With two rounds left, there are 12 teams still in the hunt to play finals.
Like the notion of the ‘permanent campaign’ in politics, trade and list management has become a year-round discussion for fans, and even more so for the six teams out of contention now.
With this in mind, let’s look ahead to the off-season. Who is on your club’s radar? What is their plan? How will they strengthen areas which need reinforcements? How will they free up cash?
List managers expect a calmer trade period than last year and no more than 50 players to be selected in the National Draft. Why? Because list spots are tight.
Don’t be fooled, though. Just because we might not have a Jason Horne-Francis-type trade request, it does not mean October’s Trade Period will be dull. It never is.
Here is what your club is trying to do this off-season.
The Crows are happy with their list profile in terms of age and experience, so they won’t do anything too funky this off-season. They will continue to build from the draft and attack specific free agents where necessary.
Yes, they missed out on Mason Redman, but the acquisitions of Jordan Dawson and Izak Rankine in recent years have given the list the oomph needed to complement what they already had.
Rory Sloane will likely be offered a one-year deal, providing he can accept the possibility of SANFL football, while Matt Crouch is still a chance to be re-signed. Tom Doedee is a complex one – they won’t break the bank to keep him.
Adelaide has been one of the smartest trade period clubs of the past few years, but this off-season I expect them to hold where they are and trust their organic growth from within.
The Lions don’t have a lot of room to move with their salary cap or list spots, but they do have a desire to add to their defensive stocks and midfield pace.
List manager Dom Ambrogio would love to get back into the first round of the draft, having traded that pick as part of the Josh Dunkley deal last season, but rival clubs believe the Lions are not going to be big players.
The Blues don’t have much cash to spend; but that’s okay, because they have all the ingredients to challenge for a flag ASAP.
They are keen on Jade Gresham, who is a free agent from St Kilda; other than that, the Blues’ main priorities will be getting decent returns for Paddy Dow and unrestricted free agent Jack Silvagni, who are both out of contract.
They will also sign two Irish Category B rookies in the coming days.
The Magpies are desperate for a forward and have had eyes on out-of-contract Port Adelaide tall Mitch Georgiades for a while.
The biggest concern for the Pies is losing important depth to rival clubs. Trent Bianco and Jack Ginnivan (who is contracted) are already being scouted.
Now their salary cap is finally under control, the Pies can attack free agents, though it’s unlikely they would be able to pay the entire salary for a Lachie Whitfield type, who is locked into GWS but the sort of player the Magpies would like to add.
List boss Adrian Dodoro has a bit on his plate now. He’d love to re-sign free agent Darcy Parish and the off-contract Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, but only at the right price.
Having kept Mason Redman on a deal less lucrative than the one Adelaide was offering, he will turn his attention to solidifying the club’s key defensive stocks. North’s Ben McKay is at the top of that list.
Freo can’t afford to sit still this off season. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have a draft pick in the top 20 due to the monster Luke Jackson trade last October. List manager David Walls simply must get creative.
Wingman Liam Henry is out of contract and boasts some currency, but they don’t have many others in the same boat, unless they want to offload Sean Darcy a year before he becomes a free agent to a club like Geelong and trust Jackson to be their No.1 ruck.
The Cats have walked a delicate tightrope the last few years. Topping up with Isaac Smith and Jeremy Cameron helped them win the 2022 flag, but there is little doubt they need to refresh their list in the off-season.
How they do this is a question for list and recruiting managers Andrew Mackie and Stephen Wells, but high-end midfield talent, such as contracted Dog Bailey Smith, and ruck prowess, such as Brodie Grundy or Darcy, has to be their priority.
Still unsigned but surely staying, they also need to look ahead to life without Tom Hawkins, who probably has one more season left in him.
The Suns are in the fortunate position of not needing to use their Pick 4 (on current ladder position) this year. Instead, they will trade that out for a series of later selections, which will allow them to draft three Next Generation Academy teenagers via the AFL’s bidding system.
Gold Coast is flushed with talent and set to welcome Damien Hardwick as coach, so things are finally looking up again. Re-signing Sam Flanders, and to a lesser extent Elijah Hollands, is the next step for list boss Craig Cameron.
A lucrative $1.2 million salary for Nick Haynes next year means the Giants are open to trading him, according to rival clubs. It’s highly unlikely anyone would take on that sort of figure, but it’d make sense for a club needing experience ad running power to give Haynes a three-year deal and share the salary with the Gians for 2023.
GWS have a top 10 selection thanks to Richmond’s trade for Jacob Hopper last year, and would love to use that and their own pick to shift up the draft order. Harley Reid at pick 1 is the goal, though it seems unlikely.
In trade terms, the Giants are looking for runners; Hunter Clark (St Kilda) and Hugo Ralphsmith (Richmond) are the types they are after. If a club came for Whitfield, would they stand in his way? Let’s wait and see.
Aside from out-of-contract Giant Jake Riccardi, the Hawks are looking to bolster almost every part of the ground.
Unlike most other clubs, they have cash to spend. And lots of it.
Others may see it differently, but I believe their full-scale rebuild has had a successful beginning under Sam Mitchell. Chad Wingard surely won’t earn a new deal given his Achilles injury on the weekend, while they’d be hoping to nail their first selection in the draft (currently pick 3) and be active in the free agency market.
The Dees’ most pressing off-season conundrum revolves around Brodie Grundy. If he requests a trade, do the Demons let him go, or risk having a disgruntled and well-paid ruck running around in the VFL?
Furthermore, what’s he worth? They paid pick 27 for him last year, as a reference point.
Melbourne would dearly love to re-sign free agent James Jordon and package their first two picks to move up the draft order in November, possibly as part of a late swoop for pick 1 and Reid. The Luke Jackson trade looks to be a stroke of genius as things stand given Fremantle’s poor season.
There aren’t really any key forwards available, but finding another marking goalkicker and a ball-winning young midfielder is on the Demons’ radar across the next two years.
A bit like Hawthorn, North has salary cap space and a promising draft hand. They would dearly love a senior midfielder to assist the group of young ball-winners they are assembling. Should they target Rory Sloane?
Aside from two first-round picks as part of a priority assistance package, the Roos want more talent forward of the ball. Alastair Clarkson said as much on the weekend – he wants more avenues to goal.
Would Jack Billings be an option? Out of favour at St Kilda and best friends with Luke McDonald, he wouldn’t solve all the problems, but his class would help.
Without a pick before the tail end of the second round, Port is clearly in for the now. To satisfy this need, they are hunting a ruck – Brodie Grundy – and at least one key defender. Ben McKay, Zerk-Thatcher and Esava Ratugolea are the three available who can make an immediate impact, and Port is into all three.
Veterans Travis Boak and Tom Jonas are in different boats: Boak looks as if he will play on, whereas Jonas will not. Vice-captain Ollie Wines is the obvious next skipper, unless Ken Hinkley, who will pen a two-year deal in the coming weeks, decides to go younger.
With Jack Riewoldt looking like he will retire and Trent Cotchin officially gone, it’s the end of an era at Tigerland. Dustin Martin has one more year on a lucrative deal which will surely keep him at Punt Road for 12 more months, while Tom Lynch will be a welcome return in 2024.
Like Port Adelaide and Freo, the Tigers traded out their first-round pick for this year’s draft as part of the Hopper deal. Blair Hartley will need to get creative, and much of their strategy will depend on how the club’s new coach wishes to balance a short-term bounce with long-term prosperity.
The Saints have told rival clubs they will attack the draft this year, but don’t be surprised to see a large player turnover beforehand.
Of the out-of-contract Saints, Daniel McKenzie and Jade Gresham are unlikely to be there for different reasons, while Nick Coffield, Zak Jones and Hunter Clark have some currency on the open market, albeit not enough to give the club the suite of picks it craves.
Ross Lyon has not sugar-coated his thoughts on the list, which he believes lacks depth. Stephen SIlvagni has a difficult job ahead of him to fix that in one year.
The Swans are crying out for a key defender, just like Essendon and Port Adelaide. They’d also love a key forward, though that pursuit may need to wait until Aaron Naughton comes out of contract at the end of 2024.
The Swans believe they can bounce back next season if they strengthen their defence and invest in their developing ruck stocks. With Lance Franklin gone and more cash to spend, they will surely be scouring the country for a big name.
The Eagles’ full-scale rebuild begins now. Luke Shuey, Nic Naitanui and Shannon Hurn will be gone in a fortnight, while contracted wingman Andrew Gaff will find an exit route if there is one.
Make no mistake, the Eagles will treat their pick 1 – assuming they don’t win either of their last two games and leapfrog North Melbourne – like a beachside mansion for sale. They will auction it to within an inch of its life. Ultimately, they may still use it, but they’d love to turn it into three or even four first-round selections across the next two drafts.
They will also consider which players have enough currency to trade, but won’t offload too many to ensure their list doesn’t completely fall from beneath them. Oscar Allen is out of contract at the end of next year but surely is a franchise player, while Tom Barrass has decided to stay despite Sydney’s overtures.
Of all the clubs, the Eagles need to be the most aggressive – they can’t get any worse than they were in 2023. If you’re going to be bad, you may as well be young and bad.
Something is amiss at the Dogs in 2023. They have been outstanding at times and poor at other times. Two first-round selections, thanks to the Josh Dunkley trade, helps things, but the trio of signatures they’d dearly like are Bailey Smith, Tim English and Aaron Naughton, who all have 12 months left on their contracts.
They will be keen to find a big-bodied full-back in the off-season too. Other than that, their list doesn’t want for anything, which is why this year has been so perplexing.