2019 Much Ado About Draft Rules

Back by popular (zero) demand, it’s my annual too long post about how the draft works.

What is this?

It’s my best effort of explaining the basics and not at all basics of trading, drafting, and free agency. If you know this stuff, there’s nothing extra here, it’s just the rules. There are a lot of rules these days, so if you haven’t kept track of exactly who’s eligible for the pre-season supplemental selection period, or what that is, hopefully this helps.

I’ve tried to cover off all the weird edge cases and some of the common mistakes about how these things work.

Corrections, expansions, and questions welcome.

List

The list is, basically, people who can play for Essendon. It consists of 40 senior (primary list) players, 4 rookie players (sometimes called category A or rookie A players to avoid confusion), and 3 category B rookies from non-football backgrounds. That was easy.

Well… it’s complicated

You can actually have a total of 44 senior + rookie players, with a minimum of 38 senior listed players. There is very little difference between a senior and rookie listed player (there used to be quite a lot), mostly now it has to do with when they’re drafted and what their starting contract is like. We’ll get to it, trust me.

Senior listed players can play AFL at any time, as can rookies. Category B rookies can only play if they get “elevated” to the senior list to cover a player placed on the long term injury list (LTI), or players who have retired. LTI players must miss at least 8 weeks of football at all levels, so teams don’t generally mess around with it.

Also… category B i, ii, iii, iv, v

Category B rookies fall into four main groups (well… there is a fifth group). Category B rookies can be signed directly onto the list, they don’t have to be drafted, so if you find one you get to have them. Well… except for the academy ones (see below).

  1. international players (eg Mason Cox, Mike Pyke). If they live overseas and aren’t Irish, they can go onto the category B rookie list.

  2. Irish players (eg Conor McKenna, some other guys too I guess). This is players from the island of Ireland, not just the Republic Of Ireland. Irish players are like other international players, except you can only have one on the category B rookie list at a time. You can directly sign extras without going through the draft, but they have to go on the rookie list instead. This is a concession to the Irish GAA.

  3. Non-football background. Players from Australia who haven’t been registered in a recognised football competition for at least three years (eg Mark Blicavs, Alex Keath). No school football, no ammos, no state league, nothing.

  4. This is the newest one, academy players. If a team nominates an academy player and no bid comes for them in the national draft, the team can choose to add them to either the rookie or category B rookie list immediately. Don’t worry (for now) about what bidding and nominations are, just know that some junior football players are tied to clubs, and can end up on the category B list.

  5. Players from other elite competitions. This rule exists almost entirely for Karmichael Hunt and Isreal Folau, and hasn’t been used since. But technically if a team convinces a player to defect from a “recognised elite sporting competition” as decided by the AFL, they can be added as a category B rookie.

All these players also have to meet the minimum age requirements of the draft. You can’t add a six year old to your list no matter where he’s from.

Note… the only way is up

At the end of year, category B rookies can be moved onto either the rookie or senior list, and rookies can be moved onto the senior list. This is just a matter of filing the paperwork with the AFL. Players cannot be moved from the senior list onto the rookie list. They can be re-rookied, which is just delisting then drafting in the rookie draft.

Technically another team could grab them in this period, but the kind of player getting re-rookied is the kind of player most clubs aren’t interested in.

And… can’t rookie forever

Players can spend up to three years on the rookie list, after which they have to either be promoted to the senior list or delisted. They can be delisted and re-drafted onto the rookie list of course.

Salary Cap

Each team has a limit of how much money they can pay their list. No matter how rich or poor the club, everyone has the salary cap. It’s currently about $13m a year, and goes up a little bit each year. Simple.

Well… ish

Each team has to pay at leat 95% of the cap. The worst team in the competition with a list of bush leaguers still has to spend the cap. If a team spends less than the cap in one year, however, they can spend the difference in excess the next year. So if you spend 95% one year, you can spend 105% the next.

And… ASA

There’s also a thing called the Additional Services Agreement (ASA), which is around $1m per club. Players have to declare every source of income, and if the AFL determines that it’s got anything to do with the club, that money is counted against the ASA. So the Judd Visy deal can still happen, but it’s limited and has to be declared.

Also… outside the cap

Not every dollar paid to players comes under the salary cap. Match payments for finals don’t count, plus some other specific things like testimonials for retiring players. Rookies and category B rookies also have their salary excluded from the salary cap. Unless they get paid above the minimum, then any amount above the minimum does get counted under the cap.

Oh, also… AFL shenanigans

The AFL has what they call “ambassador” money that they give to some players to represent the game. This is money that goes to players predominantly in non-football states and is definitely totally independently decided and not used as an inducement to keep players at expansion clubs as de facto contract payments.

Free Agency

After a player has been on an AFL list at one club for at least 8 years, they become a free agent. This means they can change clubs without a trade having to take place. Straightforward.

Well… there’s more

There are three kinds of free agent; restricted, unrestricted, and delisted.

Delisted free agents (DFA): didn’t get offered a contract by their current club, out of contract. Players who retire or delist themselves by refusing to sign a contract offered to them are not free agents.

Restricted free agents (RFA): at least 8 years at a single club, out of contract, in the top 25% paid players at the club for the year they come out of contract.

Unrestricted free agents (UFA): at least 8 years at a single club, out of contract, not in the top 25% paid players at the club for the year they come out of contract. Or, at least 10 years at a single club, out of contract, money irrelevant.

Also… perpetuity

Once a player has become a free agent, they remain a free agent (this is called perpetual free agency) at the end of each subsequent contract. This applies to all types of free agents. A delisted free agent who gets picked up will be an unrestricted free agent for all subsequent contracts.

And… compensation

When a team loses a player to free agency, they may get a compensation pick. Compensation picks are decided based on the total free agency movement for that club. For example, the year Eddie Betts left as a free agent, carlton brought in Dale Thomas, so they didn’t get any compensation for Betts. This is a draft pick that doesn’t come from another club, and is based (in an undisclosed way) on age and contract value/length.

Compensation picks come in five “bands”. First round pick after the club’s assigned first round pick, end of first round, second round pick after the club’s assigned second round pick, end of second round pick, end of third round pick. If multiple clubs get assigned end of round compensation picks, they are taken in reverse ladder order. It is common for players not to attract any compensation picks.

If you lose multiple free agents, you can get multiple compensation picks. Losing three mediocre free agents doesn’t add up to one high compensation pick.

Compensation picks are based on what draft picks a club would have before trading. So if a club finished 9th and got pick 10, then lost a free agent and got assigned a band 1 compensation pick, it would be pick 11. Doesn’t matter if they trade out pick 10, or bring in pick 3, the compensation pick is after the original pick.

So… restricted how?

A restricted free agent is called that because there is a restriction on their movement. First, any contract to them must be at least two years. This is rarely a problem because a top paid player from another club probably isn’t going to move for a one year deal.

An RFA is allowed to accept one contract offer from another club. Their current club is given the option to match the deal. To match, they only have to match total dollar value and years, so front loading/back loading doesn’t matter. At this point, the club can also ask the AFL what the compensation pick is likely to be. If they match, the player has the following options: stay at their club on the matched contract, stay at their club on a different contract, go through the normal trade/draft options of non free agents.

Trade

If a player wants to change clubs, and isn’t a free agent, the club he is moving to has to agree to a trade with the club he is currently at. Clubs can trade for other players, draft picks for the current year, or draft picks for the next year. Basic stuff.

Well… not all picks

Teams cannot trade picks in the rookie draft or pre-season draft, it’s national draft picks only. When it comes to future picks, the normal way it’s phrased is that clubs can trade either their future first round pick, or as many of their other future picks as they want. More correctly however, clubs must have either a future first round pick, or a future pick for every other round. So, a club could trade out its future first round pick, trade in a future first round pick from another club, then trade out their future second round pick.

So… that two first round picks in four years rule

The simple version is that a team must take two first round picks over a four year period, and will be blocked from trading their first round picks until they do. There is an exception that the AFL can basically overrule this if they think the players a club have traded in are young enough and good enough to count. This has caused roughly infinite confusion, and the correct thing to do is read these two articles from Marc McGowan, because at the very least regardless of the wording of the rule, this is the AFL’s official word on what it means.


Still… all aboard

All three parties of a trade (current club, destination club, player) have to agree to a trade. A team can’t trade a player to the highest bidder without his permission, a contracted player can’t leave without his club’s permission, and obviously a team can’t have a player forced onto their list.

And… contracts sort of matter

A player who is out of contract who asks for a trade has a couple of options in the case of an impasse. Nominate for the national, rookie, and pre-season drafts, or nominate for only the pre-season draft. In either case, they can also set the minimum contract value and length that any club who drafts them must agree to.

Players who are currently contracted can ask for a trade, but if no deal is done their options are to see out their contract or to sit out football altogether. Mostly their requests are granted, but it’s getting more common to refuse to trade.

Also… trading rookies

Teams can trade rookie players, but they must be traded onto the senior list of the destination club. In fact, no player can be traded onto the rookie list.

But… a question of timing

Free agency starts roughly a week after the Grand Final, and goes for two weeks, which overlaps with the the first week of the trade period. Trade period goes for two weeks. After that teams can trade picks only (not players) until the day of the draft.

During the draft teams can trade picks, with all the normal rules about future picks and so forth applying.

National Draft

Any player who wants to join the AFL must do so by nominating for the draft. Teams get assigned draft picks in reverse ladder order, and the player they pick goes to the club on a two year contract. Piece of cake.

Well… reverse ladder order after finals

For teams that don’t make finals, reverse ladder order is easy. 18th gets pick 1, 17th gets pick 2, etc. For the rest, finals results matter. 8th on the ladder is the team that finished lowest during the season that loses their elimination final (this year, that’s us). 7th is the other losing EF. 6th the lowest finishing losing semi-finalist, 5th the other loser, 4th the lowest finishing preliminary finalist, 3rd the other loser, 2nd the losing grand finalist, 1st the premier.

Also… priority picks

When a team is particularly and spectacularly bad, they can apply to the AFL for a priority pick. Unlike compensation picks, priority picks can be whatever the AFL decides. Beginning of the first round, end of the first round, middle of the first round, pick 69, whatever. No justification required.

Once assigned these picks are just like any other draft pick, they can be traded or used to match bids (see academies) as normal.

But… picks picks everywhere

Each team is effectively assigned infinite draft picks (1st round, 2nd round, 3rd, 4th, etc), and can trade in as many picks as they want. However, on draft night, the picks are reduced to be equal to the number of empty spots on the list. So a team could trade in picks 80 to 100, but unless they have at least 20 empty spots on the list, these picks disappear. This is for academy and F/S bidding reasons.

And… what is a round, really?

For the purposes of the various rules, the first round is every pick until the second normal pick assigned to the 18th placed team. End of first round compensation picks are first round picks, as are end of first round priority picks, academy bid matches, etc. Ditto the 3rd round starts with the 18th placed team’s 3rd pick.

So… just happy to be nominated

In order to be eligible to be drafted, a player has to be at least 18 by the end of the calendar year they’re drafted, and registered in some sort of football competition. Players registered in SA and WA have to play at least one WAFL or SANFL (senior or U18s) game. I think this is because of accusations of hiding players away. Nominating for the national draft automatically makes the player eligible for the rookie and pre-season draft.

Once a player nominates for the draft, they’re eligible for the next three years.

Oh, and… the dotted line

Players who get drafted sign slightly different contracts depending on several factors. The basic contract is for two years, with higher base payments and match payments based on draft position. Players 23 and over can be offered shorter contracts, as can players who have previously been on an AFL list. As mentioned, current AFL players nominating for the draft can set contract conditions for any club that drafts them.

A player doesn’t have to sign with the club they’re drafted to, but if they don’t they can’t play in the AFL for at least two years.

One last thing… in it to win it

Every team is required to participate in the draft, and each club has to make at least three selections. As always, there’s a caveat, in this case it’s that players elevated from the rookie list count for the purpose of selections.

Rookie and Pre-Season Draft

After the national draft, later the same day there are the rookie and pre-season draft. Picks are assigned in reverse ladder, not priority picks, no compensation, no trading.

Players taken in the rookie draft go onto the rookie list, on one year contracts. There are no restrictions on who can be taken in the rookie draft. The word ‘rookie’ is some legacy naming. You can be a 300 game 34 year old on the rookie list.

Players taken in the pre-season draft go onto the senior list, on at least a minimum terms contract.

Please note… legacy

The pre-season draft in particular is really a legacy of a bunch of old rules that don’t exist any more. It’s quite common that the PSD just doesn’t happen at all.

Father/Son Picks

If someone played at least 100 games for an AFL club (plus complicated WAFL/SANFL rules for SA and WA teams that are increasingly irrelevant), their sons are eligible to be taken as father/son picks.

Well… it’s not mandatory

Just because a player is F/S eligible doesn’t mean either he or the club are under any obligation. The nomination is on the side of the player, if he doesn’t care about his dad’s club he doesn’t have to nominate (see Marc Murphy eligible for the lions). If a club nominates a player, regardless of if they’re bid on, the club doesn’t have to put them on the list.

And… it’s not forever

A player is F/S eligible until he gets drafted. If he gets drafted and later delisted, his dad’s club has no claims. However, someone who’s played 10 years of VFL would still be F/S eligible as long as he’s never been on an AFL list.

Also… multiple clubs

If a player played 100+ games for multiple clubs, his son(s) are eligible for both clubs, and get to decide the priority. They could say no clubs, only one club, club A then club B, or whatever else.

Academies

NSW and Queensland teams get priority access to players from their home states (each team gets half the state, more or less). These are sometimes called “northern academies”. Teams from other states get priority access to multicultural and indigenous players from specific areas in their home states, or other locations they have ties to. If another team tries to draft an academy player, the academy team can use later draft picks to match the bid. These are called next generation academies (NGA).

Well… when we say multicultural

For the northern academies, it’s just simple geographic areas. For the NGAs, players also have to be sufficiently multicultural or indigenous. Uh huh, yup.

Indigenous is defined as of indigenous descent, identifies as indigenous, is accepted as indigenous by their community.

Multicultural is defined as the player or at least one parent was born in an Asian or African country. Otherwise, the player or both parents were born in a non-English speaking country. The AFL does not make clear what they consider Asia, Africa, or non-English speaking countries.

With all academy players, the AFL makes a determination if the club has been sufficiently involved with their development to have a legitimate claim.

I mean… going once

The bidding process is slightly more complicated than that. Surprise. Each draft pick is assigned a points value, from 3000 for pick 1 to 9 points for pick 73. Everything after pick 73 is worthless. These points values were calculated by the AFL using rock solid perfect maths. When it’s a team’s turn in the draft, they can choose to say they’re taking an academy player. The academy club can then choose to match or not. If they don’t match, the bidding club gets the player as normal.

If they do match, they have to pay up draft picks totalling the points value of the bid amount. They get a discount (to encourage bids to be matched) of either 20% or 197 points, whichever is bigger. This means matching a bid of 57 or later is just whatever picks the team has left.

Any picks used to match bids get pushed to the back of the draft.

The bidding team then gets to pick again.

But… one man’s trash

Matching has to be done with next available picks. If a club bids pick 8, and the academy club has pick 10, they can’t match with a handful of picks in the 40s.

Also… there are limits

Teams are limited in the number of academy players they can take at the top end of the draft. Top 4 can only match one bid in the top 20, top 8 is 2, while teams that miss the finals can match any number.

And… blood ties

If a player is eligible to be taken father/son and academy, it’s the player’s choice which one takes priority. Father son bidding follows the same rules about points matching, etc. With the excpetion noted above that rookie nominations are different.

Look…

There are a lot of very specific complications with the bidding system. See the next post for the obscure stuff.

One last thing…

Once a player signs up to an academy, that’s basically that. They can’t choose to not make themselves eligible. If a club wants one of their academy players, they get him.

Pre Season Supplemental Selection Period (SSP)

The new kid on the block. After all the trading, free agency and drafts, there’s one last way to get on a list. Anyone not taken already can be put directly on the rookie list of any club that will take them.

Well… second chances

Any player who nominated for the draft is eligible for the SSP. More importantly, any player who was previously on an AFL list and has spent at least a year out of the game is eligible, even if they didn’t nominate for the draft.

Also… space

Obviously, teams need to actually have open list spots to use this rule. They can either leave a spot open during the drafts, or fill a spot vacated by an unexpected retirement or long term injury.

Simple

That’s how you list manage.

When

Monday 7 October - NAB AFL Trade Period Commences.

Thursday 10 October - Close of AFL Restricted Free Agency Offer and Unrestricted Free Agency Period.

Sunday 13 October - AFL Restricted Free Agency Matching Offer Three-Day Period Ends.

Wednesday 16 October - NAB AFL Trade Period Closes (for exchange of players).

Thursday 17 October - AFL Trade Period Opens (selections only).

Friday 18 October - Application to Relist a Player Close

Thursday 31 October - List Lodgement (1)

Friday 1 November - AFL Delisted Player Free Agency Period (1) Commences

Monday 11 November- AFL Delisted Player Free Agency Period (1) closes

Tuesday 12 November - List Lodgement (2)

Wednesday 13 November - AFL Delisted Player Free Agency Period (2) Commences

Friday 22 November - NAB AFL Trade Period Closes (for exchange of selections only)

Friday 22 November - AFL Delisted Player Free Agency Period (2) Closes

Wednesday 27 November - NAB AFL Draft Selection Meeting (Round One), Marvel Stadium.

Thursday 28 November - NAB AFL Draft Selection Meeting (Round Two onwards to conclusion).

Thursday 28 November (post draft) - AFL Delisted Player Free Agency Period (3)

Thursday November 28 post draft OR Friday 29 November - NAB AFL Rookie Draft

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Here’s some miscellaneous extras.

Rookies and free agency

First year rookies are considered delisted free agents if they don’t get a offered a rookie or senior contract. Second year rookies are considered delisted free agents if they are not offered a senior contract. If they are offered a third rookie year, they’re still delisted free agents.

Rookies and elevation

Normal rookies don’t have to be elevated any more, but category B rookies do. However, elevating a category B rookie to play during the season is temporary, it is not the same as permanently putting them on the senior list as part of the draft.

Trading loopholes

You can’t do wink and a nod trades where you do one obviously mismatched trade to encourage another team to go soft on a free agent offer, or not take someone in the draft or whatever other trick. The AFL gets final say, whether you trust that is up to you.

If a contracted player wants to leave, you can’t prematurely terminate their contract so that they become a free agent, so you get the compensation pick without having to do a trade.

Restricted Free Agency

The top 25% rule is only for the year in question, and only includes guaranteed money plus ASA money. This obviously encourages clubs to give top end players guaranteed money over conditional.

Assigning Compensation Picks

In theory FA compensation picks are assigned at the end of the FA period, but in reality once a team makes it clear they’re not going to have any more involvement in the FA market, the AFL will assign a pick and let them trade it. Unknown what would happen if some last minute FA opportunity came up.

Rookie Father Sons

When nominating a F/S pick, teams must nominate them as either a national draft option, or a rookie option, not both. This is different to academy nominations, which is both. If a club nominates a player as a rookie F/S option, that club has no ability to match a bid if another club picks that player in the national draft. I have no idea why the AFL makes this distinction.

Points left on a pick

If a team matches a bid with a pick and there are left over points on that pick, the pick is moved to however many points it’s now worth, instead of the back of the draft. For example if a club with pick 2 (2517) had to match a pick 1 bid (3000x0.8 = 2400), they would match with pick 2, get the player, and pick 2 would get pushed back to pick 63 (pick 62 is worth 117 points).

Matches are picks

If a team bids pick 8, and the academy club matches, then the academy is recorded as having taken pick 8, and the bidding club then has pick 9. The picks exhausted to match are removed from the board and added to the back.

Passes are still picks

Not that it matters much, but at the back end of the draft, if a team passes, it’s still considered a pick for the purposes of draft points values of subsequent picks.

Weird Bidding Scenarios

Running out of points

If a team wants to match a bid but has run out of picks worth points, they can go into debt for up to 1726 points. It’s this weird number because it’s the total value of the picks assigned to the premiers, so in theory they can’t go into more than one year’s debt.

It gets more complicated though. The points are deducted from the corresponding round pick the next year. So if a club matches a second round pick, the points debt comes out of their assigned second round pick the next year, not their first.

But wait, there’s even more. If the team has traded out that future pick, then the points gets deducted out of their next round pick. So in the example above, if the club traded out their future second round pick, the points would come off their third round pick.

This scenario happened with the giants last year, so their third round pick this year is getting pushed back 44 points.

No word on what would happen if they’d traded out their future second and third round picks. My guess would be it would be applied to their pick the year after next. But who knows?

Cutting contracted players

If a player is delisted while still under contract, the club is still required to pay their contract, and it still counts against the salary cap. Players and clubs can negotiate payouts in this situation if they want to, but are not required to. Unless… if the player was brought into the club as a restricted or unrestricted free agent, the full value of their contract is counted against the cap regardless of payouts. This is to stop clubs putting forward massive contracts they have no intention of honouring to game the free agency system.

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And the actual documents
AFL CBA 2017-2022

AFL Rules 2019

And as already posted above, the god damned future first round trading rules

The AFL’s FA explainer
https://www.afl.com.au/afl-hq/the-afl-explained/free-agency

Draft points table


and a picture of it to save you the hassle

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Thanks for that @SplitRound
Its good to be able to refer to the rules when i don’t understand.

I tried to demand it but stuffed it up.

This is excellent. Thanks.

Wait… are you saying it’s a legit option NOT to be in the draft? Especially if it means you end up with less than 44 players…

I snorted. But no inclusion of the term “magical fairydust points”, am disappointed.

Is this new?

Does the one-Irish-rookie-only rule still exist?

As someone who gave up trying to understand the rules many many MANY years back, this is excellent. Thank you sir

Actually it turns out they’ve changed the wording. It used to be “in order to be eligible to participate…” now it’s just mandatory. I will update accordingly. If you somehow end up with less than a full primary list you get fined an amount equal to the minimum cost of a player per player you’re short which also gets counted against the cap, plus you get kicked out of (weirdly) the third round of the next draft.

The AFL and the AFLPA are very keen on making sure there’s a path for junior players every year. Otherwise they might go look at other sports.

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Not sure if the second year rookie free agency thing is new. I hadn’t noticed it before, but that’s not saying much. Doing a third rookie year has always been a “if the player agrees but you have no control over them if they refuse” scenario, so it does make sense from that perspective.

Yup. One on the B list, any extras have to go on the normal rookie list. You still sign them automatically though, they don’t have to go though the draft.

The maps for all the clubs’ NGA zones are in the back of the rules PDF, but here’s ours

And yet I can poke a hole in it in five seconds which I think could provide a real advantage in trades.

Made a minor correction. Apparently as of this year, anyone who has been a delisted free agent who gets picked up becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of every contract. Mild asterisk that I haven’t seen an official AFL statement on this, but the age and fox sports have both reported on it repeatedly.

For us, this makes Hartley a free agent this year rather than someone who would have to be traded.

This has a very slightly interesting side effect that players who get re-rookied become free agents for life, making it an even worse idea. Now if they do suddenly blossom, they can also leave very easily.

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Great post @SplitRound

Anyone who looks at US sports as a justification for arguing against this rule needs to understand that workers rights in the US almost non-existent stood up against Australia, so it is not an appropriate comparison at all.

Updated the files page with the 2019 version of the rules PDF

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