Esava Ratugolea holds his hands out to catch an oncoming football

Ben McKay, Brodie Grundy and Harley Reid — the AFL’s off-season drama is about to explode

The black and white confetti is still being cleaned off the MCG, but footy always finds itself looking forward.

While Collingwood fans are entitled to spend the summer in a warm post-premiership glow, 17 other clubs are already plotting their downfall in 2024 and beyond.

The AFL’s free agency, trade and draft periods are just around the corner and the landscape is more complicated and convoluted than ever.

Let’s have a quick look over the biggest moves, trades and draft conundrums likely to be at play over the coming weeks and months.

ABC Sport will be live blogging every day of the 2023 AFL trade period and draft, bringing you the latest news, rumours and all the debate and discussion of a big off-season.

How does the Ben McKay saga end?

Having fielded interest from all over the league, North Melbourne defender Ben McKay has confirmed his intentions to leave North Melbourne and has selected Essendon as his destination of choice.

McKay is out of contract and a restricted free agent, which means he can leave for another club without that club needing to offer anything up in return for a trade — but the Kangaroos will still receive compensation from the AFL by way of a draft pick.

Ben McKay’s future seems to lie away from Arden St.(Getty Images: Dylan Burns)

The formula with which the AFL works out what draft pick North Melbourne would receive is a bit of a mystery, but is tied to the salary McKay would earn at his new club.

If it is high enough to place him within a certain top echelon of players in the league (again, all very mysterious and secretive stuff here), then North Melbourne could receive another selection after its current first in the draft — that would leave them this year with picks two and three.

As it stands, we are all waiting to find out what the AFL’s compensation offer will be. If it is pick three, North Melbourne will shake hands with McKay and go on their merry way.

But if it is short of that — most likely a pick at the end of the first round — the Kangaroos can match the contract offered by the Bombers and either force them to trade table or convince McKay to stay.

The knock-on effects of this decision will be felt across the league as North Melbourne’s ever-increasing draft hand could be about to get much stronger.

Can Port Adelaide work some trade magic?

Despite a straight-sets finals exit, it seems like Port Adelaide is the place to be this off-season.

Three separate players — Esava Ratugolea, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Jordan Sweet — have all told their respective clubs they wish to be traded to the Power.

Esava Ratugolea holds his hands out to catch an oncoming football

Esava Ratugolea is hoping to land at Port Adelaide.(Getty Images: Dylan Burns)

Good news for Port Adelaide, then — if they can work out how to get all those deals done.

Due to last year’s deals for Jason Horne-Francis and Willie Rioli, Port’s meagre draft hand this year currently sits at 37, 43 and 70. They are about to come up against some of the toughest negotiators in the AFL at Geelong and Essendon especially, so some capital is going to have to be raised somewhere.

Port Adelaide can look to dish out some future draft picks, like they did last year, or perhaps might have to look to move some players on to find deals good enough to satisfy the Cats, Bombers and Bulldogs. They will be one of the big players to watch this year.

Is Brodie Grundy Sydney-bound?

Goodbye Gawndy, we hardly knew ye.

The Brodie Grundy-Max Gawn experiment at Melbourne can now safely be marked down as a costly misstep, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for the champion ruck.

Brodie Grundy is tackled by the arm by Pat Lipinski

Brodie Grundy’s Melbourne experiment did not pan out.(Getty Images: Michael Willson)

Indeed, it looks as if the Harbour City awaits with its tasty combination of laid-back beach vibes and very good young football team.

Sydney and Grundy seem a far better fit than the Demons ever did, and the Swans should be in a position to satisfy both Melbourne via trade and the player’s salary requirements.

Meanwhile, Shane McAdam has his heart set on Melbourne, Liam Henry wants to get to St Kilda, Dylan Stephens is eyeing up North Melbourne and Tyler Brockman wants to head to West Coast.

Liam Henry kicks the ball as Hugh McLuggage lunges at him from behind

Liam Henry is hoping to secure a trade to St Kilda.(Getty Images: Daniel Carson)

Then what about Jade Gresham? Tom Doedee? Dylan Shiel? Zac Fisher? Mabior Chol? Deven Robertson? Plenty of futures remain up in the air, and there’s lots to be done within the October 6-13 free agency period and October 9-18 trade period.

Who will get pick four off the Suns?

It’s not just players up for grabs in this trade period, with the fight for some key early draft picks set to intensify too.

First up, Gold Coast look certain to trade their pick four to the highest bidder. This is because there is a swathe of highly-fancied players from the Suns’ academy they will be able to bid on in the draft, and having a whole bunch of later picks to offload is worth more to them than one high one.

The market for that pick is said to be fierce, but the early noise has suggested the Western Bulldogs are leading the charge. The Dogs currently have picks 10 and 17 to offer up, as well as the potential to chuck in a future pick too if required.

North Melbourne, Melbourne, Adelaide and GWS have all been named as potential suitors for that Gold Coast pick, which lands right in a sweet spot of a draft that features a handful of elite prospects at the very top but tapers off earlier than in previous years.

This might be a deal that extends beyond the trade period though, as there is a secondary window for trading draft picks open from October 23 to November 10. Pick trading is also reopened on draft night, giving the Suns the opportunity to hold fire and wait for the juiciest deal available to present itself.

Will the Eagles trade pick one?

Expect to hear a lot about this one. The West Coast Eagles hold the first pick in the draft this year after a wooden spoon season, and the consensus top pick is Harley Reid from the Bendigo Pioneers.

Harley Reid handballs while playing for Vic Country

Harley Reid will be the number one draft pick.(Getty Images: Paul Kane)

Reid is a truly exceptional talent, a hybrid mid-forward equipped with almost every attribute needed for success, and who has already excelled against men at VFL level.

Even though Reid offers West Coast exactly what they are missing both on and off the field, rumours have swirled all season that the Eagles are prepared to trade the number one pick for a handful of first-round selections.

Some of that is borne out of whispers Reid doesn’t want to move to Perth — whispers Reid, his management and the Eagles have all shot down.

But now that North Melbourne are armed to the teeth with first-round draft picks thanks to AFL concessions and possibly the McKay deal, many believe they have a hand that could now force a conversation with the Eagles.

West Coast players stand silently staring across the ground after a big loss.

The Eagles suffered through a dismal 2023, but have the number one draft pick to show for it.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Mark Metcalfe)

How West Coast play this will be fascinating. Do they hold their nerve, take the best player in the draft and launch their rebuild around him? Or do they go for quantity over quality, and hope to strike gold with a couple of later picks?

The rumours and whispers will continue right until Reid’s name is called at the November 20 draft.

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Author: Russell White