After a hectic short time the AFL Trade Period (including free agency) is effectively over for another year. There’s still delisted free agents who can move and the trading of picks during designated periods (including on draft day/s), but that’s of little consequence right now.
A lot happened during the trade period. It was probably the biggest trade period ever. That’s a huge bar to clear as well.
HPN have wrapped up the broad takeaways from the period at the ABC. HPN will probably have another anthology post here that is waaaaaay too long for anyone to reasonably read, in time for the next season.
Aaron Francis gets a new start
The Swans become the final club among the 18 to trade bring a player this trade period as they secure some cheap defensive depth from Essendon.
Aaron Francis is a 193cm, 25 year old former pick 6 who has struggled to crack regular senior footy, playing 54 games in 7 years. His best footy was played in defence between 2019 and 2021, and his few appearances as a forward in 2022 were unexceptional. He’s done some really good stuff at times, and at times has been a little let down by positioning around the ground. He’s possibly also been hurt by the organisational uncertainty that’s hit the Bombers since…well you know.
Sydney had a settled defence in 2022 with the McCartins, Rampe and Blakey forming a potent tall defender mix, with the depth behind them being the untried Will Gould and out of favour Lewis Melican. The departure of Colin O’Riordan and Barry O’Connor left a spot for another defender in the depth charts, and so in comes Francis to fill it. Francis hasn’t excelled as a forward, but the flexibility is there if needed too.
The trade rates Francis’ value pretty lowly, with the slight pick upgrade and very late future pick enough to balance things out. Francis isn’t likely to start out in Sydney’s best 22, wasn’t in Essendon’s, and the trade reflects that. Francis would be hoping to find opportunity via injury, the 32 year old Dane Rampe’s retirement, or a breakout preseason in a new environment.
For Essendon, the pick 37 was immediately ontraded for Sam Weideman, discussed below.
Verdict: Fair trade.
Sam Weideman heads to the Hangar
Sam Weideman has shown flashes as a forward at Melbourne, though he’s often been stuck outside their preferred side. His most shining moment was during their finals run in 2018, where Weideman kicked 6 goals across three finals.
Part of the issue has been the fit into Melbourne’s forward structure, with Ben Brown and Tom McDonald locked into two taller forward spots with a resting ruck the third and Fritsch the fourth. Late in 2022 the Dees experimented with using just one traditional tall given the presence of Gawn and Jackson, and instead using smaller players like Fritsch, more defensive players like Melksham in more medium forward roles.
By the end of the last season Weideman was primarily playing the role of emergency ruck in the VFL with the departure of Majak Daw midseason and the development of Jacob van Rooyen.
He may find better opportunity at Essendon, who haven’t found many partners to support Peter Wright and Jake Stringer. Having just tested Francis up forward, they may find better luck with the player taken three picks later than him in the 2015 draft.
The picks exchanged don’t favour Melbourne all that much with the two later picks together (if used) not much less likely to produce value than pick 37 individually. This moves Melbourne up the draft order with their second pick while not hurting Essendon’s draft position too much. 54 and 72 become their third and 5th picks and those later selections may well come in handy in live swaps with sides matching bids on draft night.
Verdict: Essendon get the better of this, although Melbourne probably weren’t using both picks they gave up.
Josh Schache to Melbourne
The third in a trilogy of related movements by out of favour former 2015 top ten draft picks, Josh Schache moves to a third club for a pretty token pick. Schache gets to try his luck at claiming the forward spot Sam Weideman never quite could lock down.
Schache has managed 20 games in the last three seasons, and 72 over all, similarly struggling for consistent gametime like Francis and Weideman. The Bulldogs had a number of forward options that they’ve been juggling in different combinations, with Naughton the focal piece and increasingly Jamarra Ugle-Hagan looming as the future. When Josh Bruce was unavailable for most of this year, at times the Dogs simply instead went for relatively small mobile setups with midfielders and Cody Weightman figuring heavily, rather than play Schache at all. They also briefly tried Schache in defence with some limited success.
For the Dees, Schache takes the exact spot in their list that Weideman had, and faces the same challenges. He’s not going to have an easy time getting gametime, because they too have been limited in how willing they are to field tall forwards, but a change in scenery and a new coaching setup could well turn out to be what is needed.
As with Francis and Weideman, the player here doesn’t have a lot of trade currency and has been shuffled along to the Dees accordingly.
Verdict: The trade looks uneven in ratio terms just due to Schache’s extremely minimal projection, but both pieces have little value so it really doesn’t matter.
Lachie Hunter moves to Melbourne
Lachie Hunter is a 27 year old outside player who won a premiership with the Dogs in 2016 and a best and fairest in 2018. He’s headed to Melbourne after a difficult year to try to get a fresh start, and the trade reflects these circumstances. Hunter only managed 10 AFL games this year, and his production dipped on his previous levels. He’d also only managed 10 games in the shortened 2020 season, and publicly faced an off-field issue that year.
Hunter at his best will provide a counterpart to Ed Langdon and expand Melbourne’s outside options in the wake of losing Jayden Hunt to free agency. He can potentially allow the likes of Angus Brayshaw to move more into the guts.
Hunter at his best has also provided a lot of pivotal ball movement to the Bulldogs, and his absence hurt them this year.
The trade reflects that the Bulldogs aren’t much concerned about losing him, but he’s been such a key part of the Bulldogs with his absence hurting them this year. He probably represents a real loss to them as they try to climb back to contention.
Verdict: Fair trade, but the Dogs may be selling low.
Brisbane’s slam Dunk
The first of the near-deadline trades to get done was probably the highest profile, with star Bulldogs midfielder and occasional forward Josh Dunkley getting his wish to move to Brisbane.
A larger midfielder than all bar Jarrod Berry, Dunkley formed an integral part of the Bulldogs’ formidable onball brigade and will improve the Lions around the ball immediately, and for years to come.
He has moonlighted up forward at points, but seems less likely to be needed to do that for Brisbane who carry a well defined set of forwards and established mid/forward switching players such as Hugh McLuggage, Lincoln McCarthy and Cam Rayner who are more potent than Dunkley is.
He is likely to add a solid defensive element to the Lions midfield to help stem the damage that other sides can create off stoppages and in general play. On paper, it’s an extremely good fit to fill out their midfield rotation and one that really could elevate the Lions to the next level.
Dunkley is a loss to the Dogs, and strictly reduces their midfield depth and strength going into next year. He won their best and fairest this year, that’s always tough to cover. He was near the top of the league particualrly in tackles and score involvements, showing his two-way acumen as a midfielder.
The Dogs’ frontline mids are a pretty deep group, though, as evidenced by the way Dunkley was sometimes squeezed into other roles, so should be able to find a way to replace him at some level. This could also open up more time for the Bont to operate in the middle, which could be dangerous.
The Bulldogs in this trade get back more than sufficient draft returns, netting a second usable pick this year and a couple for next year. Collectively, those picks stand a good chance of producing value for the Dogs to balance the quality they’ve just lost.
There was a lot of reporting about the trade negotiations in this deal, but as is usually the case, these public statements and leaked sentiments are often just about leveraging a negotiation or appeasing a fan base. Such posturing usually doesn’t prevent deals getting done.
Verdict: The Dogs lose onfield next year, but probably come out ahead in the long run as those picks get cashed.
Ollie Henry, Cooper Stephens and Tom Mitchell change places
It’s relatively rare to see a three way deal happen where all three clubs move a player on and bring one in, but that’s what eventuated near the deadline.
The three players are also at different places onfield and in their careers, reflecting also the fortunes of their respective clubs.
Ollie Henry, at the age of 20, is a small tall forward coming off a goal and a half a game season as part of the revitalised Magpies’ improbable run to a preliminary final. He’s asked to go down the road to Geelong to play with his brother, in what led to another one of those media friendly trade standoffs which generally get resolved at the trade deadline.
Henry shapes as one of the Geelong recruits who looks most likely to play senior footy pretty soon, and may be seen as a less defensive direct replacement for soon-to-be 32 year old Gary Rohan, or with a bit of a structural shift, a competitor with the smaller forwards. Henry opens up some interesting possibilities for the Cats, both now and in the future.
Tom Mitchell, the 2018 Brownlow Medallist, heads to Collingwood to provide a short term boost to their inside midfield setup. As Hawthorn faded from view, it’s probably fair to say that post leg break Mitchell hasn’t returned to his Brownlow level play, but he has never dropped below solid, and now has the chance to be part of a contending team again.
Mitchell will contribute his ball-finding and rapid extraction and supply to a new team, one which compared to recent era Hawthorn, he should have more numerous and dangerous running and pack bursting options to dish out to. Mitchell’s workrate has always been great, and is something that potentially matches well with the Pies chaotic style.
The Hawks have belatedly entered a full rebuild mode, with Luke Breust their only remaining premiership player and their most senior remaining players alongside him being James Sicily, Chad Wingard, Sam Frost, Jarman Impey and new free agent Karl Amon. They will be the youngest team next year, potentially by some margin.
There are reports Hawthorn is paying most of Mitchell’s salary (and O’Meara’s, discussed below), highlighting that they have no other current cap uses for that money and are keen on the pick and Stephens they get back by offering Mitchell up.
As such, Cooper Stephens fits the Hawks youth and rebuild profile well. The 2019 first round draft pick faced injuries and Geelong’s depth, and only debuted in 2022 for where he managed five games plus two as substitute. He hasn’t necessarily racked up starring statistics in the VFL, but would still be regarded by both Hawthorn and Geelong as a solid enough prospect, albeit someone with little to project a career on. He’s in the mix in Hawthorn’s brand new midfield, and has every chance to make something happen now.
The trade treats Henry as the most valuable piece in terms of picks traded in, but the Pies gave up some extra pick value on their side to make it happen. There’s a solid chance they didn’t intend to use both later picks this year as they would have been third and fourth among their selections, which evens things out for them.
Cooper Stephens isn’t rated as much value here, so if he plays a lot it’ll be some big upside out of this trade.
For Hawthorn, the trade brings them Stephens plus a couple more picks leaving them several around the 40 to 50 mark. They are pretty short on contracted senior players so they may be a club intending to take several late speculative fliers at the draft, or get involved in trading on the night. Hawthorn shape to have a “rebuilding” year, trying out a lot of speculative players while trying to remain competitive on the park. Stephens represents a low risk play for someone with pretty sizable potential.
Verdict: Collingwood looks like the losing party here, mostly because they sent some extra pick value out.
Rory Lobb gets to the Bulldogs
Fremantle big man Rory Lobb has bee trying to move clubs since last year, and has now gotten his way with a trade to the Bulldogs. Lobb had a fine season as a forward and secondary ruck in the sometimes dysfunctional Fremantle offence, and shapes as an intriguing fit at the Bulldogs who certainly forward options already as well as a primary ruck in Tim English.
Lobb is good enough that he really should be figuring in the Bulldogs’ best 22 for at least the next 2 or 3 years, and they’ve traded for him commensurately with that expectation, but it’s just really unclear to see what the fit is.
The most likely spot for him is in a role that he has somewhat shunned in the past – primary tap ruck. There’s a world where Lobb handles most of the hitouts in the middle and in the front two-thirds of the ground playing a kick ahead of the ball, while English starts on the wing or in defence and either looms as the seventh defender or a transition piece depending on the state of play.
It’s a bit of a gamble, but there’s some logic to it.
The trade appears lopsided. Fremantle have done well to extract two mid second round picks for a player with Lobb’s limited future seasons. This firstly illustrates the low value placed on picks this trade period by some clubs as discussed previously, and reveals the strength of Fremantle’s bargaining position. The trade is also pretty much balanced for the Bulldogs by doing well in picks terms out of the Dunkley trade.
Verdict: Unfair trade on its own with big gains by Fremantle. Balances for the Dogs if seen in conjunction with the Dunkley trade.
A Meek deal for O’Meara
Hawthorn complete their clearing of the decks with the departure of Jaeger O’Meara. He’s a player who they once swapped more than an entire draft’s worth of value for, engaging in several pick swaps and trading Bradley Hill away just to bring him in alongside Mitchell despite not having played senior footy in two years.
Since then he’s played 99 games for Hawthorn but it’s probably far to say he never quite hit his dazzling pre-injury potential. Patella injuries are very, very difficult to fully recover from.
Even then, this trade and the subsequent Wingard one looked like concentrating too much capital in too few players at a time when a wider list refresh was needed. As it turned out, Hawthorn never won a final in their tenure at the club and haven’t been close to finals since 2018. The rebuild has well and truly arrived, with the Hawks now the youngest and least experienced squad for 2023.
The trade is a way to get back some draft capital and a 24 year old ruck. As noted with the Mitchell swap, cap space is a low enough priority that it’s been reported Hawthorn are paying most of his and O’Meara’s remaining contracts.
Nonetheless, he’s a talented midfielder and should at least be in the mix for frontline midfield duties at Fremantle. This is a cheap hit at some short term quality for Fremantle, though the stakes are low enough that if O’Meara doesn’t find regular senior footy at Freo, it’s not a huge loss. But in the short term O’Meara looks to add significant depth to the Dockers’ midfield rotation and a true ball winner who can use the ball well at times.
Meek is a depth ruck at Freo and without injuries, he was simply not going to play senior footy now that Jackson and Darcy are both there. The move takes him to a club short on established rucks, where his competition looks to be Max Lynch and Ned Reeves, who have 27 senior games between them.
Meek has been alright when tasked with the primary ruck role at Fremantle, and has dominated in the WAFL to boot. There’s some real potential there for him if given an expanded role, similar to Tom Hickey, Jarrod Witts and others in years past. Given that rucks tend to develop a little later on than players in other positions, Hawthorn may have skipped those pesky development years on Meek.
The trade is another, along with the Gunston and Mitchell departures, which make Hawthorn a fair bit worse onfield next year. That will not concern them, they have clearly committed to a scorched earth rebuild while the interesting young players they have slowly transform into a complete side once more.
Additionally, while Meek may not start obviously ahead of Lynch and Reeves, he’s in the mix and if he takes the ruck job, the Hawks probably come out well ahead on this trade.
Verdict: Fair trade, with upside for Hawthorn if Lloyd Meek becomes a regular senior ruck.
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 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.