The AFL free agency class of 2019 and the “secret compensation formula”

Before we get started, HPN recommends that every reader looks over this piece by Jake Niall from 2018 regarding the AFL’s free agency compensation formula. Given the details present in this piece (and others), HPN has concluded that the AFL formula is more or less copied from the NFL free agency compensation formula as outlined by OverTheCap. There are slight differences in application (the use of age by the AFL, the use of honours by the NFL), but the outlines are extremely similar.

As a result, the only secrecy involved exists around the specifics of player salaries, and the inaccuracies involved in their reporting. The broad distribution of player earnings is already published annually, as is the annual rises to the Total Player Payment caps. If the reporting of salaries is accurate, it is relatively easy for fans and followers to intuit what the compensation is likely (or will potentially) be.

Note: This article is part of a series using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Elsewhere, you can read much more about the method and theory behind PAVYou can also read about PAPLEY, the projection method used to derive expected future PAVs, which has been revised for 2019.

The 2019 Free Agency class

There’s no Patrick Dangerfield on the free agency market in 2019. No Tom Lynch. Probably not even a Tom Rockliff, for better or worse. Instead, the class of 2019 AFL free agents is one for the versatile role players instead of team anchoring stars.

HPN will update this article as the free agency period (restricted and unrestricted) progresses, with the details of all the moves added here.

Cam Ellis-Yolmen

At the time of publication, three free agents have found new homes with two leaving clubs higher on the ladder in 2019 to go to sides below them. The one exception to this trend so far is the move of Cam Ellis-Yolmen leaving the Crows to bolster the Brisbane engine room.

Ellis-Yolmen had a long and winding time at the Crows, largely starting out in the reserves of Woodville-West Torrens in his first year on the list. His first AFL game came in his third year at the club, and he was delisted at the end of his sixth. The entire league passed him over at this time, and he returned to Adelaide’s rookie list.

The sheer depth of the inside midfield stocks at the Crows limited Ellis-Yolmen’s senior game time for the first half-decade of his career, and experiments using him elsewhere produced pretty average results. He also missed periods with injuries more recently. However, when he has been given the opportunity to win ball in the middle, he has shown some promise. Brisbane will be hoping that his arrival will lessen the load on Neale and Lyons to win such a large share of contested ball, and push Zorko further into the distributing role that he excels at. It is probably highest ceiling and lowest floor move of the period so far, given his previous career path.

In return, Adelaide get a third round pick for a player who would be fighting for a best 22 spot next year. This is right in line with his projection. With Adelaide potentially undergoing a mini-rebuild, that pick may be more useful. And as Brisbane hopes to build into a premiership tilt in the next two seasons, the prime-aged Ellis-Yolmen may fill a need.

Adam Tomlinson

At Melbourne, the fit of Adam Tomlinson is less clear. At GWS, Tomlinson has played pretty much every role imaginable – from centrepiece key position forward to makeshift smaller defender, and even spent some time in the ruck. At about 194cm and high running endurance, he is a Swiss Army knife that can be deployed almost anywhere and do an OK job.

In 2019, Tomlinson had a particularly poor run of form, and was dropped on the eve of finals for a retiring Brett Deledio. When Deledio injured his calf in the Elimination Final win over the Dogs, Tomlinson slotted back into the side and held his place for the Grand Final, but if Coniglio made himself available for the game Tomlinson’s name was likely on the chopping block.

Melbourne football manager Josh Mahoney has outlined that they intend to use Tomlinson “as a wing” – presumably as the defensive holding wing who later fills space on the weak side of the ground when moving forward. It’s possibly the position that Tomlinson has had the most success in at AFL level, and the one from which he was largely displaced at GWS this year.

Mahoney also suggested that if this failed, Tomlinson could fill a variety of roles around the ground, flagging that the long-

term utility may continue being just that.

To compensate for his loss, GWS get a second round pick in return. While Tomlinson’s value is of a high second round, late first round pick, Tomlinson’s age and contract value has granted GWS a second round pick. This is a pretty fair outcome for GWS, and freeing up the cap space to retain Coniglio, Whitfield and others was likely the primary priority with letting the longtime Giant leave.

Brandon Ellis

Brandon Ellis is a similar story to Tomlinson, against whom he lined up in the 2019 Grand Final. His departure to the Suns is more a story about who they can keep as a result, rather than the Tigers wanting to see him leave. Unlike the other two, Ellis entered the player movement period as a restricted free agent, signifying he was in the top 25% of salary earners at Richmond this year. Coming into the period, Richmond would have been relatively confident that they would get an end of first round pick in return (roughly the top 15% of salaries in the league).

Instead, Ellis has netted the Tigers only a second round selection, with the AFL indicating that his new deal was just under the amount required for a higher selection.

According to the HPN valuation of Ellis, he is unlikely to produce the value of a first rounder across rest of his career, but his is likely to produce a bit more than the late second rounder that Richmond received in return.

For the Suns, they receive a talented and sure defender who can distribute, intercept and stop effectively in the backline. This move isn’t overpaying for an over the hill Nick Malceski, it’s taking a small but reasonable gamble that a good role player can take a modest step up in an expanded role.

Grant Birchall

Birchall joins the Lions as a 31 year old who has struggled to get on the park, meaning his projection is nearly zero and anything he produces will be a bonus. If he does play, he’ll presumably slot into a similar sort of unaccountable roaming defensive role as Luke Hodge, and will be expected to bring voice, vision and leadership qualities to the role as well.

The deal is reportedly for one year, unlikely to be large in dollar terms, and as such Hawthorn receive no compensation for a player who might not play many games.


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