It’s that time of year again: the season is over, and we turn our collective eyes to the rumour mill that is the trade and free agency period.
For the last five years, we’ve been watching the effects of the introduction of free agency on the footballing world. For the AFL, they hoped that it would allow lower ranked teams to lure in big name players with more money, much the way the Gold Coast lured Gary Ablett and North Melbourne are currently looking to add Andrew Gaff to their list.
For the AFLPA it meant more freedom for players and a better ability to negotiate salary and where you live. Meanwhile, for sceptics, it created a fear of the strong clubs getting stronger, fuelled by players chasing glory at more successful teams – looking at you Tom Lynch.
But what is the reality of the change?
Leading into the 2018 Free Agency period, we’ve seen 66 players change clubs, with undoubtedly the biggest signing of them being Lance Franklin. Yet, the team he left went on to win the next two premierships, while the one he joined hasn’t won one since his signing, despite winning one just two seasons earlier.
In fact, only one free agent has gone on to win a premiership. That was James Frawley, and with the ease and dominance with which the Hawks won that grand final, one could easily argue that they would have won it with or without him.
Certainly, we have seen 11 players a season on average move clubs thanks to free agency, but that’s not to say many wouldn’t have moved via trade if free agency wasn’t an option, and perhaps some of the compensation picks received have proven better than the trade would have been for the clubs losing such players anyway.
The Gary Ablett and Patrick Dangerfield deals, whilst dealt with via trade, probably wouldn’t have been as smooth sailing were free agency there to make sure the deal went ahead whether Gold Coast or Adelaide liked it or not. Chances are though that both men would have wished to go home anyway.
Port Adelaide picked up several big names during last year’s free agency period but slid from a finish of fifth last season to not even making the finals this year.
So, as we have now watched our third premiership team in as many seasons with no free agents to their name, where does that leave the state of the game free agency has perhaps helped teams stay competitive, but certainly hasn’t made any team dominant as yet?
It has certainly assisted players in getting to more desirable clubs, but it hasn’t truly lifted any team from the depths or made enough of a difference to one side to gain them a premiership, so perhaps all the sceptics feared nothing?
Probably the most important thing that free agency has given us is player satisfaction, and sometimes we need to remember that without them, we’d have no game at all.