The AFL has plenty of superstars – players who demand your attention whenever they’re on the field.
Big money contracts aren’t new, and salaries will only continue to increase in the age of free agency.
Lance Franklin’s contract was huge at the time of his signing with the Swans, while Tom Boyd’s big money move to the Bulldogs has copped criticism, despite it being completely justified with his role in the Bulldogs’ premiership victory in 2016.
While the AFL will never reach the numbers of the ridiculous salaries NBA or football players receive overseas, there is one current player who deserves a contract worth $2 million a year, given his output.
Josh Kelly is the best player in the competition at the moment, which is frightening given he is only 23 years of age.
He has surpassed Patrick Dangerfield, Nat Fyfe and Dustin Martin to be classified as the best, and will join their company in being Brownlow Medalists by the end of the 2020 season.
The valuation of players is dependent on a variety of intricate aspects of the AFL environment, whether it be position, age, style of play or potential, to name a few.
Discussing Kelly as a $2 million player isn’t about front-ended or back-ended contracts.
Whichever club can afford to, should be throwing $10 million over five years, or any equivalent, for the 23-year-old, which is hefty yet justifiable.
No player has the combination of inside/outside ability, engine, tackling, kicking, disposal efficiency and scoreboard impact that Kelly has.
Some may say he has shades of Simon Black, others Scott Pendlebury and perhaps even Simon Goodwin, but when someone has a portfolio of work as Kelly does, player comparisons are futile.
In Round 20, albeit against Carlton, Kelly had a game for the ages.
With 41 possessions (22 contested) at an astonishing 80 per cent efficiency, four goal assists, 16 score involvements, seven marks, ten clearances, 16 inside 50s and 928 metres gained is a stat-line some players won’t finish with in any three-week stretch throughout their entire careers.
The thing about Kelly, though, is that he has been more influential in games against the best opposition.
His footy smarts and ability to execute with both hand and foot means that even a 25-possession game without much impact in other statistics can result in a best-on-ground performance.
Similar to the other big stars of the competition, Kelly has that inexplicable ‘it’ factor that separates him so grandly from everyone else.
Time slows down when he has the ball in hand, yet he seems to be everywhere when he hasn’t got it.
Throw him in rough situations in wet conditions and he’ll get vital clearances, or put him on the wing in perfect conditions and watch him speed past the opposition and finish classily from 50.
He doesn’t need to be able to rest in the forward line one-out like the bigger midfielders, when he can slightly adjust his positioning across half-forward and still be a threat.
Kelly’s finishing in front of goal is the only part of his game that he will need to improve upon, but an average of nearly two shots per game over the past two seasons suggests he will continue to back himself in attack.
Everyone references the ‘complete midfielder’ when discussing how good players are.
It’s a (questionable) criticism used on players like Tom Mitchell, while it’s positive affirmation for the aforementioned trio of Fyfe, Dangerfield and Martin.
No player in the AFL is more complete than Josh Kelly.
This isn’t a case of investing on a player with potential, or overpaying for the sake of it, which North Melbourne seem to be in the business of doing this season.
A team that wants a bona fide star, a new face of the club and a gun midfielder needs to cough up the money. This is particularly appealing for any team that hasn’t had a successful history, or 2018, but can turn things around quickly.
Josh Kelly is well worth the $2 million per year investment, it’s now a matter of which club is willing to do it.
It’s not often true AFL greats come around, but we have one here.
Expect records to be shattered from a financial point of view at the end of 2019.