With just three players on the move, maybe AFL Free Agency isn’t a big thing #AFLTrades

Since the introduction of free agency for players in 2012, movement via this mechanism has decreased year-on-year. Whilst much is made of free agency, it seems not much is done in comparison to actual trades.

In 2012, 10 players made the move via free agency, excluding delisted free agents. In 2013 it dropped to seven, 2014 had just five players move and last year saw only four players find new clubs in this manner. This year it appears the new low mark will be set at three.


Of the three free agents on the move in 2016 to date, it is Vickery who turns out to have the most value. He’s younger, plays a good number of games, and unlike a lot of players with missed games he’s likely increase his 14.7 games per season and thus exceed projections if he can avoid suspensions (8 games missed) and the VFL (10 games).

Mayne works out to being worth around pick 44, being a 28-year-old who basically doesn’t miss games. Wells, even valued as here assuming he plays out the 3 years of his contract until he is 34, has a lot less value because he simply isn’t expected to play many games due to advanced age and injury history. He may play more on this year’s higher output, but the risk with him is substantial and lowers his value.

All three clubs losing players “won” in terms of the pick they received, as usually happens with free agency. That is to say, the pick would give them an expectations of more output than the remaining career of the lost player. Free agency tends to represent a “double-win” for the club losing a player, because to have a player poached through free agency, they must have had success with their earlier draft pick. Then, as a result of a draft “win” they get another pick as a reward. With draft picks being a finite commodity, this is very useful extra value.

The Vickery compensation turned out to be pretty close to his future worth, while the Mayne compensation was larger overs due to Fremantle’s lowly position on the ladder. Wells netting North Melbourne a second-round pick was a huge win for them even if Wells does play til age 34. The compensation was presumably driven by Collingwood’s large monetary offer for Wells.


We’ve argued before that free agency compensation picks represent a mutually beneficial swap between two clubs at the expense of the value of the other clubs’ draft picks. Club A gets a player, club B gets a new pick inserted, and the other 16 clubs lose a small amount of value on their picks. So when we look at winners and losers, we need to consider the non-participant clubs in free agency exchange.

Clubs lost 35-41 expected games of player output from their later picks with each draft pick insertion, cumulatively representing about 116 games of expected output. This isn’t a huge impact, but it does slightly load the dice further against clubs drafting in that range. Years with more free agents or higher compensation picks can have a larger impact, as occurred with the James Frawley compensation pick 3.

Presented below is the “pick loss” by club across the second and third rounds:


This is calculated on currently-held picks. Geelong come out as the biggest losers as their old picks of 35, 39 and 53 become 38, 41 and 56 after the shuffle.


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