After last night’s four-goal loss to Collingwood, the Adelaide Crows are just six games away from the end of a season which, if possible, they’d like to see the finish of even more quickly.
That’s about the time of year that clubs and the media often start turning their eye more and more to the moves that will play out across the offseason – and if you know me, you know I’m jumping on that bandwagon as soon as possible.
We don’t know for sure when the trade period will be held this year but it’s drawing nearer, and even as that happens it remains unclear what will happen to restricted free agent Brad Crouch.
He was reportedly looking for a move to a new home at the end of last year and nothing has happened in the time since then to suggest circumstances have changed.
Crouch was asked a few weeks ago whether he’d be willing to move if it was the best thing for Adelaide’s rebuild and had this to say:
“If the club wanted me… to walk, it’s going to be really tough. I’d probably have to do it, because that’s the best place for the club to go.”
AFL players basically never come out and say they’re leaving – but that’s about as clear a telegraph of Crouch’s (and Adelaide’s) intentions as I can imagine.
The motivation for Adelaide lies in the fact that Crouch is a restricted free agent and, if he were to attract Band 1 compensation, that would see them hold the first two picks in the draft.
They are anchored to the bottom with six matches left to play and given their woeful percentage would need to win four of them to be any chance of moving above 18th. It’s not going to happen.
But can Crouch earn the Crows top-tier compensation? The club will be helped by the fact that Crouch is 26, about as young as a free agent can possibly be – which in the AFL’s free agency formula provides a boost to possible compensation.
However, he would also need to get a significant payday from his new club, a scenario which looks more difficult to piece together.
Crouch was linked most prominently last year to the Gold Coast Suns, with whom he reportedly approached twice before the end of the trade period in the hopes of striking a deal.
In November last year the Suns were reportedly confident of signing Crouch at the end of season 2020, but more recent reports suggest their interest in him has cooled.
And that makes sense – the arrival of Hugh Greenwood and emergence of Matt Rowell mean the Gold Coast are now as stocked for inside midfielders as any side in the competition, to the point that good talents like Brayden Fiorini and Will Brodie have struggled to get a game.
Crouch would still probably be best 22 at the Suns but would he be all that much of an improvement on whoever he pushes out? And is that improvement worth the pricetag Crouch would command?
It’s also worth nothing that newest Queensland club is a more exciting destination for players than 12 monhts ago. If they have the assets to go pursue a mature player, they’ll have more options to choose from and can probably find a better fit.
St Kilda and Geelong were linked briefly to Crouch last year, but both quickly baulked at his reported asking price of $1 million per season.
Crouch would be well aware now that his asking price was unrealistic and the possible contract on offer is only going to be shrunk further by whatever changes occur to the salary cap come the end of the year.
Will the Saints or the Cats show renewed interest at a more reasonable price? It was reported earlier this week that St Kilda will be targetting quality midfield depth come the offseason.
Geelong’s next move is less clear. The Cats are again one of the oldest teams in the league but also one of the best, and they hold three picks in the first round of this year’s draft.
Will those picks go towards topping up with more mature talent, or seeding the list with youngsters? Last year’s draft – where they took Cooper Stephens and Sam De Koning in the first round – suggests the latter is more likely.
Another consideration has to be that for clubs who want to add an inside midfielder to their list, Crouch is just one of many options who might be on the table.
Angus Brayshaw, Ollie Wines and Connor Blakely have all been thrown up at some point. Jack Viney is a restircted free agent. Lesser-known young guns like Jye Caldwell, Jackson Hately, Charlie Constable and the aforementioned Brodie and Fiorini could all be gettable.
A club looking to add an inside mid this year might well be spoiled for choice and a player with Crouch’s injury record – he’s sidelined with a hamstring right now – may fall down the pecking order.
If no suitor willing to pay Crouch a Band-1 level contract emerges and instead he can only earn Adelaide compensation at the end of the first round, they’ll face a decision over whether to accept that, or force a trade.
Having to cough up a first round pick will only make Crouch less appealing and I suspect that whichever club does pursue him might work with Adelaide to ensure Band 1 compensation is achieved.
Length of deal is known to not be a major factor in the free agency compensation formula, so a club could potentially offer Crouch a short-term, big-money deal on the proviso that he’ll then extend for a cheap price further down the track.
But is there a team out there so serious about Brad Crouch as to make that deal happens? Only time will tell.