In the 2012 Trade Period, the concept of Free Agency was introduced to the AFL, and over the five seasons since, we’ve been watching the effects of this change on our game unfold. For the AFL, they hoped that it would allow lower ranked teams to lure in big name players with more money. For the AFLPA it meant more freedom for players, a better ability to negotiate salary, and what city you live in. Meanwhile, for skeptics, it meant the idea of big name players moving to already successful clubs, and making them even stronger. So how has it really played out?
In this time, we’ve seen 66 players change clubs, with undoubtedly the biggest signing of them being Lance Franklin. Yet, the team he left went on to win the next two premierships, while the one he joined hasn’t won one since his signing, despite winning one just two seasons earlier. In fact only one Free Agent has gone on to win a premiership, and that was James Frawley, and with the ease and dominance the Hawks won this grand final, one could easily argue that they would have won it with or without him.
Certainly we have seen eleven players a season on average move clubs thanks to Free Agency, but that’s not to say many wouldn’t have moved via trade if Free Agency wasn’t an option, and perhaps some of the compensation picks received have proven better than the trade would have been for the clubs losing such players anyway. The Gary Ablett and Dangerfield deals, whilst dealt with via trade, probably wouldn’t have been as smooth sailing were Free Agency there to make sure the deal went ahead whether Gold Coast or Adelaide liked it or not. Chances are though that both men would have wished to go home anyway. Port Adelaide picked up several Free Agents during last year’s trade period, but it remains to be seen if this will boost them beyond the 5th place finish, and elimination final exit of 2017.
So all in all, Free Agency has perhaps helped teams stay competitive, but certainly hasn’t made any team dominant. It has definitely assisted players in getting to more desirable clubs, but it hasn’t truly lifted any team from the depths or made enough of a difference to one side to gain them a premiership, so perhaps all of the skeptics feared nothing? Probably the most important thing that Free Agency has given us, is player satisfaction because sometimes we need to remember that without them, we’d have no game at all.