ESSENDON’S ability to retain top-up players looks set to be made more straightforward with the AFL likely to soften its rules around re-listing its replacements.
The League had originally ruled that the 10 players Essendon signed to short-term contracts at the start of this year could only stay at the club if they were re-drafted.
However, AFL.com.au understands after a push and submission from the AFL Players’ Association, the League has looked over its free agency rules and found that because the 10 players will need to be delisted to leave Essendon’s list, they should qualify as delisted free agents.
That would allow Essendon – and any other clubs interested in any of the top-ups – to sign them as delisted free agents and not be required to wait until November’s national, rookie or pre-season draft to add them to a list.
Defender Matt Dea appears the player most likely to benefit from the impending interpretation tweak, after coach John Worsfold said last weekend the club will consider retaining him in 2017.
The former Tiger has played all bar one game this season and seems a readymade replacement for Michael Hibberd, who will seek a trade out of Essendon once his suspension ends later this year.
“Matty Dea’s in a prime age bracket,” Worsfold said after the Bombers’ 40-point loss to the Western Bulldogs on Sunday.
"There may be other clubs who have seen how well he’s performed for us this year and may be looking at him.
"We’ll certainly look at that as an option, without guaranteeing anything, and [James] Kelly’s a bit the same.
“We’ve just got to wait and see what options we’ve got, in terms of number of picks in the draft, and where it all sits. We’ll work through that after next week.”
Kelly had indicated he would retire at the end of this season to pursue a role at the AFL, but his form has been excellent throughout Essendon’s season as an experienced half-back. The door has been left ajar for him to play on.
Dea and Kelly were members of the group of players assembled by Essendon under AFL concessions following the suspensions of 12 Bombers by WADA on anti-doping charges in January.
The others were Ryan Crowley, Jonathan Simpkin, Mathew Stokes, Mark Jamar, Sam Grimley, James Polkinghorne, Nathan Grima and Sam Michael.
Dea told the AFL Record this week he was keen to continue his career at Essendon next year, saying Worsfold’s comments gave him confidence he had fulfilled his role this season.
“[The comments] put a smile on my face, and I’d love for that to be the case. But there is still a bit of water to go under the bridge with that,” Dea said.
“I felt I can play a role at a club and I was disappointed when I didn’t get that opportunity through the rookie draft, so I just wanted to throw everything at this. I have surprised myself a little bit but a lot of that has come from the backing of the coaches.”