Free agency gets off to a clean, efficient start
On the move: St Kilda’s Brendon Goddard is now a Don. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
SO, DO you like it? Free agency that is. I suspect most won't care too much at this stage. If you are a Saints fan you might have a few misgivings and if you are a Bomber you might think free agency is a hoot. It's a bit like the 1980s and '90s, you find a good player and just get them without having to worry about one of those trades they could never do. Yippee.
This was theoretically day one of the new world order of football, but, in truth, it wasn’t day one. This is, in fact, year four of free agency, but it was day one of free agency for all teams, not just the two new ones.
Three years ago was the thin end of the wedge of what has become the free-(agency)-for-all. Back then, the two start-ups were given the most uncluttered free agency to get started (just take any uncontracted player you want) and so the AFL was snookered into accepting that it had opened a door it could not close.
Well, it could have if it had wanted to — the AFL can do, and does, whatever it wants — but the players were determined this time and so kept their foot in that open door and refused to let the AFL close it.
Fremantle is going after Danyle Pearce. Photo: Anthony Johnson
So, on day one in a system that was expected to aid mid-ranking players more than marquee players there was something for everyone.
The first deal done was an out-of-favour journeyman finding a new home (Adelaide’s Chris Knights is now a Tiger) and the next signing saw a rising star, Danyle Pearce, tired of his tired club make a move to ‘dock’ in Perth.
Then came the biggest ticket of all, a former No.1 draft pick has gone for cash and a chance at the premiership he had missed out on three times at the club he departs, so Brendon Goddard becomes a Bomber.
Chris Knights is now a Tiger. Photo: Getty Images
Sundry other deals were done or being done – Troy Chaplin leaving the coach-less Port for the Tigers, while Angus Monfries heads home to Adelaide to join the Power.
What was immediately apparent from free agency was that it delivered deals quickly and efficiently. Goddard was offered four years on good dollars, the Saints were unable to match it, so he headed north of the Yarra. In the space of a few hours it was done and ‘‘BJ’’ was a Bomber.
There was a little reminder from the Saints as he departed that Goddard had just been a life member of the club and a light slap that this was all about money. Well, of course it was, but throw in a fourth year for him and they might have kept him. But given where the Saints are, they will not be upset at the draft pick coming in and the money going out of the salary cap.
Troy Chaplin, pictured celebrating his 100th game in 2010, could be off to Richmond. Photo: David Mariuz
There was no surprise by Monday morning that this deal was tabled early, nor that St Kilda responded rapidly. What was revealing about the deal and - reflective of what free agency delivers - is that everyone knew it was going to happen, and it did. On day one!
This was not one of those tedious trade week deals that excruciatingly hang on until 4.59 on Friday after five days of bluster and stonewalling that normally serves no purpose greater than showboating to fans. The deals normally get done, but seldom on day one. If Goddard were not a restricted free agent could you imagine a trade being brokered day one of trade week?
Efficiency is only one element of free agency. It is a pleasing efficiency in the most part – is anyone at Adelaide gnashing their teeth over losing a player they didn't want to play in the senior team? But it is also a confronting efficiency. In the past, one thing that kept players at clubs were the hoops that might have to be jumped through to get to a new home. And there was no certainty that the deal would get done. Think Luke Ball, not coincidentally the president of the AFL Players Association that pushed so hard for free agency. Is that a reason to stay at a club?
The efficiency of the new system will mean more players move. Mostly the movements will be interesting but inconsequential (like Knights) but the tone will change with more consequential moves – like Goddard's – now that the ability to move is so much easier.
The players like free agency, the smarter clubs will embrace it quickly, and the fans will just be left to wonder why. Why did he want to go? Why didn't we keep him? Why didn't our club get him?