Players like Stewart Crameri could cost clubs a first-round pick, not to mention a lot of money. Photo: Getty Images
Tom Bellchambers wants to stay at Essendon, and probably will. Stewart Crameri, Scott Gumbleton, Cale Hooker, Tayte Pears, Jason Winderlich and Jake Melksham want to be there next year too.
Essendon's list of uncontracted players includes some of its best and most improved players, and the odds are most of them will remain in red and black. Jobe Watson re-signed for four years earlier this season, with the investigation well in swing. Dyson Heppell, Jake Carlisle and others have shown faith too. Whatever happened at Windy Hill last year, the players have hardly rushed for the door. But for those who wish to leave, things may be complicated.
In an ordinary year, Essendon would be in an enviable position, approaching first the finals, then the off-season. A young, talented, improving list that has spent much of the season in the top four. Joe Daniher in the wings. A bunch of tall players that they can't play all at once, meaning the sort of tradeable clout the club hasn't had in a long while. Motivation to be proactive and make a few moves, given their salary cap has become a little clogged. For the players this would have meant good things too. Whether he stays or takes a big offer from Greater Western Sydney, Bellchambers, for instance, is due a decent pay rise.
This is not exactly an average year, though. Whatever happens to their club, and whether or not it is done before finals, the players' wait isn't over. The fact that the report handed to the AFL from ASADA had the word ''interim'' stamped on it says that, and has made the Bombers' off-season a talking point among list managers and player managers. It means it could be harder for players who want to move, given the penalties that may or may not ever come. It may be harder for those delisted to find a new home. It could become more difficult for the club to shake some change, to make room on their list, to perhaps nab an extra first-round pick or two. Pending, of course, any AFL penalties.
Feelings are split about how much the Bombers - players and club - could be held back. Some think they won't be - that the offers will come, that their players will be able to move if they choose to, that the club will get its work done. ''It's a good question,'' said one player manager. ''I haven't picked up that feeling, that clubs won't go near Essendon. I think they'll still have the chance to get things done. But I think everyone's waiting to see what happens, to be honest. No one knows.''
Others have more trepidation. Players like Bellchambers or Crameri could cost clubs a first-round pick, not to mention a lot of money. They wonder what it might mean if ASADA's work isn't done. Could they trade for a player, only to lose him for a long time should evidence eventually be found and players rubbed out?
Having talked Kurt Tippett out of Adelaide last year, Sydney had no choice but to stick by him when he was suspended for six months after the AFL finished investigating his against-the-rules deals with the Crows. They coped. But the thought of bringing a player in, with no idea of what ASADA or even WADA might do down the track, makes some people nervous.
''I think it's like anything. It's the same as if you were recruiting a player with an injury history or with off-field problems. You'd just have to do your research and look into it as much as you possibly could,'' said one list manager.
As another pointed out, not every club could afford to carry a player for six months like the Swans did Tippett.
''There's some risks there to consider. Maybe it means your offer to the player gets bumped down a bit, considering everything,'' he said. ''It's a hard one, but I think a lot of clubs might steer right away from Essendon. I think a lot of them might look at them and say it's too hard. My gut feel is they won't be able to move many on at all, which makes it tough for the players.''
Others would lean towards taking the chance. ''It's hard to know how much research you can do with this one. If it went bad and you lost a player for six months or whatever, you'd wouldn't be feeling too great,'' said another list manager. ''I think everyone's hoping it works out well for the players. For the players, you'd hope it gets sorted out pretty quickly.''