
"If it comes around to the end of this year and Essendon or St Kilda or West Coast says 'We want Mitch Brown or [former Brisbane Lion] James Polkinghorne' they can just sign him as a delisted free agent," Kerr said.
Kerr, who was the Lions list manager before taking on the role at Essendon last year, was swayed into the more fluid view of short-term deals after being heavily involved in the contracting of the club's top-up players.
"I thought they'd struggle a little more than they did due to the fact they hadn't had a full pre-season. Perhaps the fact they'd had AFL footy behind them and only were not that long out of the system held them in reasonable decent stead through the period," he said.
The Bombers kept the same pay structure for all players who had previously played at the top level.
Once Essendon's top-up players served a minimum period, their deals became rolling week-by-week contracts. If that model was applied around the competition, a player could pinch-hit for one team for a month, have his deal terminated, and then be available for another club to take on.
Kerr said he understood some state leagues might have reservations about the concept if their best players were going back and forth between the AFL, but also said some discussion would be needed around whether there would be a cut-off date for clubs to sign on players.
He was less bullish on the trading of listed AFL players from one club to another during the season.
"I'm not advocating massive change, but I'm saying maybe a club can leave a couple of rookie spots open for short-term contracted players," Kerr said.