Last Friday the AFL released a full list of restricted and unrestricted free agents for the end of 2012. In total there are 17 restricted free agents and 64 unrestricted free agents.
Who will be the main targets in free agency at the end of the year? Let’s firstly rule out those unlikely to cause much chatter come the end of the season.
There are at 23 players who I can’t see going anywhere, due to their strong association with the current club, and also their age. Call them “Favourite Sons”. They are Simon Black, Jonathan Brown, Harry O’Brien, Dustin Fletcher, David Hille, Luke McPharlin, Matthew Scarlett, Paul Chapman, Corey Enright, Chance Bateman, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Brad Green, Brent Harvey, Dominic Cassisi, Jason Blake, Lenny Hayes, Stephen Milne, Justin Koschitzke, Jude Bolton, Andrew Embley, Darren Glass and Lindsay Gilbee.
Out of this group are six current or former club captains who, I’m sure you can agree, are closely identified with the current club and it would be a massive shock if they left.
There are also a group of players who I would suggest would garner little interest from another club if they were to come out of contract and “enjoy” unrestricted free agency. In this group I put Michael Doughty, Bret Thornton, Ricky Dyson, Henry Slattery, Ryan Crowley, Thomas Murphy, Michael Osborne, Matthew Bate, Lynden Dunn, Jacob Surjan, Raphael Clarke and Will Minson. These guys are free to a good home.
In addition are another nine players who may call it a day if not re-signed by their current team (or Greater Western Sydney); Ash McGrath, Ben Johnson, Mark McVeigh, Nathan Lovett-Murray, Antoni Grover, David Wojcinski, Shane Tuck, Quinten Lynch and Ryan Hargrave.
This leaves 20 unrestricted free agents. Who will garner the most attention? Let’s look at them.
Chris Knights – come home factor comes into play here. Will be mentioned in dispatches.
Jordan Russell – also playing away from his original state, and not getting a regular game. Will be available for the right price.
Shannon Byrnes – not getting a regular game and time running out. May move for the right situation.
Josh Hunt – may get overtaken by younger players in 2012. Elite kicking skills always in demand.
Steve Johnson – high profile and after three flags may be looking for last big payday. Was almost at Collingwood once.
Clinton Young – oft injured outside player with great kick. May not be in Hawthorn’s long-term plans.
Mark Jamar – Didn’t he just re-sign? What’s he doing here?
Jared Rivers – key position option who could be in demand for a team lacking key defenders.
Michael Firrito – Another who plays tall and can go into midfield. Would want to be in North Melbourne side when they finally ascend up the ladder.
Brett Ebert – hard to believe an Ebert leaving Port Adelaide, but he’s opportunities have shrunk, and he’s stuck on a bad team. May want a premiership sooner rather than later.
Stephen Salopek – come home factor may be too strong to keep him at Alberton Oval.
Kelvin Moore – would someone take a risk on a always injured key defender? Don’t count it out.
James Gwilt – Could be a smokey whose stocks rise, but a lot depends on how he recovers from knee injury.
Leigh Montagna – One of the big names available. Could add the finishing touches to an emerging midfield such as Richmond’s.
Jarrad Moore – Still plenty of games left in him, but has fallen behind others at Sydney. Should be available.
Sam Butler – another defender who seems to be injured a lot. It will be interesting to see if any of these players move.
Daniel Kerr – an undoubted star, but an expensive one who is regularly sidelined and has baggage. On the other hand, don’t know why one would want to leave the Eagles right now.
Mark Nicoski – a resurgent 2011 may drive some interest.
Matt Rosa – young midfielder who is almost mature. Could be squeezed out in salary cap strain (West Coast have seven unrestricted free agents).
It does seem that most of the action will be in the restricted free agent group, which contains Travis Cloke, Brett Deledio and Brendon Goddard. However, remember that their current club can match any offer made to these players (as long as they have enough salary cap room) and the player would be compelled to accept that offer.
It makes for another media-feeding-frenzy of a season.