<p></p>

Introducing The Age's new fantasy AFL game, Ultimate Footy. A draft-based competition, you can customise your league to suit your needs. Ultimate Footy gives you more say as to how your league is run. Fantasy footy has evolved. Head to www.ultimatefooty.com.au to get started.

HAWTHORN chief executive Stuart Fox worried about entering this ''dangerous territory'' of an unsigned Lance Franklin in the final year of his contract and warned the club would have to contemplate losing the marquee forward to a big offer because the club was bigger than one player.

Speaking on the day Franklin kicked his 500th goal last year, Fox had said the club wanted its Coleman Medal-winning full-forward signed before Christmas or it risked the club being drawn down the Travis Cloke path of distraction.

''We've seen the issues around Collingwood with Travis Cloke and I don't want that for our club, because when you're trying to perform and the focus is on one individual, it can detract from your goal,'' Fox had said at the function before the match against Greater Western Sydney as he deputised for the president in delivering a pre-match luncheon address.

''So we'll work towards signing Buddy at the end of the year. As we know, we're in a very competitive market dealing with free agency. He's a restricted free agent at the end of this contract, which means that if another club happened to make him an offer, we would have to match it.

''So it's very dangerous territory to be talking about that, because if he does get a really big offer, we're bigger than just Buddy, so we've got to be able to fit them all in.''

Fox may be comforted by the fact that Cloke stayed at his club, but not by the fact that Collingwood laboured through a distracting year.

Hawthorn is now officially in the dangerous territory Fox feared after Franklin's manager Liam Pickering informed the club his client wanted to shelve all contract talks until season's end.

Given the club's earnest desire to have a new deal inked before the new year, the Hawks had a suspicion and fear this moment of unsettling clarity on the contract talks was coming.

Clubs generally, however, had become more accustomed to higher wage expectations from players across the board in the past two years as the inflationary impact of two new expansion teams, the arrival of free agency and an increase in the total player payments pool (up 13.3 per cent last year) combined to push player demands for a bigger cut.

At least eight other men earned more than Franklin last year. AFL figures released recently confirmed eight players pocketed more than $1 million last year in total earnings (combining their playing contract as well as special additional services agreements and other allowances). It is believed Franklin's total wage last year was less than $1 million.

In 2011, two players were paid in that seven figure region - Gary Ablett was plainly one of them, Chris Judd most likely the other. So the number of earners in the top bracket has quadrupled in the space of a year.

Previously there was one player on $1 million or more in 2007, two in '08, then none in 2009 and '10.

In two years, the AFL has gone from no one on more than a million to last year's eight. The reason for this Argentinian-type inflation rate is clearly not only the arrival of the expansion teams with Monopoly money to offer but also free agency and the bigger pool from which the players can skim the cream.

Some of last year's millionaires were likely to be players with front-ended contracts where the super earnings were not likely to be representative of the amount they will be paid across every year or their contracts. Players such as - it is assumed - Callan Ward and possibly Phil Davis, each at GWS.

''With players and with managers we have tried to explain openly that it is an artificial market at the moment and it is a short-term market,'' one club list manager said.

''The new clubs came in with bigger salary caps and so were able to pay big money to entice players but that salary cap will gradually decrease over the next five years.

''But there is no doubt there has been an inflationary effect from the new clubs and free agency and then yes the TPP has gone up. The expectations of what players think they should earn has gone up so that it is a very difficult issue for all clubs to manage.''