AFL Moneyball trade news: How Blues keep twin towers and star studded midfield together

Only North Melbourne will have more salary cap space than Essendon when the free agency window opens, and the Bombers want instant improvement.

Essendon is keen to trial a three-pronged tall forward line as it closes in on a free agency haul to immediately bolster its list in Ben Rutten‘s season of reckoning next year.

Dons football boss Josh Mahoney has made clear Essendon will retain its first overall draft pick (currently No.3) while it attempts to plunder the free agency market for instant improvement in 2023.

The club is targeting midfielders and half-backs but will wait until it assesses the development of its key talls before it decides to prioritise a key forward.

The Dons want to play James Stewart as a forward again after a trial down back, so he will be in consideration against St Kilda on Friday night after three goals, 22 possessions and three contested marks in the VFL.

Essendon is hopeful a James Stewart-Harrison Jones-Peter Wright forward line might have enough firepower in coming seasons alongside Jake Stringer and Kaine Baldwin.

The more urgent priority is to secure multiple free agency acquisitions across the midfield and running defence.

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Essendon could target out-of-contract Bulldog Bailey Dale. Picture: Michael Klein
Essendon could target out-of-contract Bulldog Bailey Dale. Picture: Michael Klein

The club’s mid-season draft pick Massimo D’Ambrosio is already close to a debut after a slashing 32-possession VFL performance for the Dons on Saturday.

Mahoney said the club was aware it needed to strengthen its list in the 24-26 year age bracket, and was already in detailed talks on free agency acquisitions.

Only North Melbourne would have more salary cap space than the Bombers given the retirement of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Michael Hurley’s expiring contract and the cap space they had already saved after recent departures.

Free agent midfielders on the market include Collingwood’s Jordan De Goey and Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw, while available free agency half-backs are Bulldog Bailey Dale, Port Adelaide’s Karl Amon and Sydney’s Jake Lloyd.

All-Australian Dale has made clear he wants to remain at the Dogs, who believe they have cap space to retain him.

But a targeted raid from a club like Essendon would at least test their cap space and his loyalty, with some teammates wondering if the club can afford to keep him.

Western Bulldogs midfielder Josh Dunkley, a previous target of the Dons, is also out of contract but is not a free agent.

HOW BLUES WILL KEEP STAR-STUDDED LIST TOGETHER

Brisbane’s self-proclaimed ‘Barometer’ Rhys Mathieson continues to be on the outer despite amassing crazy VFL numbers.

Mathieson has averaged 143 ranking points in nine state league games this season and cracked the 200-mark from 49 disposals in his most recent game.

If gun father-son prospect Will Ashcroft chooses Brisbane, will a rival get a cheap shot at Mathieson?

Plus, Mason Cox’s future, what’s next for Jake Melsksham and the latest on Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin’s futures.

Rhys Mathieson has been racking up big numbers in the VFL.
Rhys Mathieson has been racking up big numbers in the VFL.

WILL BAROMETER HAVE INTEREST FROM RIVALS?

Brisbane’s contracted midfielder Rhys Mathieson continues to rack up incredible numbers in the VFL and will surely be in consideration from clubs looking for inside midfield support.

Mathieson has mostly been overlooked at AFL level and in nine VFL games has averaged 34 possessions, 143 ranking points, 13.5 contested possessions and 8.8 score involvements.

Last week he racked up 49 possessions and a remarkable 19 clearances.

He is shaded for possession averages of the VFL regulars only by Werribee’s Thomas Gribble, with Carlton’s Paddy Dow averaging 28 possessions.

But with the Lions trying to play a quicker midfield and with No. 1 draft prospect Will Ashcroft a solid chance to get to Brisbane next year, will rivals come calling?

HOW BLUES CAN KEEP TWIN TOWERS TOGETHER

Carlton is confident it can pull-off the league’s biggest list management balancing act with blockbuster new deals for superstar pair Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow.

The two free agents are out of contract next season and headline a bumper free agency pool, but the Blues believe there is minimal chance either of the pair will try to walk as the club enters its premiership window.

Carlton will endeavor to satisfy the goal kicking studs with contracts in the vicinity of $800,000 a season which will put them in a similar band to jet midfielder Sam Walsh and marginally more than Jacob Weitering.

Inspirational Carlton captain Patrick Cripps, who is second favourite to win the Brownlow Medal, is the Blues’ highest-paid player.

Cripps left money on the table when he re-signed at Carlton despite a tumultuous past few years in the ultimate show of faith in the navy blue.

But the decision is paying dividends in 2022 as the rejuvenated Blues look to sew-up a top-four berth this season under new coach Michael Voss.

The prospects of a genuine premiership tilt over the next few years combined with the buoyant new vibe at Ikon Park after a disastrous decade are considered the key factors in helping the club retain its star-studded list.

Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay will both demand bumper contracts.
Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay will both demand bumper contracts.

McKay and Curnow have both suffered through difficult times at Carlton and now want to help lead the team to finals appearances as part of one of the most potent forward lines in the competition.

Essendon had a genuine crack at McKay when he last re-signed in the belief he would become one of the league’s best key forwards, but McKay remained loyal despite the tempting financial offer.

Despite his injury setbacks, Curnow has blossomed into the competition’s best one-on-one contest winners in the forward half and has stood tall in McKay’s injury absence in recent weeks.

He has booted 37 goals in 11 games, including 18 majors over the past four outings. McKay has slotted 20 goals in eight appearances leading into Friday night’s blockbuster against Essendon at the MCG.

Both would be able to command seven-figure offers from rival clubs if they pursued fresh starts at rival clubs but there are no signs either would consider a shock departure.

The length of tenure around a new deal for Curnow will be the most intriguing aspect of the pair‘s contract discussions as Curnow may want long-term security given his nightmare run of knee injuries.

The Blues are confident, however, he is on top of the patella issues which cost him two years on the sidelines.

While Carlton spent big on Mitch McGovern and Zac Williams to bring them to the club, the list management team has got excellent bang for buck from new star midfield pair George Hewett and Adam Cerra this season.

Both ballwinners are expected to finish high up in the club’s best and fairest in their first season at the club.

But fringe midfielder paddy Dow, who was taken with pick No. 3 in the draft, is expected to attract some interest from rivals after a stretch of big numbers in the VFL.

Mason Cox is closing in on another deal at Collingwood.
Mason Cox is closing in on another deal at Collingwood.

TRIGGER CLAUSE FOR COX

The remarkable journey of Mason Cox looks set for yet another chapter with the Collingwood big man heading towards a trigger clause which would see him remain with the club in 2023.

Cox wants to play on again next season and will soon become an Australian citizen.

Moneyball can reveal the 31-year-old ruck/forward’s one-year deal signed last October has a clause that guarantees an extra season if he reaches a certain number of games.

Cox has already played five games this season, including the past three in succession, and it is understood the number of games he has to reach is achievable, given his recent good form.

Earlier this season there were question marks on Cox’s AFL future, but the long-term knee injury to Brodie Grundy and his recent impact has seen his stocks rise again at Collingwood.

His 11-disposal, six-mark, one goal effort against the Blues in Round 11 highlighted his capacity to impact a game when he is at his best.

He has worked well in tandem with Darcy Cameron in the ruck and forward in recent weeks and could play a role in Collingwood’s push towards a potential finals berth.

Cox revealed on KIIS 101.1 this week his parents were coming out to Australia for his MCG citizenship ceremony as he also documented how close he came to losing his sight.

“It’s very exciting … we are going to have a special ceremony and mum and dad are coming to check it out,” Cox said on the Jase & Lauren show.

“I haven’t seen my parents in Australia for two years, so it is going to be a special thing.”

Cox said the “lowest moment” in his life came as he was virtually unable to see for a two-week period when recovering from a damaged retina following a serious eye injury suffered on the field.

Explaining why he now wears prescription lenses on the field, he said: “I have almost gone blind from playing footy so I am going to have to essentially protect my eyes and have a life post (football of) being able to see.

“It is a different look, but it is part of the process and it is probably more of a long term (decision) on my part.”

Will this be Jake Melksham’s last year as a Demon?
Will this be Jake Melksham’s last year as a Demon?

WHERE TO FOR JAKE?

Melbourne’s Jake Melksham has been in the middle of an off-field storm this week, but the big question surrounding him is what his AFL future might look like in 2023.

There was talk late last year that Melksham might be looking for greater opportunities elsewhere, given the Demons’ extraordinary depth, but nothing eventuated at trade time.

The 30-year-old, who played his 200th game in Round 11 this year, is out of contract at season’s end and could look to see if there are any other options for playing more regular footy.

He has played just three games this season, following on from 11 last year, but he still feels as if he has got some more good football left in him in coming years.

Melksham underwent hand surgery this week following Sunday night’s altercation at a Prahran restaurant.

He performed well at VFL level with Casey last weekend and was trying to stake a claim for a senior recall after successive AFL losses for the Demons.

Jed Anderson has been one of only a few positives for North Melbourne.
Jed Anderson has been one of only a few positives for North Melbourne.

JED STAKES HIS CLAIM

Jed Anderson’s AFL career looked on the brink for much of the AFL off season but in recent weeks he has played himself into a position of strength in terms of chasing a new deal.

The hard-nosed North Melbourne midfielder has been one of the few recent positives for the club in what has been a disastrous start to the 2022 season.

Anderson missed the first seven weeks of the AFL season as he worked to get his fitness at the required level after he spent the pre-season in Darwin wrestling with the decision to get the second Covid vaccination.

But since the 28-year-old’s return to the senior side in Round 7, he has provided resistance to a midfield sorely lacking in strength and intent.

Anderson has averaged almost 21 disposals since his return to the senior side and his hard work, tackling grunt and pressure have been something the Kangaroos have sorely needed.

He is in the final year of his current deal and seems well placed to win a contract with the Kangaroos, with a few rival clubs also keeping tabs on his performances.

Brodie Grundy’s long deal has been in the spotlight due to Darcy Cameron’s form.
Brodie Grundy’s long deal has been in the spotlight due to Darcy Cameron’s form.

PIES WERE WARNED OVER GRUNDY DEAL

Collingwood could surely not pay any of Brodie Grundy’s $7 million, seven-year deal to allow him to move to a rival club given Darcy Cameron’s emergence as a quality ruckman.

The Pies still have three more years to pay of Adam Treloar’s $900,000 deal, with Collingwood contributing around $300,000 of that deal per year.

Paying even $200,000 of Grundy’s deal would see them effectively paying one dollar in every 28 in the salary cap to rival clubs to play their players.

The club’s decision to hand Brodie Grundy his lucrative deal looked high-risk from the very start.

Right now it looks negligent and while it’s not true to say the Pies bungled the signing even at list management there were significant reservations about the scope of the deal.

Recruiter Matt Rendell outright told them anything more than five years was a risk.

The list management group knew they faced a cap crunch so prioritised their three stars in very specific order.

Grundy was behind Jordan De Goey and Moore as a list priority compared to the intercept defender and the goalkicking mid.

So the message was that if we have to lose one it would be Grundy.

And yet somehow by January 2020 he had his seven-year deal.

The club did sign Moore and De Goey that year but then came the fire sale caused by a host of horror deals.

Even as the Pies signed that seven million dollar deal they were grumpy from the first day.

Adelaide was a legitimate suitor but they would have got pick 10 as compo.

Clubs have been able to recruit mid-tier ruckmen in recent years like Peter Ladhams, Tom Hickey, Scott Lycett, Cameron, Marc Pittonet and Paddy Ryder who have all had significant impact for a much smaller price tag.

Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt look likely to play on.
Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt look likely to play on.

TIGERS VETERANS IN LINE TO PLAY ON

Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin are playing themselves into strong positions to continue into 2023 despite no decisions being made on Richmond’s veteran players.

Bachar Houli retired last year as the club attempts to transition its list and find room for younger players but Riewoldt and Cotchin are still going strong.

It is understood both are open to playing on and even keen to do so, with Kane Lambert and Shane Edwards also in that age bracket.

Lambert is hopeful he can manage a hip injury that will ultimately require a hip replacement and get one more year out of his career.

But the loss of Callum Coleman-Jones and Mabior Chol means the Tigers don’t have a ready-made replacement if he moves on.

Noah Balta can play forward and back with equal proficiency but with Robbie Tarrant slowing down he might be needed as a key defender.

Cotchin’s troublesome hamstrings have behaved this year and he is understood to be enjoying the release that has come with giving away the captaincy.

Dustin Martin and Tom Lynch are both owed over $1.1 million next year (Lynch’s deal was heavily back-ended) so the finances would have to be right.

But Cotchin was averaging 22 possessions leading into the clash against Port Adelaide, is No. 1 for clearances at Richmond and would only be 33 next season.

Levi Casboult will have to wait to have his future decided.
Levi Casboult will have to wait to have his future decided.

CASBOULT MADE TO WAIT ON CONTRACT CALL

A decision on whether Levi Casboult’s second life as an AFL footballer extends into a second season won’t be made until late this year.

Casboult’s former club Carlton, where he played 154 games, didn’t offer him a new contract for this season but Gold Coast believed the 32-year-old still had something to offer.

The Suns snapped up the veteran key forward with the third pick in the rookie draft, more than two months before Ben King, arguably their most important player, suffered his ACL rupture.

Together with fellow recruit Mabior Chol, Casboult has given Gold Coast a target in attack and ensured King’s absence would not cruel the side’s progress.

He’s kicked 21 goals in 11 matches – second at the Suns behind Chol – and ranks 10th in the league for average contested marks and 11th for marks inside 50.

However you look at it, the Casboult signing has been great business, but both parties want to wait until season’s end to make a call on 2023.

Gold Coast has already locked away King, Ben Ainsworth, Elijah Hollands, Mac Andrew and Connor Budarick this year and is nearing agreement with Izak Rankine and Jack Lukosius.

Lachie Weller will ink a multi-year deal despite his ACL setback, while negotiations have also started to re-sign lightly played key defender Caleb Graham.

Ben Paton is set to remain at St Kilda.
Ben Paton is set to remain at St Kilda.

SAINTS DEFENDER SET TO EXTEND STAY

St Kilda defender Ben Paton’s successful return from last year’s gruesome double leg break is set to be rewarded with a new contract.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a career-best 2020 campaign, including playing in both of the Saints’ finals, but missed all of last season after breaking the fibula and tibia in his left leg in an intraclub match.

Paton was back in Brett Ratten’s team in round 1 and hasn’t missed a match, averaging a personal-high 15 disposals and five intercept possessions.

Negotiations are progressing well for the 46-gamer to remain a Saint beyond this year.

Emerging Lion Deven Robertson won’t be out of contract until next year.
Emerging Lion Deven Robertson won’t be out of contract until next year.

YOUNG LION NOT ON MARKET — YET

Emerging Brisbane Lions on-baller Deven Robertson is out of contract at the end of next season, not this year, as many people believed.

The Lions announced in November 2020 that Robertson, along with teammate Jaxon Prior, had signed a one-year extension to tie them to the club through 2022.

But Robertson, who captained Western Australia at under-18 level, actually committed at the time for two more seasons rather than one.

The No. 22 pick in the 2019 draft has appeared only three times at senior level this year between injury and form but is considered an important part of Brisbane’s future.

Originally published as AFL Moneyball trade news: How Blues keep twin towers and star studded midfield together

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