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Opinion

Is footy's forgotten free agent the key to unlocking Carlton's skipper?

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Roar Guru
4th May, 2021
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4282 Reads

The boys from Ikon Park are in a precarious position heading into the 2021 off-season with the likes of Patrick Cripps and Harry McKay coming out of contract at the end of the year and demanding big pay packets.

On top of reserving money for Sam Walsh in 2022, the big contracts of Adam Saad, Jack Martin, Zac Williams and Jacob Weitering, fresh reports state Carlton are going to pursue Essendon star Zach Merrett.

Could there be a way to bring in a Crow while keeping Cripps around and using the new acquisition to help the star skipper?

Matt Crouch hasn’t played a game in 2021 due to a hip injury that required surgery and groin problems but should be back this week or next and is a prolific ball winner.

The epitome of a ‘first touch midfielder’, when the ball exits the ruck tap, he is there to get the first touch of the footy – a bit like Tom Mitchell – and distribute out (usually by hand).

He averages 28 disposals a game in his 125 games and is only 26 years old.

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Crouch would relieve the need that Cripps has had to burden throughout his career which is to be the first touch midfielder, a burst midfielder and a bull all in one go and he can go back to what he is good at: contested clearances and being impossible to tackle.

He has shown that he is hard to tackle this season but it’s been more of a ‘sprint at defender’ tactic, rather than breaking from a stoppage.

Sam Walsh is your get it, get into space and distribute kind of midfielder and he does it better than most right now in the competition – reminds me of Robert Harvey a little bit in that regard.

Zac Williams isn’t working as a midfielder in the small sample size but the inclusion of Crouch could make him a burst player and he could combine with Adam Saad down back.

It also opens up the door of ‘who do you tag?’ Crouch would be the ball getter, Walsh is the ball user and Cripps would re-open as the ability to do both as is needed because frankly, he isn’t a forward.

Matt Crouch

Matt Crouch (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Now, this isn’t to say that chasing Zach Merrett is a bad idea by any sense.

Merrett is a fantastic player by every stretch but apart from a poorer year in ball use, is still the star he’s known and loved as by Bomber fans and would be an amazing asset. The Crouch versus Merrett debate can be summed up in two key categories: price and usage.

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Let’s start with usage.

The criticism of Cripps this season has come from him being slow and sluggish, and with reports his body isn’t right, getting a player to come in and help brunt the contested work can be a positive.

Merrett coming in would give the outside game a touch of polish that would be brilliantly for the Blues but if they want to get the best out of their skipper, Crouch seems the better option.

Now, if Cripps goes to WA, Merrett is the No.1 target – that is for certain.

(L-R) Sam Walsh, Patrick Cripps and Ed Curnow of the Blues celebrate

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Now, we move onto price.

Depending on the media outlet you read, Merrett is worth anything from 750,000-950,000 on the market, whereas Crouch isn’t worth anything above 800,000 and not because he isn’t a good player, it’s because players are paid on potential more than output.

Don’t forget, Crouch has missed some footy.

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His price might go up when he comes back but Adelaide are more likely to not match a bid, especially if the compensation is the back end of the first round, if the contract is within the top five per cent of wage earners aged 25 or older, which Crouch should be, even if it’s less than the approximate 850,000 pay packet Merrett would be after and Adelaide would get another first.

What can Carlton do, then, to free up some cash?

Marc Murphy and Eddie Betts wouldn’t be on big coin but they’ll finish up at the end of the year and Sam Petrevski-Seton has ‘trade bait’ written all over him, as does Will Setterfield.

Jack Newnes and Jack Silvagni are out of contract but shouldn’t be on great coin, Lachie Fogarty has been good but shouldn’t be getting big coin.

Levi Casboult could finish up at the Blues to relieve the space, Lochie O’Brien hasn’t looked up to the level, Matthew Kennedy hasn’t grabbed his opportunity and Nic Newman has been injured.

There’s no suggestions that these guys need to go but some could.

One-year deals on low coin could be the go for some, for sure, as overpaying B and C-graders seems to be the Carlton formula.

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All in all, this seems like a win-win.

Adelaide have got young midfielders coming through, get a first round pick on top of the top ten pick they’ll get this year, Carlton won’t have to give up as much as they would and fulfil a need to both help the stoppage work of the Blues and help their captain get back to his absolute best.

This will help lead Carlton to where they need to go, for both the sake of the club and the sake of the fans, who have sorely missed out on success due to poor list management.

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