There’s a nice loophole in free agency that nobody seems to express in as many words, but it works like this:
1) Lose a player
2) Receive compensation
So (if you ignore the AFL’s manipulation via their ‘black box’ system) you break even. But since the compensation came from ‘the house’ it is at the expense of every other club receiving a slight demotion in the draft.
On the other side there is only one step:
1) Receive a free player
That’s a big win.
All in all, if you lose a player you break even, and if you gain a player you win. The aim should therefore be to be involved in as many free agency deals as possible.
Imagine two clubs come together and decide to trade their best players. A direct swap; one in, one out, and both break even.
However, now imagine that instead of trading the players, they both leave via free agency. Essentially both clubs will break even in regards to their current playing list, but they will also bank bonus first round draft picks for future use or to facilitate further trades. Taking the practice to extremes, they could lose their best half-dozen players or so, buy some ready-made replacements, lose nothing and walk away with more draft concessions than an expansion club. Meanwhile, any club that doesn’t participate gets shunted in the order.
The clubs have outsmarted themselves in the rush to resign their stars, it would have been far more advantageous to let them leave.
This loophole has opened up due to the decision to give compensation on a ‘per deal’ basis rather than at the end of the free agency period. The other complicating factor is the overlap between trade and free agency periods.
ie. Melbourne received pick 3 for Frawley
If they then recruited a free agent, do the AFL confiscate pick 3?
In theory, and therefore in practice to exploit the loophole, it could have already been on-traded. How would the AFL untangle that web? Rescind the trade, tear up the contracts and send the players back to original club? It would get very messy, very quickly. Or would they step in and remove a random pick out of their draft order in an all too common ad-hoc abuse of power without a formal rule allowing it?
In all practicalities, they must be allowed to keep both their new free agent and the bonus pick. Then simply wash, rinse, repeat for a raft of free picks.
Of course, for the second iteration, the AFL could refuse compensation on the basis that they already have an unfair advantage.
But, what if they lost multiple players and therefore received multiple compensation picks before hand? Then the order of events becomes crucial. A team which loses 3 stars receives 3 compensation picks and can then recruits 3 free agent replacements, while a team which recruits 3 free agents and then loses 3 stars receives no compensation. It’s patently absurd. The compensation must be the same regardless of the order in which events occur.
Free agency is clearly a farce in it’s current form, although this loophole could be justified as a way to facilitate more moves and create more freedom for players, which is why the AFLPA fought to have free agency introduced in the first place.