Overpaying for very good players of advanced age has been a fairly common practice in the past in the AFL.
The masterclass in this was Adelaide swapping picks 2 and 18 (really picks 4 and 20 before Carlton got done for cap cheating) for Wayne Carey. He gave them more than we’d have projected, but there were no intangibles like premiership success and he only played for two years then retired the year he turned 33. The expected value of picks 2 and 18 is about 185 PAV and as it happens, Daniel Wells (pick 2) has already passed that, with 196 PAV so far and maybe more to come.
Clubs can strongly value the short term gain from an established player, they can want it badly enough that they will happily forgo the potential longer and more valuable career they could expect to get from a draft pick. This short term time preference is a classic characteristics of clubs in the frame for winning a flag. It means that clubs further off the mark, who are looking for picks or young talent can get them by finding clubs with such a shorter time preference and offloading older players to them.
Thus we have Gary Ablett. Perhaps this century’s finest player (Goodes, Pavlich and Judd may have claims), he’s 33 now and will be 34 by next year. He may only have a year or two left, and there’s a real possibility he will never really get his body working right again. By all logic, Geelong should swap a late pick for him and Gold Coast should take it, grateful for the free cap space.
Last year, Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell were swapped for token picks that valued them at less than pick 60, while Drew Petrie moved clubs as rookie draft pick. In earlier years, Stevie J moved for a future fifth round pick that Geelong never used. Jarrad Waite wasn’t deemed worth compensation when he moved as a free agent to North Melbourne. Daniel Cross moved as a delisted free agent. Whatever the method, players of advanced age just haven’t been worth much exchange currency. And in almost no case did the player return to earlier glories, or reproduce their peak PAV from an earlier year.
In the line of these moves, a pick from 73 to 90 might give the Suns about the value they’d get from Gary Ablett from here on out.
The Suns are far more of a spurned party than many of the other recent cases of late career relocation, moves that were blessed with the good will of the former club. Additionally, Gary Ablett isn’t a normal player. When fit, he showed even this year he’s still a nearly unequalled game-breaker. On a PAV per game basis, across the 2017 Home and Away season, Ablett was the 6th best player in the league (minimum 10 games played). This was while Ablett was carrying several injuries and carrying what was left of Eade’s Gold Coast Suns on his already fragile shoulders.
If anyone is to defy convention and return to peak form at 34, it might be Ablett.
In the ‘player card’ above, we’ve provided a 5-year projection for Ablett of 49.5 PAV, assuming he doesn’t retire before then. That valuation works out to about equal to pick 25. HPN would be shocked if Ablett can manage five more seasons at AFL level considering his injury issues, but this is a projection based on the fact that he hasn’t played more than 15 games any year since 2013. Two full seasons of 2012-13 era Ablett would also get him nearly to 50 PAV. Three seasons at a slightly higher output to this year’s version of Ablett (somewhere in the 14-16 PAV range) would also get about the same return.
This possible return to glory is obviously what Geelong hopes for and what the Suns will make their trade demands based on.
Going back a lot further, just two players produced have more than 50 PAVs after changing clubs at age 31 onwards – Paul Salmon and Paul Roos. Salmon moved to Hawthorn from the Dons in 1996, and went on to produce 96 more PAVs in his career – with 7.8 in his last season back at the Dons before retiring at age 37. Paul Roos, after his move to Sydney, was able to produce 71.8 more PAVs, and helped guide the Swans to a grand final appearance.
Both made All-Australian teams after their move as well. They are the exception, rather than the rule. No other player accumulated even half the amount of PAVs that Salmon did after his move, and at age 34 Ablett has to rebound hard to be a similarly big exception.
Prodigal son romance aside, Geelong fit the category of the contender looking for a short term infusion of quality. A two year window where an occasionally fit Ablett may propel them further than preliminary final capitulation could be worth substantially more to the Cats than even a useful draft pick.
Gold Coast are stocked with picks (they have 2, 19, 22, 24, 35 and 37) so we assume they do want a decent player. This could preclude a Darcy Lang type throwaway trade. If they choose wisely and secure someone who fits as a cog in their best-22 for a few years, they will almost certainly “win” the Ablett trade.
Luke Hodge is a simpler case. He retired, we’re not entirely clear if he needs to be traded or is a delisted free agent, but Hawthorn have no reason to ask for anything in return here. He’s worth a Stevie J to GWS type pick:
Hodge will likely only play for parts of one to two years, and has a long connection with Chris Fagan, the former Hawthorn assistant and current Brisbane coach. The Lions have a desperate need for solid defenders, and may very well play a role similar to that of Chad Cornes in the early days of GWS.
There’s not much to this one. If the Hawks balk at the Lions offer of a late pick (maybe even a Rhys Palmer 7th round special), there is nothing stopping the Lions from spending the first pick of the Preseason Draft (remember that still technically exists) on Hodge. The Hawks have little-to-no leverage with respect to Hodge, and it seems amicable on all sides at this stage.
Normally a free agent move for Hodge would be on the table, but several outlets have reported that Hodge filed his official retirement papers, and can’t move to Brisbane as a Delisted Free Agent due to the Mal Michael Rule, which was implemented after Michael moved to Essendon six weeks after retiring from Brisbane in 2006.