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.
YOUNG SWAN ON SAINTS' RADAR
ST KILDA is keeping tabs on Sydney big man Hayden McLean, as the club continues to ponder long-term partnership options to pair alongside exciting young ruckman Rowan Marshall.
McLean, 22, impressed upon his return to Sydney's senior team in last week's victory over North Melbourne. He is uncontracted beyond this season and could yet sign an extension to continue his three-year stint with the club.
But the Saints remain determined to bolster their key-position stocks at season's end to provide additional ruck support for Marshall and to combine with star forward Max King in attack.
McLean has subsequently come into the thinking of St Kilda's recruiting department, having previously spent a season with the club's VFL affiliate Sandringham before being added to Sydney's rookie list ahead of the 2019 campaign.
As reported by Inside Trading earlier this year, veteran Paddy Ryder is expected to pen a one-year extension to remain with the Saints for season 2022.
However, Paul Hunter is without a deal and faces an uncertain future after inking a one-year contract as a supplemental selection period signing last summer, while Shaun McKernan retired on Wednesday after being recruited as a delisted free agent.
Project players Sam Alabakis and Max Heath remain on the club's rookie list, with neither having yet made their AFL debuts, while Marshall and Ryder have both endured seasons plagued by injury.
It's led the Saints to investigate the prospect of dealing for McLean at season's end, having kept a watchful eye over the versatile 197cm ruck-forward when he spent one year at the club's VFL outfit Sandringham in 2018. – Riley Beveridge
FREE AGENT LIKELY TO STAY
JACK Billings' hamstring injury will keep him out of Saints' final game but the free agent is in talks for a multi-year contract and is increasingly likely to remain at the club.
Inside Trading reported last month that the Saints had started preliminary discussions on a new deal for Billings, who had indicated he wanted to remain at Moorabbin.
Those conversations have increased and it is understood Billings is growing more likely to remain at the Saints on what could be a longer deal.
The wingman's soft-tissue injury ends what has been an at times frustrating campaign for Billings as he played through a plantar fascia foot injury.
Billings, who turned 26 this week, has played 144 games for the club after joining the Saints at the end of 2013 and qualifies a restricted free agent.
The free agency compensation banding would likely see the Saints pick up a second or end-of-second-round free agency pick if Billings departed.
Midfield pair Seb Ross and Luke Dunstan, who Inside Trading reported had garnered the interest of Gold Coast earlier this year, are unsigned unrestricted free agents at the Saints. – Callum Twomey
BIG BOMBER SET TO RECOMMIT, DOCKERS RUCK SIGNS
THE RUCK merry-go-round is shrinking, with Essendon's Andrew Phillips set for a new deal and Fremantle big man Lloyd Meek agreeing to a contract extension.
Phillips is expected to ink a one-year contract through to the end of 2022 as he remains an important back-up for emerging Bombers ruck Sam Draper. The former Giant and Blue attracted interest from Melbourne last off-season and has played six games this season.
Meek had captured rival interest after making his debut at the start of this season and playing the first month of games but the 23-year-old will remain with the Dockers until at least the end of 2023.
The country Victorian product has featured in the Dockers' past four games and shapes as a long-term ruck partner with Sean Darcy.
There remains a group of rucks who will be of interest to rivals in the upcoming free agency and trade periods. Richmond pair Mabior Chol and Callum Coleman-Jones shape as two of the in-demand talls on the market and both remain unsigned.
Port Adelaide's Peter Ladhams (2022) and Sam Hayes (2023) are both signed to the club but have been sought after previously, while Collingwood duo Max Lynch and Mason Cox, Sydney's Callum Sinclair, Giant Matt Flynn, North Melbourne's Tom Campbell and Geelong veteran Rhys Stanley are also out of contract.
Cats big man Darcy Fort, GWS' Kieran Briggs, and Hawk Jon Ceglar are both contracted to the end of 2022 but could be looked at by clubs searching for mature options. – Mitch Cleary, Callum Twomey
SCHULTZ IN TALKS AS FREO TRIO WAIT
FREMANTLE forward Lachie Schultz remains in negotiations to extend his time with the Dockers beyond this season amid interest from Hawthorn.
Meanwhile, out-of-contract Dockers Nathan Wilson, Bailey Banfield and Brett Bewley will all need to wait until the end of the season, which could come as soon as Sunday, for official contract talks to start.
Schultz, who ranks second at Freo for goals this season with 22 from 20 games, has indicated he wants to remain at the club and is a long way down the line to completing a deal.
Hawthorn remains an interested onlooker, however, after first emerging as a suitor last month.
Rivals would be able to snare Schultz as a free agent if he did not come to terms with the Dockers, given he was delisted last year and re-listed as a rookie.
Fremantle is in talks to extend Darcy Tucker, who had an impressive return to form in the midfield against West Coast in round 22 after a stint at half-back. The club signed in-form half-forward Travis Colyer to a one-year extension for 2022 in recent weeks.
Experienced defender Reece Conca was told this week he would not be offered a new deal for 2022, with the 29-year-old to explore other opportunities. – Nathan Schmook
STAR BLUE'S BROTHER GAINING ATTENTION
JOSH Cripps, the younger brother of Carlton co-captain Patrick, has pushed his credentials for this year's NAB AFL Draft with an exciting patch of form.
The 199cm forward/ruckman has enjoyed a strong month of form for East Fremantle's colts side, including a standout four-goal haul from 23 disposals last weekend against Subiaco. He also had nine hitouts.
The week before Cripps kicked three goals from 16 disposals, eight marks and 10 hitouts against South Fremantle as he has continued to pick up his form as the season has wore on.
The 19-year-old returned to action mid-year after undergoing surgery last year after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee which ruled him out for the season when he was draft eligible.
Recruiters have been buoyed by Cripps' showings in recent weeks and he shapes as a later draft option for clubs looking to add to their tall stocks.
Brother Patrick was Carlton's No.13 draft pick in 2013 after being a late-blooming midfielder, with his rise up the ranks placing him as one of the best contested ball-getters in the game. He turned his back on free agency to sign a six-year contract extension with the Blues earlier this season. – Callum Twomey
THREE-YEAR DRAFTEE CONTRACTS HIT OPPOSITION
INCREASING standard contracts to three years would see some of the competition's best young players undervalued for too long, says leading player agent Winston Rous.
AFL.com.au reported this week clubs have pushed for the deals of top draft picks to be extended from two to three years in a bid for better retention rates and to halt a ballooning of deals in players' third and fourth years in the system.
It is set to be a discussion point in Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between the AFL and AFL Player's Association, with Brisbane chief executive Greg Swann supporting the proposal.
But Rous, who is Carlton star Sam Walsh's manager at Phoenix Management Group, said that players often "outperform" their standardised two-year contract when entering the game and warrant the financial spike by their third year.
Top-20 picks from last year's draft are paid a base of $90,000 in 2021 with match payments of $4000 a game.
"The majority of the time clubs are able to secure early draft picks long before the end of their two-year deal, whereas you can have a third or fourth-round pick and rookies taken right through to the end of the deal and sometimes beyond trade period," Rous told AFL.com.au.
"There would be more early draftees outperforming their initial CBA deal and getting underpaid in their first two years.
"There is value that needs to be made up there if they are worthy of that lift by their third season. There is a balance. It's not broke so why try and fix it?"
There is also an industry view that by introducing an initial three-year deal it could be the new 'exit' point for a player at his first club with the vast majority of gun early picks re-signing for at least two more years once their initial deal is completed and making more informed decisions after four seasons. – Callum Twomey
RUCK ROOKIE LIST 'A FANTASTIC ADDITION'
MELBOURNE recruiting manager Jason Taylor has backed the AFL expanding the category B rookie list to include ruck prospects to help the development of taller players entering the system.
AFL.com.au reported this week the League was set to discuss the possibility of adding a ruck option to the category B rookie list that would encourage clubs to draft and develop rucks rather than pick-off readymade ones from rivals through trades and free agency.
The concept was raised by AFL.com.au in February and if brought in would allow players over a certain height – 198cm, for example – to be available to clubs if they are not selected in the national draft. Seven rucks were taken in the mid-season rookie draft this year.
"I'd be really strong on that for rucks," Taylor told the Road to the Draft podcast.
"I think it's an area of the program that needs some enhancing and that's a good way to do it and from that people like myself and my team would learn as these players would be getting opportunities and you're getting a first-hand look at their growth in your program.
"Plus, it also enhances an area of our game that maybe is more of a trade scenario at the moment than young rucks taken through the draft.
"There's a number of options, even if you look at this year's pool they've all had a different trajectory so they're hard to assess, that's just the reality of it, so I think it would be a fantastic addition." – Callum Twomey