ESSENDON is making a strong play for St Kilda's free agent Brendon Goddard and is well-positioned to snare the All-Australian if he opts to leave the Saints.
Sources have confirmed that the Dons have emerged as the major alternative club for Goddard and are prepared to offer a four-year contract. The Saints, thus far, have been willing to offer only a three-year deal, and their offer - made in the last few weeks of St Kilda's season - is thought to be below what Goddard would command from the Bombers.
Goddard's expiring three-year contract is estimated to average close to $550,000 per year.
If he was to leave for Essendon, he would certainly receive a significant increase.
While Fremantle also has an interest in Goddard, is coached by his former mentor Ross Lyon - under whom he flourished - and has the salary cap space, it is understood that the two-time All-Australian has a preference for remaining in Victoria. This puts the Bombers at the head of the pack if he is unable to come to terms with St Kilda or if the Saints decide not to match a rival club's bid.
Carlton, long speculated to have had an interest in Goddard, has ruled itself out of the running for the Saint, who is 27 and became a restricted free agent this year.
Goddard has expressed a wish to remain with the Saints and has even been touted as the next captain after Nick Riewoldt, but it is unclear how far the Saints will go if he receives a significantly better offer from another club. Obviously, any decision to go to another club such as Essendon would be based on an assessment of that club and its prospects, not simply money.
The Bombers might lose Angus Monfries to Port Adelaide via free agency and while they have repeatedly said that their priority is to retain players, they are capable of creating space in their salary cap, perhaps by list changes, to sign a significant player such as Goddard.
Goddard is by no means the only free agent or uncontracted player who the Bombers have shown an interest in as they seek to address their need for class and skill
around the ball. They were one of a number of clubs keen on Travis Boak before he re-committed to Port Adelaide.
Free agency is an attractive option for the Bombers, given that they will not be able to use their first draft pick (No. 10) for a trade, because that selection is certain to be used on boom recruit Joe Daniher under the bidding system for father-son drafts.
By using that first round pick, the Dons would need to trade a player to have any prospect of acquiring out-of-contract Victorian youngster Josh Caddy from the Gold Coast. The Bombers were aggressive in pursuing Caddy last year when he was still under contract.
Under the rules of free agency, the Saints would be compensated with a draft choice if they lost Goddard and did not sign a player of comparable worth and age as a free agent themselves. Goddard would likely deliver them a first-round pick (if they did not sign another high-calibre free agent themselves). St Kilda's first round pick is No. 12, which means it would probably receive pick 13 in the draft as compensation.
Clubs can also receive an end-of-first-round pick, a second-round pick or a third-round pick, depending on the contract and worth of the player.
Clubs that lose a player to free agency must take any compensation in the next draft.
The pick cannot be ''banked'' and used when it suits in later years.
Jake Niall is a senior sports writer at 'The Age' specialising mainly in coverage of the AFL. He writes a weekly column for 'The Sunday Age' and has been on staff with 'The Age' or 'Sunday Age' since 1995. Jake, who combines original news with commentary, match-based writing, features and analysis, has won a number of awards, including the Alf Brown award for the best performer in AFL media in 2012, the Melbourne Press Club's 2007 Quill award for best sports story in any medium and a Walkley award, shared with colleagues Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie, Caroline Wilson and John Silvester, for best coverage of a major issue (Essendon scandal) in 2013.
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