AFL contract negotiations are all about trying to get the most money you can out of the club, right?
Well, the short answer is no. It’s definitely not all about money. It’s just not that simple.
I still remember signing my first contract. It was 2000 and I’d just been drafted by the Saints at pick No.1.
Amid all the overwhelming excitement of finally realising a life-long dream in getting drafted, actually signing on the dotted line to become an official AFL player was a moment I’ll never forget. I think my hands were shaking, so hopefully my signature was legible!
“Contracts are funny things … they do weigh on a player’s mind during the course of a season.”
I’ve still got that contract at home and was looking at it the other day – my base salary was $27,000 a season plus $1600 per game, and that was as a No.1 pick, which meant I was lucky enough to earn more than others drafted after me.
It’s fair to say things have changed a fair bit since then. My most recent deal was far more complex than the one I signed as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.
Contracts are funny things. I’d like to pretend otherwise, but they do weigh on a player’s mind during the course of a season – especially when you don’t have one for the next year.
Everyone wants security and as a footballer you often don’t have it. It can be disconcerting when you’re out of contract, especially when you have a family. Thinking about what may happen if you suffer a career-ending injury without a contract for the following year is an awful feeling given the high risk nature of the sport we play.
Earlier in the year, when I got a head knock against Collingwood, and with my history of concussions, I got a bit nervous as I didn’t have a contract for next year. It was a worrying time. Thankfully I was medically cleared and able to get back on the field to keep pressing my claims for another deal.
There’s no doubt an out-of-contract player thinks about these things. I remember going through negotiations early in my career and basically changing my mentality based on every weekend’s performance. If I played well I would wonder if I should’ve held off longer and driven my price up. Conversely, if I had a few stinkers in a row you become pretty desperate to get the deal signed.
Once you hit 30, players have less leverage. I know in my case, since becoming that dreaded ‘V-word’ (veteran), I’ve only signed one-year deals or extensions with the Saints. It’s understandable, given the medical history of 30-year-olds in the AFL, as the club has to look after its best interests.
The last long deal I signed was a four-year contract in 2009. That was a much different process than the one just finalised. I was 26, in the prime of my career and in the demographic that is the most attractive to other clubs – to be frank, I had the most leverage I’d ever and will ever have. Those negotiations however, weren’t as drawn out as others I’ve experienced, as my desire was always to stay with St Kilda. We were undefeated at that stage of the year and would play in a Grand Final in that year and also the following season.
If the situation arises and there is interest from rival clubs, your manager has an obligation to present it to you. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t fully explore and inform you of every development. A few years ago there was a bit of talk about Collingwood chasing me and that was explored by my manager, because it was the responsible thing to do. The conversations were short because I didn’t want to leave.
To read the full column, published at espn.com click HERE