AFL 2020: AFL free agents 2021, list of free agents, trade news, targets, restricted, Zach Merrett, Josh Kelly, Carlton, Patrick Cripps
With the AFL trade period over and done with, teams are already looking ahead to next year.
Many ‘pre-agents’ – the players who were a year out from becoming free agents – found new homes, like Orazio Fantasia and Aliir Aliir. But others will head into the last year of their current deal with a big decision to make.
Here’s a look at the AFL free agents for 2021 and where they could end up.
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MATT CROUCH (Adelaide Crows) [restricted]
His older brother Brad is now a Saint, but the Crows are keen to work on a deal for the more durable 25-year-old Crouch.
“Matt is in our leadership group so we would love Matt to extend out (his contract),” Adelaide list boss Justin Reid said last week.
“What he has been able to bring to the group this year, he got dropped earlier this year but the way he was able to come back from that and the footy he played in the back-half of the year.
“I was that proud of Matt of how he handled that and worked through that, he is part of our future and he is aware of that so we will continue to work on that with Matt.
“We would certainly look to extend out and from the conversations I’ve had with Matt and his manager that is certainly the trend where it is heading.”
RORY LAIRD (Adelaide Crows) [restricted]
He’ll be 28 years old when he starts his next contract. Is that too old a player for the rebuilding Crows to re-sign?
Certainly on a talent basis you’d want to keep Laird, and he starred when moved into the midfield this past season.
In 2019, Laird was rumoured to be on the trade table, with Geelong, Essendon and Hawthorn all linked to him.
BRODIE SMITH (Adelaide Crows)
Like teammate Laird, it’s whether Smith is part of the next Adelaide premiership side – he’ll be 29 going into next season.
But also like teammate Laird, you’d be surprised if the Crows wanted to let him go.
Smith was linked to Brisbane before the 2019 trade period, having a connection with Lions footy boss David Noble – who is now in the running to coach North Melbourne.
DAYNE ZORKO (Brisbane Lions)
He’ll be 32 at the start of the 2021 campaign but it’s hard to imagine him leaving Brisbane, given he’s the captain, has won four best and fairests there and fought through the tough times to get to this period of contention.
PATRICK CRIPPS (Carlton) [restricted]
For the last few years, it’s been as Patrick Cripps goes, so goes Carlton. In 2021, it might be the other way around.
The Blues co-captain has said it would be hard to leave the club, but if he spends an eighth AFL season without playing finals, Cripps is expected to consider his options.
For years the West Australian has been linked to a move back home. We can read plenty into West Coast and Fremantle having quiet 2020 trade periods – the Eagles only trading picks for two players and the Dockers not adding anyone.
Both clubs would be silly not to at least give themselves the option of finding cap space to sign Cripps on a lucrative long-term deal, if he can be convinced to return to his home state.
“I’ve got no doubt the club (Carlton) would’ve tried to re-sign him this season,” former Blues list boss Stephen Silvagni said on Trade Radio a fortnight ago.
“I think there’s always a bit of a concern. But he’s the captain of the football club so I think that comes into play massively I reckon.
“I think a lot really depends on Carlton’s season next year – that would I think have a fair bearing on Patrick’s decision … he would dearly love to play finals.”
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JAMIE ELLIOTT (Collingwood)
The Magpies forward already knocked back Brisbane and Melbourne last year, despite them offering him larger deals, and signed a two-year extension.
The club’s cap squeeze should no longer be an issue and given their scoring woes, you’d imagine Nathan Buckley would want to keep Elliott, who also impressed in the midfield this past season.
He’ll turn 30 during the 2022 season, so it’s unlikely he would sign a long-term deal wherever he goes from here.
ZACH MERRETT (Essendon) [restricted]
The 25-year-old didn’t want to move this year, but he’s set to be one of the biggest names of the 2021 trade period.
Even with the Bombers making it clear they wouldn’t be sending out their young superstar this year, Carlton, Hawthorn and Port Adelaide all had some interest, Foxfooty.com.au’s Tom Morris reported on On the Couch.
The Blues are perhaps the most interesting name of that group, given they landed Adam Saad and Zac Williams this past trade period and had a bit more room in their salary cap left. It wasn’t enough space to nab Merrett now, but they’ll have enough to make a big bid in 2021.
“Put this in your time capsule. I think Carlton is locked and loaded, and will throw the kitchen sink at Zach Merrett as a free agent next year,” Herald Sun reporter Jay Clark said on Trade TV last week.
“I think they’re largely pretty pleased with getting Saad and Zac Williams, to add some speed and outside run.
“I just wonder now whether the main focus is on Zach Merrett on a million dollars a year as a free agent, who would come for nothing at the end of next year.
“He would be the perfect Robin to Patrick Cripps’ Batman.”
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JOEL SELWOOD (Geelong Cats)
It’s almost impossible to imagine Selwood finishing up his career somewhere else.
The Geelong captain will turn 33 early next season, and the club has been happy to let its superstars wrap things up in the hoops – Gary Ablett and Harry Taylor being the most recent examples.
He has played 310 games, and so if he plays a full 2021 season he could break Corey Enright’s club record of 332. Expect Selwood to get there, even if it requires another short-term contract.
JOSH KELLY (GWS Giants) [restricted]
The Giants’ offer to keep Kelly as a one-club player is already on the table. In fact, it has been since early last year.
The midfielder has what in US sports would be called a ‘player option’. He signed a two-year deal back in 2019, and can trigger another eight-year extension worth around $1 million a season.
The fact GWS gave Kelly the rights to trigger that extension shows how keen they are to keep him – and of course, down the road, a $1 million salary for a player of Kelly’s calibre wouldn’t be too big anyway.
But he’s yet to make up his mind. In July, he was asked three times if he was staying long-term at the club, and wouldn’t do so.
North Melbourne made Kelly a massive offer before he re-signed with the Giants, and Carlton is keen on either Kelly or Zach Merrett to partner Patrick Cripps from 2022 onwards.
Much could depend on how GWS goes in 2021, after losing Jeremy Cameron, Zac Williams and many others during the trade period. They won’t be keen on losing yet another superstar.
LUKE BREUST (Hawthorn)
Teams made inquiries about both Breust and Jack Gunston this year, with Collingwood most strongly linked to the latter – but the former, who just turned 30, also makes sense.
In September, four-time premiership Hawk Jordan Lewis called on Alastair Clarkson to allow both Bruest and Gunston to explore their options, especially considering the club’s upcoming rebuild.
“There has to be a conversation in what those boys want,” Lewis said on SEN.
“The conversation needs to be open with the club. Does the club think it will challenge in the next 2-3 years? From the outside looking in we don’t think that will be possible.
“They need to give them the option – like we’ve seen (before) – to maybe explore other clubs if they feel the need to.”
Breust was linked to a move to Gold Coast at the end of 2016 but seems most likely to end his career as a one-club player.
MAX GAWN (Melbourne)
The Demons captain signed a lucrative three-year deal after the 2017 season, but will be 30 years old by the time he starts on his next contract.
It’s unlikely Melbourne would want him to go, and there’s no sign he wants to leave either.
Though after watching Collingwood face cap issues after committing big money to Brodie Grundy, it’s possible the Demons won’t want to be handing Gawn too much on his next deal.
LUKE MCDONALD (North Melbourne) [restricted]
Hard to imagine Kangaroos letting the father-son leave the club, given he’s only 25 and just won the club champion award after his best AFL season.
ROBBIE GRAY (Port Adelaide)
The 32-year-old signed a one-year extension before the 2020 season, and we’d expect him to sign more short-term deals at the Power until he finally decides to retire as one of the club’s best players in its AFL era.
NICK VLASTUIN (Richmond) [restricted]
For two years, the Tigers have only lost depth players in the trade period, but at some point rivals will come knocking for their premiership stars, offering more than Richmond can.
The 26-year-old Vlastuin signed a two-year extension in early 2019, taking him up to free agency and allowing him maximum leverage to sign a big-money deal.
He’s worth one, after all, and there’d hardly be a club that wouldn’t want a defender of his calibre.
JACK BILLINGS (St Kilda) [restricted]
The 25-year-old wasn’t at his best this year, finishing outside the top 10 of the best and fairest.
But if the Saints want to keep Billings, they have momentum on their side, given their rise up the ladder in 2020 – which gave him his first taste of finals footy.
“(Jack Billings) is out (of contract) at the end of next year. We’ve got a number of good players coming out at the end of next year, so what we’ll look to do is sort of get through the next few weeks, get some clarity around salary cap, list sizes and then work our way through the draft,” Saints list boss James Gallagher said on Trade Radio last month.
“Certainly over summer we’ll start to prioritise the guys that are out of contract at the end of 2021 to recontract and extend beyond that. We’ll work our way through that over the course of the year.”
GEORGE HEWETT (Sydney Swans)
The inside midfielder was reportedly placed on the market by Sydney this past trade period, with a tight salary cap partially behind the move.
Hewett played just six games this past season and while he wanted to see out the last year of his contract at the Swans, other clubs believed he was gettable.
The fact none made a move for him suggests he wasn’t a high priority, but teams wouldn’t need to trade for him in the 2021 trade period, so he could be an option.
LUKE PARKER (Sydney Swans) [restricted]
Parker made the call to hop on social media in late 2018 when a flurry of reports suggested he was being chased by Melbourne-based clubs.
“Me wanting to leave this club??? No chance,” the midfielder wrote on Instagram.
Of course, players have said publicly they’ll be staying and then changed their mind many times, but it does seem unlikely Parker will be going anywhere at the moment. He turns 29 just after next season.
DOM SHEED (West Coast Eagles) [restricted]
Given Sheed’s family is located in Western Australia, it would be a major surprise to see the 2018 Grand Final hero leave the Eagles.
As a first-round pick, Sheed has developed into a crucial player for the Eagles, playing 119 games. Expect his signature to be a relatively easy one for West Coast to get.
MARCUS BONTEMPELLI (Western Bulldogs) [restricted]
Is Adam Treloar’s arrival a sign the Dogs might be worried about Bontempelli walking out the door?
Definitely not. The Western Bulldogs captain is certainly happy at the Whitten Oval and despite a slow start in 2020, he really lifted when the whips were cracking.
Bontempelli cleverly signed a two-year extension during the 2018 season, getting him to free agency and allowing him maximum leverage in contract discussions.
The midfielder is a free agent, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Bulldogs lock him away for a long time given his status in the competition – and talks started when the freeze on contract discussions was lifted.
“With the prohibition on concluding contracts only being lifted recently, I think contracts like Marcus’ come back on the table,” Bulldogs CEO Ameet Bains told AFL Media in August.
“I know (Bulldogs list manager) Sam Power and Tom Petroro, who manages Marcus, had some preliminary discussions earlier in the year.
“We’d be keen to do that. Clearly Marcus as our new captain in 2020 is really deeply committed to the club as well, so I think that will happen over the coming months and will be terrific for our club as well.”