Every year there are two distinct footy seasons.
There’s the normal one, kicking off in March and running to late September, where each side fields 23 players each week while thousands watch from the stands and millions watch from home.
The ultimate prize is premiership glory. You might have heard that Collingwood won that one last month.
The second season each year is infinitely sillier. As the AFL has become increasingly professionalised player movement has become a fixture of October dealings.
A boutique radio station discussing player and draft pick moves pops up each year and column inches get filled with hypothetical moves and whispers.
For two sweet weeks fans of seventeen different clubs dream of closing the gap on the premiership in one fell swoop, and fans of the league leader hope they’ve done enough to stay ahead.
With the 2023 trade season in the books the ABC has crunched the numbers, and looked at the players and picks moving clubs to work out who might be moving forward next year, and who is looking more long term.
Instead of the blockbuster cavalcade of high-profile players, top picks and mega-trades of 2022, the 2023 trade period proceeded at a quiet hum.
Thirty-two players changed hands, down from 34 last year. Nobody moved with the profile and potential balance-shifting impact of the likes of Luke Jackson, Jason Horne-Francis, Izak Rankine or Josh Dunkley.
Instead the moves were made at the fringes, of discontented players looking for new starts or former high draft picks looking for a new environment in which to blossom.
Overall, the projected future impact of those players traded this year is about half that of last year.
The quieter period could be a sign that more clubs see themselves as being not far away from a premiership push. Clubs will have just seen Collingwood scrape through the finals after a number of close wins and a recent spell on the bottom of the ladder. Hope runs eternal.
Fremantle’s Lachie Schultz — a name unfamiliar to some on the east coast — arguably headlines this year’s crop. Schultz was Fremantle’s biggest bright spot up forward last year, and wasn’t far off All-Australian selection.
More famous names, such as Taylor Adams, Brodie Grundy, Jack Ginnivan and Ben McKay also moved clubs but their stars are either in descent or yet to fully emerge.
This series of lower profile moves could be evidence of a slightly altered approach — of fit over sheer talent.
Talent by itself isn’t enough to make a trade successful, as Melbourne and Brodie Grundy found out in 2023. The “fit” of a player to the club’s system and matching to existing talent is also vital.
Brodie Grundy is proof a trade doesn’t always equal instant success.(Getty Images: Chris Hyde)
Schultz faces a potentially tough fit next to Jamie Elliot who plays in a similar role at the Pies.
There are more obvious matches. Either Jordon Sweet and Ivan Soldo will be Port’s primary ruck next year. Brodie Grundy, Taylor Adams and James Jordon should add some contested steel to the Swans fleet of younger midfielders who have proven vulnerable at the coalface.
A few high profile former top ten draft picks — like Paddy Dow, Elijah Hollands and Nick Coffield — were also picked up for little cost towards the end of the period and could be a far better fit at their new clubs.
Adrian Dodoro’s day off
In every trade period there are winners and losers, but that can be hard to work out in the immediate aftermath. At first glance the biggest head start in that race appears to have gone to the side that many claim to be the October ‘specialists’, Essendon.
The Bombers’ departing long-time list manager, the sometimes notoriously difficult Adrian Dodoro, has left them with a parting gift of three free agents, who come at no cost to their draft position.
Todd Goldstein, Jade Gresham and Ben McKay should come in and contribute immediately without costing the club any draft picks. The Bombers also got promising youngster Xavier Duursma in exchange for Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and some fourth round draft picks.
Three other clubs also made immediate gains for next year. Half of the 32 players to change clubs ended up at either Essendon, Sydney, Port or Hawthorn — four at each club. Unlike the Bombers, a cost for these other three came via the league’s biggest losses of draft capital.
Taking the draft
It’s not just players that change hands during the trade period. Draft picks are usually a prized possession of most clubs. This year has seen a somewhat bizarre approach to the upcoming draft.
Most 2023 draft picks have changed hands at least once by now. Gold Coast hold almost a third of the second round. Hawthorn and the Bulldogs have nearly half of round 3 together.
Gold Coast are targeting four highly rated players in their talent Academy to pick up — requiring “AFL Draft Points” to match bids by other clubs. Due to some shrewd deal making, there’s a real chance that some of those bids will be lower than otherwise expected.
The draft itself is expected to take an odd shape. There’s a real chance that the first round — at 27 picks long — might be longer than the rest of the draft combined. The draft is expected to be short because of how this year’s talent pool is seen.
To mix metaphors, it’s an elite cream of top players, then a sharp cliff into a shallow talent pool. It might be as short as 45 or 50 picks, depending on the number of delisted free agents signed.
As a result, clubs spent last year and this jockeying for high draft positions, trying to avoid being stuck with a useless hand of late selections. The final draft order may be unrecognisable compared to what’s listed now.
Even pick one, traded last year for the first time in decades, could be on the move again. Draft pick only trades can be made (in designated windows) right up until the pick is used. Expect more movement.
Some clubs still bought into this draft. This year saw North Melbourne grab the most extra pick value for next month’s draft, primarily via their shiny new pick three in compensation for losing free agent Ben McKay.
Geelong and the Dogs also grabbed more pick value this year, with the Dogs having an eye on matching a bid for father/son Jordan Croft. Geelong, on the other hand, have a large number of empty spots on their list that need filling.
Fremantle instead looked to next year as they made the best of a difficult situation. Liam Henry, Joel Hamling and Schultz left the club and the Dockers tried to acquire as many 2024 draft picks as they could.
It’s a sign that Freo are backing who they already have in house to cover the gap, and that they might rate the 2024 draft depth more than this year’s.
An even competition?
This lack of movement likely bodes well for an even on-field competition next year.
There’s been no coaching changes made this off-season and almost all clubs believe they are in contention for finals.
This belief promises potential off-season craziness in 2024 when some teams inevitably fail to meet those high expectations.
Along with the likely introduction of mid-season trading, it could be a fun 12 months for those die-hard fans of trade week.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC