Free agency has been a part of the modern AFL since 2012, and in its ninth season, we have seen a first.
Free agency, in its current form, comes in three parts. The first is unrestricted free agency, and grants a player who has been at their club at least eight years, are out of contract and are not in the top 25% of wages at the club (or who have been a free agent before) the right to join any club of their choosing.
The second is delisted free agency, which operates largely the same and is given to all players delisted by a club (not including players who retire or delist themselves.
Finally, players inside the top 25% of earners at their clubs who are out of contract for the first time after being at their club for at least eight years are granted restricted free agency status.
The term “restricted” operates quite differently in the AFL environment as it does in almost any other sporting free agency environment. In most American sporting leagues, a team holding a restricted free agent has the right to match an offer made and signed by a player by a rival club, and keep him to the same terms of the contract. It is less a true free agency, and more a negotiating tactic between player and club.
In the AFL, an offer matched by a club does not guarantee them to keep the player to the terms of the offered contract. Instead, matched offers allow clubs to re-negotiate with the player (on the agreed terms), trade the player or allow the player to walk into the draft.
If a restricted or unrestricted free agent moves to a new club, their old club may be granted compensation. As a general rule forgo the compensation is overly generous, and as a result most clubs accept what is on the table for free.
The risk of matching is usually too great, but it only takes one club to break with traditional behaviour.
That club is GWS, and their gambit worked.
Jeremy Cameron led GWS’ goalkicking every year since the club’s inception. Cameron holds every goalkicking related record there. Playing without him will be nearly unknown territory.
For GWS the blow is softened somewhat by the trade for Jesse Hogan, who while a riskier proposition is potentially at least like-for-like structurally for them. Whether GWS can fit four tall forwards into one team is an unanswered question.
Cameron, for his part, moves to a side with every intention and reasonable expectation of winning a flag with him in the very near future.
The fit of Hawkins and Cameron does not seem overly difficult. Hawkins will likelky operate much closer to goals and leading wide, while Cameron presumably will work straighter up and further from goal.
Cameron may get the benefit of an easier group of defenders matched up on him at times, with clubs struggling to match up with two mobile forwards who are able above their heads.
The trade saw Geelong give up the three first round picks they held going into the trade period. That is a lot more than the zero they’d have hoped to give up if GWS accepted the free agency compensation.
However, the Cats do get back two future second rounders which are valuable in their own right. They are in “win now” mode as evidenced by the overpay for Higgins, but here, the bounty they gave up is actually pretty reasonable.
Verdict: Fair trade, and GWS are vindicated in matching the offer.
Note: This post is part of a series of posts using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Readers can explore these values with tools such as 5-year player value projection charts and a Salary Prediction tool as well as the HPN Trade Calculator to evaluate potential trades.
Elsewhere, read much more about the method and theory behind PAV. Expressing the value of players and picks in terms of expected future PAV provides a common currency for comparing them in trades and other movements. Players are projected using PAPLEY, a method to derive expected future PAVs.