NAT FYFE and Dustin Martin are unquestionably 2017's brightest free agents, but who else will be in demand this year and what will it take for them to change clubs?
The AFL is expected to release its official list of this year's free agents before the start of the home and away season, but AFL.com.au has already compiled its own list (see below).
Of the 63 players set to qualify for free agency at the end of this season, we have identified the 10 most enticing prospects.
In doing so, we have excluded star veterans who are almost certain to re-sign with their existing clubs or, in a few cases, retire. These players include West Coast spearhead Josh Kennedy, Luke Hodge, Nick Riewoldt, Shaun Burgoyne, Jobe Watson, Kade Simpson, Jarrad McVeigh, David Mundy, Aaron Sandilands, Leigh Montagna, Matt Priddis, Mark LeCras, Robert Murphy, Matt Boyd and Dale Morris.
Our top 10 is not only high on talent, it is also relatively young – four players will enter the home and away season aged just 25, while the remainder are 27 or under except for a sole 30-year-old – which means rival clubs can realistically target these prospects with long-term contracts.
Clubs will also be armed with bolstered salary caps – a TPP increase of 15 per cent or more is widely anticipated when the new collective bargaining agreement is eventually finalised – that could see some extremely lucrative offers made.
TOP 10 2017 FREE AGENTS
1. Nat Fyfe, Fremantle, 25 (restricted)
What's he worth? The 2015 Brownlow medallist is already extremely well paid at Fremantle – he is believed to have earned close to $1 million in 2016 – so the Dockers will likely need to offer him $1.2 million a season to stay. Opposition teams will have to up the ante to about $1.5 million a year to bring themselves into the picture. That would be a huge salary cap investment in one player but Fyfe is that good that some clubs would be prepared to roll the dice.
Stay or go? Fyfe says his recent appointment as Freo skipper won't influence his decision, but he has also said he sees his long-term future with the Dockers. The West Australian is in no rush to start talks with Freo, preferring to focus on his return to the field after two leg fractures. It's believed at least two opposition clubs have tabled unofficial long-terms offers for Fyfe, but he does not want to talk to rival teams either at this stage. As this season unfolds, Fyfe will want to see Fremantle is on track for long-term success after last year's list overhaul. But the Dockers remain in a strong position to retain their skipper given they have significant room in their salary cap coupled with the right to match any rival offer for the restricted free agent.
2. Dustin Martin, Richmond, 25 (restricted)
What's he worth? Richmond is believed to be prepared to offer Martin about $800,000 a season to stay. Opposition clubs would probably have to offer close to $1 million a year to make him consider leaving Punt Rd.
Stay or go? Martin feels at home at Richmond and is likely to repay the support the club has given him through some tough times in his career. Adelaide, Essendon and St Kilda were linked to Martin ahead of last year's trade period, and he is clearly the second-best free agency prospect this year. But we expect him to re-sign with the Tigers, most likely early in the year, especially given some rival clubs might baulk at offering $1 million a year for a player with a chequered off-field past.
3. Luke Breust, Hawthorn, 26 (restricted)
What's he worth? One of the elite small forwards in the competition, and capable of rotating through the midfield, Breust should attract a salary offer of up to $600,000 a season from the Hawks. To test his loyalty, rivals would have to come bearing deals worth about $650,000 a season.
Stay or go? Breust was repeatedly linked with a move to Gold Coast in last year's trade period as the Hawks scrambled to broker a swap for Suns midfielder Jaeger O'Meara. This year, the equation seems far simpler: Hawthorn wants to retain Breust and the 2014 All Australian wants to stay. We expect they will agree to a new deal during the season, but rival clubs will be monitoring the progress of those negotiations closely.
Small forwards like Luke Breust attract plenty of interest in the free agency market. Picture: AFL Photos
4. Steven Motlop, Geelong, turns 26 on March 12 (restricted)
What's he worth? Motlop is understood to earn about $600,000 a season under the two-year deal he signed after his runner-up finish in Geelong's 2015 best and fairest award. After a lacklustre 2016 season that saw the Cats unsuccessfully put him up for trade, Motlop needs to rediscover his best form in 2017 if he wants to maintain or improve his current salary with the Cats. With next year's mooted TPP increase, a rival club could try to blow Geelong out of the water with a $700,000-a-season offer.
Stay or go? After reporting for the 2016 pre-season in poor condition, Motlop returned to Geelong in far better condition this summer and has impressed with his work ethic on the training track. If the 25-year-old can help reduce the midfield load on Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood this season, the Cats would be reluctant to let him go. But if he attracts rival offers big enough to trigger an early compensation pick, they could be tempted to cash in. All will depend on Motlop's 2017 form, with the midfielder and Geelong content for now to wait and see how the season unfolds.
5. Tom Rockliff, Brisbane Lions, 27 (restricted)
What's he worth? After a tumultuous 2016 season on and off the field, Rockliff fell out of favour at the Gabba to the extent the Lions put their then-captain on the table during last year's trade period. The Lions received no serious offers from rival clubs, but the 27-year-old remains an accomplished midfielder and could attract rival bids of about $700,000 a season to leave the Gabba. If the Lions ultimately move to re-sign him, they would likely hope to do so for around $650,000 a year.
Stay or go? The Victorian has responded well to a frank discussion with Chris Fagan upon the former Hawk footy manager's appointment as coach late last year, his recent appointment as vice-captain to new skipper Dayne Beams a sign he has regained any lost respect at the club. Nonetheless, the Lions and Rockliff won't rush into talks on a new deal, with both parties content to sit back and see how 2017 pans out. If the Lions have another tough season on the field, they might consider letting Rockliff go if a rival offer is large enough to net them a first-round compensation pick.
6. Jackson Trengove, Port Adelaide, 26 (restricted)
What's he worth? Amid strong interest from clubs in his home state, Victoria, the versatile big man signed an early two-year contract extension in June 2014 believed to worth about $650,000 a season. It's hard to see Port offering Trengove a significant pay rise despite his strong 2016 season, but rival clubs could tempt him with deals worth $700,000 a season or more.
Stay or go? Neither Port nor Trengove is in a hurry to begin contract negotiations just yet, but the former Calder Cannon looms as a priority re-signing for Port as a key member of its defence and a highly rated leader around the club. Trengove is happy at Alberton but could a Victorian club dangle a deal big enough to tempt: (a) him to move home; and (b) Port to accept an early compensation pick?
Jackson Trengove had an impressive year in the ruck for Port in 2016. Picture: AFL Photos
7. Jasper Pittard, Port Adelaide, 25 (probably restricted)
What's he worth? Pittard is already well paid under his existing three-year deal at Alberton Oval, and after becoming one of the most damaging line-breaking half-backs in the AFL in that period has a strong claim for a pay hike. Port may have to offer up to $600,000 a season to retain Pittard, but rival clubs will have to consider long-term deals worth $650,000 a year or more.
Stay or go? Pittard is happy at Port and the club sees him as a key part of its future, but both parties are content to delay talks for the moment. Of course, the longer Pittard remains unsigned the more rival interest will grow, and clubs both inside and outside Pittard's home state, Victoria, are already circling. Pittard is also lineball to fall within Port's top 25 per cent of salary earners to qualify as a restricted free agent. If he doesn't, the Power would not have the right to match any rival offers.
8. David Zaharakis, Essendon, 27 (probably restricted)
What's he worth? The midfielder struggled last season under regular tags, but his polish and run mean he will attract rival interest. The Bombers could expect to re-sign Zaharakis for about $550,000 a season, but opposition clubs could tempt him with offers of more than $600,000.
Stay or go? Despite the club's supplements saga, Essendon's recent record of re-signing required players has been outstanding. Rival clubs also see Zaharakis as an extremely loyal player who is likely to re-sign, but both he and Essendon are in no hurry to start negotiations.
The Dons have kept most of their stars, but can they hang on to David Zaharakis. Picture: AFL Photos
9. Sam Reid, Sydney, 25 (restricted)
What's he worth? In the final season of a five-year deal believed to be worth more than $500,000 a season, Reid did not play a senior game in 2016 because of soft-tissue injuries. Nonetheless, as a key-position player who turned 25 in late December, he remains an extremely valuable commodity. His re-signing price could be close to $600,000 a season, but clubs looking to lure him away from the SCG could be prepared to offer up to $700,000 a year.
Stay or go? The Swans and Reid will wait until later in the season before commencing serious talks, with the tall's immediate focus on returning to the field and finding form. Rival clubs will closely monitor the Victorian's progress in 2017, but Reid will be hard to pry from Sydney, where he remains an important part of the Swans' structure.
10. Liam Picken, Western Bulldogs, 30 (unrestricted)
What's he worth? One of the competition's most underrated players was impossible to ignore in last year's final series, when he was one of the Bulldogs' biggest stars during their run to the premiership. As part of a star-studded Dogs' list, the quiet achiever is likely on a 'middle-class' wage of about $400,000 a season. He also turns 31 in August so any pay rise offered by the Bulldogs will be moderate. Could a team in contention try to take advantage of this by offering Picken $500,000 a year?
Stay or go? Given Picken's age, his loyalty and the Bulldogs' wide-open premiership window, the former rookie seems almost certain to re-sign.
Others to watch
- Levi Casboult, Matthew Kreuzer (Carlton)
- Zac Clarke, Garrick Ibbotson, Nick Suban (Fremantle)
- Lachlan Hansen (North Melbourne)
- Justin Westhoff (Port Adelaide)
- Eric Mackenzie (West Coast)
AFL.com.au's list of 2017 free agents