The AFL free agents to follow in 2013‏

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Gary Ablett of Geelong, Luke Hodge of Hawthorn and Paul Chapman of Geelong applaud as Gary Ablett of Geelong is announced as Vice Captain of the 2010 All Australian team during the 2010 Four'N Twenty All Australian Awards at the Plenary Hall, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne. Slattery Images

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While Lance Franklin will be the most talked about free agent throughout the season, there are a number of other big-name players who will fly under the free agent radar throughout the year.

Free agency has changed just about every aspect of list management and recruiters who have been watching its effects in the NFL and NBA realise that it can cut down the amount of years it takes for a team to become contenders.

‘Contract year’ is a term commonly used in American sports for a player who will be considered a free agent at the end of the year. These players almost always have strong seasons in the hope of securing a big long-term contract.

Due to the nature of the AFL free agency rules (requiring eight years of service at one club), the best free agents will be at their peaks around the ages of 26 or 27.

These players still have a good four to five years in them and their acquisition will immediately widen the premiership window of many teams.

Brendan Goddard was the best example of this in 2012.

With all free agency attention on Travis Cloke, Goddard seamlessly moved from St Kilda to Essendon where his presence has drastically improved the Bombers finals chances.

Meanwhile, he was able to jump off the sinking St Kilda ship with minimal fuss due to the exuberant salary Essendon could offer that the Saints simply could not match.

So Lance Franklin aside, let’s take a look at the players entering contract years who can command an enormous pay rise at a new club when they hit the market.

Mark LeCras

The game’s premier small forward deserves to be the hottest free agent on the market barring Lance Franklin.

Whether or not he gets big money will depend on how he returns from a full knee reconstruction, which ruled him out of the entire 2012 season.

Having kicked 168 goals in the last three seasons he’s played, LeCras been a shining light in the West.

Unbeknown to many, LeCras is not actually a natural small forward. He is a midfielder but has played his entire career in the Eagles’ forward pocket.

His ability to dictate the play and win the ball has pigeon-holed him as a small forward, but John Worsfold was preparing to move him into the midfield before he tore his ACL.

Considering his strength and excellent kicking skills – which have enabled him to be the games’ most dangerous small forward – it’s exciting to consider what he could achieve in a midfield role.

A lot will depend on how LeCras returns from his knee injury and he looks certain to be nursed back to the highest level by returning to the forward pocket which paved his career.

Entering the 2013 season at just 26 years of age, there is still a minimum of four good years in the All-Australian forward.

The Eagles are in a fortunate position to be able to offer LeCras his market value, but he is the type of game changer which every team wants.

Dale Thomas

It’s hard to imagine Daisy in anything besides the black and white considering his playing style is perfectly suited to Collingwood’s game.

But the Magpies will be the team under the most salary cap pressure at the end of the season and Thomas is only likely to see a small offer put to him.

As an outside midfielder, Thomas is replaceable at Collingwood due to the abundance of young talent coming through.

He and Steele Sidebottom and quite similar players, but Sidebottom has the luxury of being three years younger.

Thomas will still be in his prime as a 26 year old entering the 2014 season and he looms as a big free agency target if he does not recommit to the Magpies early in the year.

Whether or not he’ll be as good of a player in any other team is debatable, but there will be plenty of interest in Daisy’s form throughout the year.

Luke Hodge

It must sound ridiculous that a club is willing to let a loyal servant and club captain like Luke Hodge walk away, but it’s not.

Hawthorn find themselves in a nightmare position with their three highest paid players, Hodge, Franklin and Sam Mitchell, all coming out of contract at the end of the season.

Of those three players Hodge is the most dispensable due to injury concerns marring the back end of his career.

Franklin is suspected to get a big contract while Mitchell is likely to move into year-by-year signings.

Based on the Hawks’ existing deals with veterans being no more than one-year contracts, Hodge could command a long-term deal elsewhere.

Hodge will be 29 years old when he enters the 2014 season and if he is to play another three or four years, he’ll be giving up his role as an inside midfielder and play out his career in defence.

With a history of injuries, Hawthorn will be loath to match any offers close to Hodge’s market value, unless he can get through the 2013 season injury free.

You’d expect any Hawthorn contract offer to be mostly performance based, but there are other clubs who can offer much more security to the 2008 Norm Smith medallist.

Colin Sylvia

Having played at Melbourne for a decade, Colin Sylvia is a much better player than his club suggests. He’s played in the league’s worst team for his entire career with very little to celebrate.

The big bodied midfielder was on the outer during Dean Bailey’s tenure under the belief that he was too slow and did not work hard enough at training.

Despite playing in the league for nine seasons already, his best position on the field is still debatable.

This uncertainty from his coaches – who have moved him from an inside midfielder to a key forward to an outside midfield – have damaged the confidence of the third pick in the 2003 draft.

At the end of the 2013 season, he’ll be 27 and out of contract.

Under Melbourne’s youth policy, he is as good as certain to be departing the club who are unlikely to match any offers for the talented midfielder.

As a player, he is very much like Richmond’s Shane Tuck. His defensive game leaves plenty to be desired but his ferocity in the contests and ability to win the ball are noteworthy.

He’ll be a welcome addition to any team with an open premiership window.

Here is the full list of players who will be eligible for free agency at the conclusion of 2013 courtesy of the AFL.

Adelaide: Jason Porplyzia, Brent Reilly, Ben Rutten and Nathan van Berlo
Brisbane: Simon Black, Jonathan Brown and Joel Patfull
Carlton: Eddie Betts, Andrew Carrazzo, Heath Scotland
Collingwood: Alan Didak, Ben Johnson, Nick Maxwell and Dale Thomas
Essendon: Dustin Fletcher, David Hille, Nathan Lovett-Murray, Jobe Watson and Jason Winderlich
Fremantle: Michael Johnson
Geelong: Paul Chapman, Joel Corey, Corey Enright and Mathew Stokes
Hawthorn: Max Bailey, Xavier Ellis, Lance Franklin, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Michael Osborne
Melbourne: Aaron Davey and Colin Sylvia
North Melbourne: Michael Firrito, Brent Harvey, Scott McMahon, Drew Petrie and Daniel Wells
Port Adelaide: Alipate Carlile and Kane Cornes
Richmond: Daniel Jackson, Luke McGuane, Chris Newman, Shane Tuck and Matt White
St Kilda: Jason Blake, Lenny Hayes, Justin Koschitzke and Stephen Milne
Sydney: Jude Bolton and Adam Goodes
West Coast: Dean Cox, Andrew Embley, Darren Glass, Mark LeCras, Mark Nicoski, Adam Selwood and Beau Waters
Western Bulldogs: Adam Cooney, Daniel Cross, Daniel Giansiracusa and Dale Morris

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