I just want to go into my argument in a bit more detail. I'm also going to say where I'm coming from, which to you HAP will probably be no surprise as you've also been on this site for a long time.
List building historically
In the old days of the late nineties and first decade of the new millennium, there were a few ways to go about a rebuild.
- Sell "assets", finish low (often with priority picks), trade in for the finishing bit of the puzzle as needed. Hawthorn, Geelong, St Kilda, Collingwood, Bulldogs (of 2000's) and WCE (partially) all implemented. Needs good to very good drafting, trading and development. Selling assets was sometimes voluntary (Hawthorn, St Kilda, Collingwood), and sometimes it was involuntary (Geelong, WCE). It always helped if you had someone willing to be an idiot on the other side of the trade.
- Trading in players, many of whom are preferably underpriced. Sydney and Hawthorn did this, but are really the only teams to have successfully implemented. Of course, when this merry go round stops you often have a big crash.
- Get very lucky with father-son picks. More of a complementary approach usually, but boy did Geelong benefit from this. Now days this is of course also covering academy picks.
- Just draft absolutely brilliantly, with no other benefits. No club used this approach on its own.
Options 3 and 4 are most likely to be complimentary, rather than individual strategies, with the possible exception in the future with the northern clubs' academies.
(BTW, when did blood and 'y' become a swear word to filter????
Post-18 team world
The post-18 team world has changed. Priority picks are virtually gone. 18 teams mean second and third round picks have less value, further accentuated by the fact academy picks push them further out. Free agency, our saga, and GWS's surplus of talent has all led to players often getting far less in trade value than they used to. The exact nature of rebuilding is still being assessed. I think it is riskier than it used to be, with better odds that a re-build just won't have any effect.
Of the approaches above, the easiest most obvious route (#1), is now significantly diluted. Whereas once upon a time two bad years near the bottom and trading out a key player (or two) could net you 7 (Collingwood) or even 10 (Hawthorn)
top 30 picks, that is usually a lot harder. It is still possible, Brisbane have 7 from the last two years. However, whereas Collingwood had 4 top 10 picks and Hawthorn 5, Brisbane only had 2.
As the old method reduces in effectiveness, this in conjunction is pushing more emphasis on building through the trade period. Especially with GWS's cast offs. The effectiveness is still uncertain. Bulldogs are really the only "post-18" team world to win a premiership. They benefited from very strong drafting, fantastic luck with F/S just before the rules changed, trading out assets (Griffen & Cooney) and smart "purchases" (Crameri, Suckling, Biggs, Boyd), and a few low finishes getting draft picks well used. So no single approach, a mixed amalgam where they didn't really stuff up anything. And finished 7th, and arguably got the premiership on the back of their best acquisition - their coach.
The other teams to commit rebuilds post-18 are Melbourne and St Kilda. Others have "re-set" (Port, Richmond) or are still so little into their rebuild (Carlton, Freo, North) that there aren't any lessons to learn. Looking at Melbourne and St Kilda, the efficacy of their approaches is still uncertain. St Kilda probably are looking more to 2019 anyway given they have two 1st round picks this year, but have generally used a combination of good trades to push their rebuild. Melbourne have done the same. Tyson, Hibberd, Melksham, Vince, Lewis, Bruce, Steele, Carlisle, Freeman, Stevens, Membrey have all been brought in to supplement drafting with low picks. We'll see the impact.
What I suspect is:
- Unless a team is willing to do a ~4 year rebuild in the bottom 4 playing rubbish and get priority picks, you have to use free agency and trades to fill the hole from less picks than historical.
- A team will have to time its "rise" right. You need a base of talent, a good reputation, and salary cap space to attract talent at the right time.
- Drafting is still absolutely vital.
- Trading for multiple picks/players and nailing them will become more important. So deals like St Kilda's with Hawthorn, Melbourne's with Suns and Giants, may be the way forward.
- When attracting players, top end talent will (mostly) only go to lists at the top or seen as improving. Older players will move for premiership shots (so same targets) or certain game time, depending on ability. Youngsters will generally want a team who will go places, but currently has best 22 list spots for game time.
- With the dilution of talent via less priority picks and more teams, rebuilding will be harder unless you nail everything. But teams who do achieve it, should be able to stay at the top longer. Dynasties will be easier.
Implications for Essendon
So why have I rambled on about all this? I suppose to say that I think getting a rebuild right is becoming much harder, and nailing it is trickier. And I think timing is critical.
In my view, our list may need to rebuild. But it may not. Although the loss of draft picks and reduced "sale" value during the saga hurts us (hugely) it does mean we've taken a number of picks during a short period. And it looks like we may have nailed later picks with Hartley, Ambrose, Fantasia, Walla, Brown.
I see two scenarios for the list:
- We're actually "rising" now, and that while the older players are still capable of elite football there is an opportunity to pinch a premiership. This would also establish us as a place for FA/young players to come, and the transitioning out of older players and mid-tier players would show there are list spots to come to. In this case we should be going for it now to both attract other club's players and utilise Goddard/Watson/Stanton while they're still top players.
- We're not close enough, need more picks, and the kids are still 3-5 years away. In which case getting anything out of the older players is pointless since they won't be around, and even players like Hooker/Hurley will be moving into age groups where they may start declining. In which case we're still in a "finish low, draft players" and attract young talent stage. In this scenario then playing older players and keeping mid-level depth actually hurts us as it means we may finish higher, have less list spots for youngsters, and are less attractive for young talent who want a pretty certain best 22 berth.
HAP, you appear to be arguing we're in position #2. And I'm arguing - we don't know. I think we could actually be in #1, and using that and our (reputed) cap space to get in more talent is the way to go. If we are in scenario 1, then we want to finish higher to attract more talent (or win the whole thing). We do not want to be perceived as stuffing returning players around. If we're in Scenario 2, we should be absolutely be doing what you're suggesting and prioritise development and the future over wins (I would call this tanking, and be fine with it. But I gather some are sensitive to the word ).
So where are we?
I look at the list, and there is a lot of uncertainty due to 2016, and just generally where the list is at. The issues I see are:
- What level are the older players at, and how long will they still be top class? I mean Goddard, Watson, Stanton and Bags.
- Will there be permanent effects of the year off for other players? How will Hurley, Hooker, Colyer, Heppell, Myers deal with the 2017 AFL playing style, and the year off?
- How good was our 2014-2016 drafting? Do we have the core of a new talent base with Langford, Laverde, Francis, Parish, McGrath, Begley, Redman, McKenna, etc? If we do, then we don't need to prioritise finishing low. If we don't, we absolutely must.
- How will second year players Hartley, Walla, Brown, and players who have just "reached AFL level" in Parish, Ambrose, Francis, Dea continue
- Will the long-term injured players Myers and Belly get back to their best and over injuries? And yes, I think this is pretty important from list structure discussions.
- How good, or not, will Green and Stewart be after being released from other clubs?
On paper, I can see a pretty solid list. We have key positions players who vary from "good" to "top" level at both ends, depth, and generally a pretty good age distribution. We're weakest in the ruck, but if Belly and Leuy are fit and firing it is nowhere near a weakness. The small forwards potential is high. The small backs are serviceable, with hopes a few may step up to more than that.
Midfield is strong IF Parish develops fast, and Goddard, Stanton and Watson stay strong. If Langford/Laverde/Mutch/McGrath can move in there, or Begley/Redman develop to release Walla and Fantasia into the middle with better engines. With a (fit) Myers, Bird, we have some depth as well.
If all that happens, even with a decline in the oldest players, we could be fine and challenging soon. Especially if we can use free agency to smooth over their transition. The faster rust is removed and players get to speed with the game plan the better of course.
So, I don't think we should be giving up on Scenario #1 quite yet and going all in on development. Not at least until half way through the season, when we should be re-evaluating. Which is why I'm against your wholesale play the kids approach.
There is also one final element in the decision. I said in 2015 we should rebuild, and trade out some quality. I questioned last year in the mammoth thread you missed on if getting ALL the banned players back if doing so was the right approach. But we did neither. Which means we do have all these players back. Presumably that was on the back of telling them we had a good list, and were going to give it a crack. Would it be fair now to go back on that promise? I personally don't think so. This supports my view we should be going for it, until (if) it becomes obvious in 2017 that the list isn't strong enough and needs to focus on development.