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How to improve the AFL trade period

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Roar Guru
14th October, 2019
12

The AFL trade period is full of hype with talk of superstars like Essendon’s Joe Daniher requesting a trade to Sydney and the exodus from Adelaide.

Unfortunately, this hype has been more talk than action, with only nine trades made in first week, two of which were pick swaps, so did not even involve a player.

This leads to the question: what can the AFL do to improve trade period, so that there is increased trade activity and movement? How can the AFL meet fan expectations and meet the hype?

Here are a range of ideas that could improve the trade period.

Trade salary cap space
In the AFL, there is the ability for teams to pay the wages of players that they have traded to another team. Take Josh Jenkins from Adelaide, for example. It is regularly reported that Adelaide are comfortable to take on a significant amount of his contract to trade him to another club. Overall, though, this is fairly limited in terms of facilitating player movement and appears to primarily occur when teams are trying to trade out players that they deem surplus to requirements, usually on healthy contracts.

Another potential idea is for teams to be able to trade salary cap space. One simple way to do this is to allow clubs to trade salary cap that they have banked from the previous season. The total player payment banking system allows clubs who have spent under 100 per cent of the cap in the past two seasons to spend up to a maximum of five per cent over it. In 2016, this meant clubs could spend $500,000 extra on players.

A lot of talk this year has been that the Collingwood salary cap for next season is dire, with big name players like Brodie Grundy, Jordan De Goey, Scott Pendlebury and Darcy Moore out of contract and Mason Cox being talked about being traded to Essendon to relieve some salary cap stress.

Would Collingwood pay its first or second round draft pick next season to get $500,000 so that they can retain these players? I think it is conceivable. Port Adelaide might be interested noting their financial struggles.

Port Adelaide fans.

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

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This would also encourage clubs to foster better financial management and enable clubs that are bottoming out, like the Gold Coast, to be able to use free salary cap space to gain a more experienced player or draft picks to help fasten their rebuild. The Gold Coast is not the best example, as they have to pay a premium to get and keep players, but hopefully the point is clear.

It would also arm clubs with greater flexibility with trades, especially clubs with less financial stability. The salary cap benefits would only last one year so it would not have a significant loss to the club trading it out or a significant gain for a club receiving it.

There is some precedent in US sports with the NBA able to trade for cash considerations. Teams are only able to send and receive up to a certain amount of cash and from my understanding, this cash is not considered as part of the salary cap, which is different to the model proposed above.

Trade marquee signings fees
This idea is taken from the A-League, where teams are able to spend an unlimited amount on designated or guest players (more commonly known as marquee players) outside of the salary cap.

This concept involves retrofitting the marquee player concept into something more tangible for trade purposes. For example, say that AFL clubs were provided with four marquee signings, where the clubs could pay an extra $200,000 for these players outside of the salary cap. Take it another step where clubs could trade marquee signing fees (the $200,000), if they did not have four marquee players. It is arguable that the teams at a bottom of the ladder would not have four marquee signings and hence could use this as a tradeable asset.

Like the ability to trade the salary cap, it would enable stronger clubs to get stronger but would also help struggling teams in rebuilding. It would also not have an ongoing impact if limits were put on trading marquee signing fees, such as trading marquee signing fees for one year only.

Trade preseason and rookie draft picks
Just imagine the Tim Kelly scenario. Then imagine that West Coast were able to trade with the Gold Coast for the first pick in the preseason draft, you could argue that West Coast would hand over to Gold Coast its first-round draft pick (or more). This would enable West Coast to stop negotiating with Geelong and pick Kelly up with the first pick in the preseason draft and Geelong would get nothing.

Is this fair? Absolutely not. Would it make trade period more interesting? Definitely.

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Tim Kelly

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Luckily, Geelong and West Coast are known as being reasonable operators so that it would never get that far. However, I think many people would find some joy if it happened to what is reportedly the teams that are more difficult to trade with, like Essendon (Adrian Dodoro) and now Fremantle (Peter Bell).

It has been proposed that Gold Coast could let Hugh Greenwood from Adelaide go through the preseason draft instead of trading for him.

Enabling this to be a tradeable asset would help the bottom team to use it flexibly to help with rebuilding. I am unsure if clubs would actually trade for it, as I am certain that if they did, other clubs would frown on that behaviour and may refuse to engage in future trade negotiations, but even having the opportunity to use it as a threat in stalled trade negotiations would make this interesting.

Adding rookie draft picks as tradeable assets would enable clubs to move up and down the rookie list to get the players on the rookie list they want, so it makes sense, noting that they are unlikely to be a huge trade asset.

Trade draft rights to Next Generation Academy (NGA) and Northern Academy Zone players
Trading draft rights to a player is a common occurrence in the NBA. The most well known is attaining the draft rights of European players, known as euro-stashing. This occurs in situations such as when a European player is still contracted to a team but nominates and gets drafted to an NBA team. A team that has the draft rights to this player can trade these rights to another team.

If you are not aware of Next Generation Academies or Club Academies (known as Northern Academies), they are basically a way to develop talent in non-traditional markets, which are NSW and Queensland, which are exclusively for the four northern teams (known as the Northern Academy Zones), or increase the talent pool of Indigenous or multicultural players through the Next Generation Academies that are available across Australia.

Clubs get priority access to those players through the bidding process (like clubs get with the father-son). Tarryn Thomas from North Melbourne (pick eight), Nick Blakey from Sydney (pick ten) and Isaac Quaynor from Collingwood (pick 13) where the most notable of Northern Academy and Next Generation Academy players from last the 2018 draft.

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What could improve the trade period is if you could trade the draft rights of a player, with the exception that if a club traded for the draft rights, they would automatically draft that player. For example, another club could have offered a top ten pick plus a second-round pick to automatically get Tarryn Thomas from North Melbourne.

A club that was interested in Thomas could also go the traditional route and put in a bid for Thomas on draft night, like Adelaide did, but in practically all instances, the club that holds the draft rights (in this case North Melbourne) would match the bid. Allowing clubs to trade the draft rights gives them more tradeable assets.

I would also argue that this should apply to father-son picks as well, but I would assume that clubs would not want to explore this.

Trading players without their consent
This is arguably the most talked about way to improve the trade period. It is following the US model of trading where players can be traded at a drop of a hat. In the NBA, one of the memorable moments was in 2015, when point guard Luke Ridnour was traded four times in one week. Ridnour started in Orlando and was subsequently traded to Memphis, Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Toronto. He ended up not playing the following season.

The concept of trading players without their consent has arisen from the shift in dynamics that free agency has brought to the AFL, where there is greater power for players to seek trades, like requesting to move back to their home state, leaving clubs relatively powerless to do anything about it. I have always thought it was a sensible solution to correct this perceived imbalance and many football commentators regularly show their support for this during trade week, especially when there is little trade activity.

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It was surprising when I looked at it from a player perspective that it made it clear to me that there is not enough financial incentive for players to allow teams to trade them without their consent. Take for example the NBA, where the minimum salary for this upcoming season for a player with zero years’ NBA experience is $898,310.

You can make a fair argument that the NBA is incomparable to AFL in terms of global reach, interest and demand, so of course their salaries would be higher.

However, when looking at it from this specific issue of player movement, I think it is fair to argue that in the NBA, you are practically a millionaire, even on the minimum contract, so the level of financial security gained from playing in the NBA provides players with reasonable compensation to move if required.

In comparison to the AFL, where approximately 26 per cent of players (184 players) earned $200,000 or less in a season, with 66 per cent (or 465 players) earning $400,000 or less.

Utilising experience from US sports, it is a fair argument that the ability to trade players without their consent will most impact those who are the lowest paid and from a player welfare standpoint, the financial incentive is not equitable for AFL players to be traded freely.

In such a scenario, it is plausible that a player on $150,000 could move to three different states in three years. Yes, $150,000 is a very good wage for the average Australian, but would you think it is fair that your employer would have the discretion to move you (without your consent) for $150,000? Personally, I do not think it is fair, and until the financial incentives are there for players to be able to be traded without their consent, it will not occur.