Destiny to be free?
For Brendon Goddard, there remains a doubt about whether he is a restricted free agent or a completely "unrestricted" free agent. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
ON THE eve of the 2012 season, the AFL has not finalised a key element of free agency that holds major ramifications for St Kilda's Brendon Goddard, Collingwood's Travis Cloke, Richmond's Brett Deledio and their clubs.
For Goddard, there remains a doubt about whether he is a restricted free agent - who St Kilda can retain by matching the best offer - or a completely ''unrestricted'' free agent, who can cross to the club of his choice. Others entering their 10th season could be in a similar position, with a doubt about their status and ability to move to the club of their choice.
For Cloke and Deledio, who are entering their eighth season and are therefore restricted free agents, discussions between the AFL and the AFL Players Association will determine whether they have a strong disincentive for re-signing with their clubs during the 2012 season.
The AFL's head of legal affairs, Andrew Dillon, said the rule had not been finalised and there was still a question of the qualifying rules for unrestricted free agents. ''We've got to come down one way or the other, but we're still discussing it with the players' association.''
The heart of the issue is the timing of contracts signed.
Goddard's management recently sought clarification. The initial ruling was that he was restricted, but the AFLPA believes that he should be unrestricted, according to the spirit of the rules it negotiated.
Concerned clubs also have been seeking clarification about the rules, which have to be finalised soon given that the league is scheduled to release the names of all free agents - restricted and unrestricted - on March 20.
For Collingwood and Richmond, the ruling could affect their chances of recontracting Cloke and Deledio in the course of the season. The same would apply to all clubs with a well-paid player in his eighth season who is coming out of contract.
Players who rank in the top 25 per cent for payments at their club are restricted free agents after eight seasons and can be eligible for unrestricted free agency - completely free - after completing 10 seasons. Players who are in their eighth season, but aren't in the top 25 per cent, are unrestricted.
The issue at stake is whether, to become an unrestricted free agent in his 10th season, a player must have signed his previous contract after the completion of his eighth year. Or, whether he would qualify
if he signed during his eighth season - as Goddard technically did, and as Cloke and Deledio would if they signed with their clubs during the course of the 2012 season.
If the rule went against the players' wishes, then Cloke and Deledio would have a good reason to wait until season's end before re-signing. They would not become unrestricted free agents in two years if they signed during this season, according to this strict reading of the rules. In that case, Goddard would be restricted and St Kilda could keep him by matching the best offer.
There has been no suggestion that Goddard has any interest in leaving the Saints, but he is the best example of a player in that position.
The clubs are keen for this rule to follow the AFLPA view, since it helps them to recontract players, and the AFLPA believes it benefits no one for the rule to be interpreted along those lines.
Goddard signed a three-year deal at the end of the 2009 season, in November. Technically, this counts as during his eighth season, because it was after October 31.