AFL Players’ General Manager of Player Relations, Ian Prendergast, has urged footy fans to let free agency run its course, ahead of the opening day of the free agency period.
“It’s early days to be making a call in terms of the impact [free agency] is having,” Prendergast told SEN’s Harf Time program on Thursday afternoon.
While there’s been much discussion about the effect free agency could have on the competition in the years ahead, Prendergast reiterated the importance of remembering why the concept was introduced in the first place.
“Free agency was introduced so players – at some stage in their careers – have a fundamental choice of where they work,” Prendergast said.
“Free agency was introduced so players – at some stage in their careers – have a fundamental choice of where they work” – Prendergast
“It’s a choice most people take for granted, and it doesn’t kick in (for players) for eight years – a long time to spend at one club given the average career is six years. Players have earned that right.”
Following reports that Melbourne’s James Frawley had nominated Hawthorn as his preferred club, Prendergast reminded listeners that “Hawthorn has lost three players already through free agency – Xavier Ellis, Clinton Young and arguably the best player in the competition in ‘Buddy’.”
Prendergast also pointed out “less than 15 percent of eligible free agents have actually moved clubs” and explained why a mechanism that allows senior players to change teams should benefit clubs in the bottom half of the ladder.
“Free agency should be a tool that clubs can use in a positive way, to regenerate their list a lot quicker than they can [by using the] traditional means of drafting and trading players.
“With the salary cap in place, free agency should – in theory – also put more pressure on top-four clubs in terms of retaining their players.”
Prendergast said it’s too soon to assess the effect free agency is having on the competition and pointed out that the issue of “competitive balance is broader than free agency.”
“If there are other things that need to be done to fix competitive balance, then let’s focus on those, but it’s unfair for players to continue to carry the can for competitive balance/equalisation.”
Prendergast has previously pointed out that there are several mechanisms in place that ensure the competition remains balanced, but those mechanisms hinder a number of opportunities for the players. For instance, the National Draft gives clubs down the bottom of the ladder an opportunity to rebuild, but ensures players who nominate for the draft have no control over which club picks them. Similarly, the salary cap prevents the richest clubs from gaining a distinct advantage over the less wealthy clubs, but prevents players from earning as much money as they could in a competition without a salary cap.
“Players certainly deserve the right [to choose where they play, through free agency], just as all other professional sports in the world deliver [the same to] their athletes,” Prendergast said.
The full interview can be heard below.