In the 10 years of AFL free agency, Geelong have secured two of the best four players to have left their clubs in the years that they were free agents, even if they turned out not to be freebies.
The Cats have embraced free agency as enthusiastically as any club, fundamentally refocusing a list-building philosophy away from drafting and growing their own, and they arrive at the eve of a finals series ready to exploit those talents brought in from elsewhere.
Will Geelong’s investment in Jeremy Cameron pay off this yeat?Credit:Getty Images
Entering the final two weeks of the home-and-away season, Geelong have been able to include both of their off-season free agents, Jeremy Cameron and Isaac Smith. Cameron was the player they wanted as a free agent but were forced to trade for, and gave up substantial compensation. Smith could just clear his Hawthorn locker and drive down the Geelong Road.
They will join Dangerfield, whose singing voice might be a little Joe Cocker this week after a knock to the throat, but his playing will not be diminished. Luke Dahlhaus too, arrived three years back as a premiership Dog arriving for free as a Cat and is playing his part.
Dangerfield, like Cameron, was a free agent when he left his old club. Like Cameron, the Cats had to trade for him rather than getting him as a free agency freebie.
They secured Dangerfield at a heavily discounted trade rate but in Cameron’s case they were made to empty the drawer of the silver they had received for Tim Kelly.
Patrick Dangerfield’s move had a major impact on Geelong and Adelaide.Credit:Getty Images
They remain two of the best four players to leave their club when they emerged onto the market as free agents. The other two have been the two most effective free agents, Lance Franklin and Tom Lynch.
Franklin is the best player to leave as a free agent. He was instrumental in getting Sydney to the two grand finals, yet the Swans haven’t actually yet won a flag with him. There remains a small and narrowing window for that to change.
His impact as a free agent was also felt in the influence he had in leaving Hawthorn. The Hawks received paltry compensation for him (yet still went on to win a flag playing against Franklin). The unknowable is what might have happened at Hawthorn had Franklin stayed? How many more might the Hawks have won? Conversely, what other players might they have lost to the salary cap had he not gone?
Notwithstanding the criticisms of Lynch’s recent form – and ignoring the hairy-chested defence of the player – the Richmond forward has been the most consequential free agent in that the Tigers won two more flags after he arrived. It is doubtful they win those flags without him. The consequence was also felt in what might have been had he chosen elsewhere.
Would the Tigers have as many flags without Tom Lynch?Credit:Eddie Jim
Collingwood made a late approach, and he toyed briefly with the idea if for no other reason than he followed them as a kid. You would suspect Lynch in Collingwood’s team and not Richmond’s in 2019 would have changed the fortunes of both clubs.
Cameron, who was the first free agent to have his contract offer matched by his club, could prove to be as consequential as any player to exercise free agency, depending on what happens in September.
The importance of Dangerfield’s move is as keenly felt in what his absence meant for Adelaide as what his presence has meant for Geelong. How might the 2017 grand final have looked had Danger still been a Crow? But his arrival at Geelong heralded the club’s philosophical shift. A club that had grown its own, and been bequeathed handsome offerings from previous players in father-son freebies, now kept itself alive and viable with targeted players from other clubs.
On one measure you could argue the most consequential free agent to move clubs might be James Frawley. He went to Hawthorn and played full-back in a flag but Melbourne got pick three as compensation and with that pick they secured Angus Brayshaw a selection after taking Christian Petracca. That’s a win for Hawthorn and Melbourne.
Mitch Robinson and Jarryd Lyons went to the Brisbane Lions as delisted free agents. The Bulldogs picked up Joel Hamling as a delisted free agent from Geelong, where he didn’t play a game. He then became a premiership player at the Dogs and was traded essentially for pick 35 to Freo. In terms of free agents that is the most successful use of bargain-basement free agency we have seen.
But for the Cats, the question two weeks out from the finals is not how they got their players, but whether the free-agency plan will pay off this year.
TOP FIVE FREE AGENTS TO MOVE CLUBS
1. Lance Franklin
2. Tom Lynch
3. Patty Dangerfield *
4. Jeremy Cameron *
5. Eddie Betts (to Adelaide)
*Left clubs when able to exercise free agency rights but trades were needed
BIGGEST FREE-AGENCY MOVERS
2012 Brendon Goddard
2013 Lance Franklin, Eddie Betts, Dale Thomas, Nick Dal Santo
2014 James Frawley, Shaun Higgins, Mitch Robinson, Tim Membrey, Joel Hamling
2015 Patrick Dangerfield (trade required)
2018 Tom Lynch, Luke Dahlhaus, Jarryd Lyons
2019 Adam Tomlinson, Brandon Ellis
2020 Jeremy Cameron, Joe Daniher, Zac Williams, Brad Crouch, Isaac Smith
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