After much speculation, out-of-contract Essendon defender Adam Saad has made a decision: he’s requesting a trade to Carlton.
The news comes as another major coup for the Blues, who have already effectively secured the signature of Greater Western Sydney’s Zac Williams, and now look set to add two of the biggest names on this year’s trade market to their list for 2021.
More importantly, they are both quick and creative players, the kind who will be genuinely dangerous weapons, adding well to the class they recruited last year in Jack Martin.
Saad in particular is both a dynamic attacking talent but also reliable defensively. A lot of defenders can shut down an opponent and many can provide some attacking play, he is one of the few who can and does do both at an elite level.
Williams will most likely be had for free as a restricted free agent, but Saad – who has spent just three years each at Gold Coast and Essendon respectively – will need to move via trade, though he could walk to the pre-season draft if needed.
Essendon and Adrian Dodoro have a reputation for being difficult to pry players away from and the reason they have that reputation is because it’s true. Dodoro may ask for the Moon.
The Blues held steady last year and didn’t give up more for Jack Martin than they thought he was worth and while that stance was criticised by many (including myself), we must concede it has worked out well.
That was under previous list manager Stephen Silvagni though and it’s unclear if Carlton’s new managment will take the same approach.
The club’s first two picks in this year’s draft are currently seven and 27. The latter definitely isn’t enough but the former is probably too much, especially for a player who is out of contract. So, the Blues may need to get creative and split some picks, or consider giving up their 2021 future first, if a deal is to be done.
But what’s most fascinating is what this says about where Essendon are at.
While money and length of deal are always a factor in decisions like this, by all reports Saad’s decision to move clubs is motivated by a desire to play in a successful side – something he doesn’t see as a possibility at the Dons.
As per a Fox Sports report, “Saad is determined to be part of a successful environment with a strong culture. It’s understood he had reservations about Essendon’s direction…
“Saad has played in just one final across 108 games for Gold Coast and Essendon and sees Ikon Park as a club which is heading in the right direction to match his ambitions.”
It’s frustrating enough for a club with finals and premiership aspirations for a player to walk out seeking greener grass, but the blow is struck all the harder when they’re doing so to join a team who only achieved half a win more this season past.
Carlton fans should feel buoyed by Saad’s vote of confidnece but, simultaneously, Essendon must be devastated that he sees such a significant gap between their prospects and those of a relatively close rival, ladder-wise.
Saad has been described as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for the many players at the Bombers whose futures are unclear in 2020 – and his decision to leave may influence others’ decisions.
Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia both appear set to depart and there has been rumour of one kind or another about Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker and Zach Merrett. The latter is reportedly set to stay at Essendon in 2021, but is a free agent at the end of that year.
To lose Daniher and Saad in the same year is already a devasting blow for the Bombers. Losing Merrett on top of that, either this year or next, would be unthinkable.
What remains unclear is the direction Essendon heads in next.
The club’s strategy in recent years has made clear they believe they can push for finals and a premiership, but those results haven’t been delivered. Do they stay the course or change tack?
This year’s exits could well provide them with the fuel to hit the draft hard over the next few years and get some more quality youth onto a list that has some, but not enough yet to be genuinely excited about the long-term future.
Going down that path would mean admitting that the last few years have seen some pretty poor decisions, however, and it’s unclear as yet if the Bombers are willing to do make that concession.
Tied into all of this too is the question of how they will handle Ben Rutten’s first official year as senior coach and the structure of Essendon’s off-field management.
Rutten has been at the club for two years and worked with all of these players, so it’s not a great sign that so many are considering their futures just as he’s about to take over the position full-time.
Of interest too is the recent news that Kevin Sheedy will become a board member at Essendon and have some level of involvement supporting the football department.
Sheedy is a legend of the game and sharp football mind, but many feel the Bombers’ decision to turn again to a famous name of the past is indicative of a club that is yet to really embrace modernity and become successful in the equalisation era.
The near-6000-day drought since their last finals win doesn’t do much to invalidate this perception.
What we do know is that Sheedy just a week ago made a show of significant public support for the list manager Dodoro, who was worked at the club for upwards of two decades.
Many fans are seeing the Saad decision as a watershed moment, a wake-up call that must surely alert to the club to the need for serious change. Will Dodoro heed the call and take them in a new direction? Will Sheedy? Will Rutten?
What they do next will be fascinating.