It’s my (almost) annual description of how trading and drafting and free agency and pre-season supplemental selections and all that nonsense works thread. My dream is that writing these threads will stop at least one “I have a brilliant idea. Just tell him not to sign a new contract, then we can get him as a delisted free agent. Can’t believe nobody’s thought of this before.” suggestion.
I’m open to corrections and questions, a lot of rules have changed in their specifics over the last couple of years, so some of this is probably wrong.
A team’s list consists of 36-38 senior players, 4-6 category A rookies, combining for no more than 42 total players. In addition, each team can have 0-2 category B rookies. Ignore what a normal person might think “senior” and “rookie” mean, they’re just administrative labels. A senior player could be an 18 year old who’s never played a game, and a rookie might be a triple premiership 34 year old.
Player CategoriesThere are three kinds of players: senior listed players, category A rookies, and category B rookies. There used to be rules about where and how rookie players were eligible to play AFL games, but those rules have all been scrapped.
Senior: any player taken in the National Draft or Pre-Season Draft, or brought in via trade or free agency will be on the senior list
Category A: Category A rookies are players taken in the Rookie Draft or those taken in the Supplemental Selection Period
Category B: Category B rookies can come from one of four places
- Irish. Each team can have at most 1 category B listed player from Ireland (Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland)
- Non-football background. Anybody who hasn’t been registered in a football competition for at least three years. This could be international players, or Australians who don’t play football
- Alternative talent. Anybody who is a registered athlete in an elite sporting competition (e.g. NRL). This is a separate category to non-football backgrounds because it has different salary cap rules
- Undrafted Academy/NGA player. Teams can automatically add academy players that don’t get drafted in the National Draft or Pre-Season Draft as category B rookies.
Salary CapEach team has a limited amount of money they can spend, commonly called the Salary Cap or Total Player Payments (TPP). There is a minimum contract but no maximum. There are lots of specifics, but most of those have little to do with the trade and draft period. A few key things:
- third party sponsorship deals need to be approved by the AFL. If they believe the third party deal is tied too closely to the club, they will disallow it or require it to be included in the salary cap. So, no more cushy environmental ambassador roles.
- for all rookies, an amount of money equal to the minimum contract value is excluded from the salary cap. For most rookie players, this means that their entire salary is outside the cap.
- when a player under an existing contract is traded from another club, it is possible for their previous club to continue paying at least part of that contract under their own salary cap. The suns, for example, were paying part of Peter Wright’s contract this year.
- Draftees: players taken in the National Draft are given a predefined 2 year contract. The exact values of these contracts depend on where the player is drafted (e.g. pick 1 gets more money than a third round draft pick).
Exception: players aged 23+ and players who have previously been listed by an AFL club do not have to be given a two year contract. They are allowed to set contract requirements.
- Rookies: Rookie players are typically signed to a one year, minimum value contract. International rookies are given two year contracts. A rookie cannot be on the rookie list for more than three years. After three years they can be delisted and re-drafted, but they cannot be automatically re-signed onto the rookie list even if the club and player both want to. Exception: due to covid, rookie players taken 2019 were allowed to spend a 4th year on the rookie list.
- Payouts: if a player is under contract and the club wants to delist them, the player is owed the full amount of the remaining contract and that full value has to be paid against the salary cap in the year they are paid out. The only way to spread this out is to keep the player nominally on the list (e.g. what the swans did with Tippett). Players can choose to negotiate a lower amount if they’re voluntarily retiring (e.g. Tom Boyd did with the dogs) but they are not obliged to. There are also some provisions for players who retire due to injury, but they kick in after the value of the current contract, and require the player to be unable to play any football again at any level.
Note: players can be moved from the rookie list to the senior list at the end of a season simply by offering them a senior list contract. Players cannot be moved from the senior list to the rookie list. While people may talk about a player being “moved to the rookie list” or “re-rookied” what this actually entails is delisting the player, the player nominating for the National Draft and Rookie Draft, and then being drafted by their team onto the rookie list. There was an exception to this in 2020, when players could be moved freely, but this no longer applies.
While the draft occurs after free agency and trades, I’ve put the basics here because it’s important to know how draft picks work to understand what it means to trade draft picks.
NominationAny player who hasn't previously been on an AFL list must nominate for the National Draft (see below) in order to be eligible for the other drafts. Previously listed AFL players can nominate for just the Pre-Season Draft if they want to.
Draft Order (picks)At the end of the season, after the Grand Final, the basic draft order is set. For teams that didn't make finals, the first pick goes to the team that finished on the bottom of the ladder, pick 2 to the team that finished 17th, 3 to 16th, and so on until pick 10 goes to 9th. For finalists, pick 11 goes to the lowest finishing team in the top 8 that lost its elimination final, pick 12 to the next lowest elimination final loser. Pick 13 goes to the lowest finishing semi final loser, 14 to the next lowest. Pick 15 goes to the lowest finishing preliminary final loser, 16 to the next lowest. Pick 17 goes to the losing grand final team, and finally pick 18 goes to the premiers.
Second and subsequent rounds are ordered the same way (18th gets pick 19, and so on). There is no upper limit on the number of draft rounds, so every team in theory goes into the trade period with a draft pick in round 1, round 2, round 3 … round 748,…
The draft order is calculated the same way for all three end of season drafts.
National Draft (ND)This is what people are talking about when they refer to the draft, and it's where all the most highly rated kids get drafted. Going through in the draft order, teams read out the name, number, and club of the player they want.
In order to participate in the ND, a team must make at least three selections (you can’t just take pick 5 then leave). However, because there’s always an exception, players elevated off the rookie list count for the purposes of meeting this minimum. Players traded in from other clubs and free agents do not count.
Players who were on an AFL list in the year of the draft are allowed to nominate contract terms, and any team taking them in the draft has to match that contract. As far as I’m aware, these terms can only be related to money and length. For example, a player could not say “$400,000 per year, plus $750,000 for third and subsequent games played in South Australia in a calendar year” just to avoid getting drafted by a SA team.
Pre-Season Draft (PSD)Ignore the name, it's a throwback to when this draft was held at a different time of year. The order of the PSD is decided the same way as the ND, however there are no trades, etc allowed in the PSD. The initial order is the only order.
As with the National Draft, AFL listed players are allowed to nominate their contract terms, and whoever drafts them has to match those terms.
The PSD is typically a very small number of players, sometimes none at all, however it has notoriety as way to get a player from another club without a trade being agreed (a.k.a. “walking to the PSD”). If an uncontracted player asks for a trade, and the team they want to go to has finished very near the bottom of the ladder, it is possible for the player to nominate for the PSD without going through the ND. While this actually happens occasionally (Jack Martin to carlton, Hately to the crows) it is typically used more often as a threat by the destination club to get a better deal at the trade table.
Rookie Draft (RD)Rookie draft order is decided in the same way as the ND order. However, unlike the ND, the order of the RD never changes. Teams are not allowed to trade RD picks, there are no priority RD picks, etc, etc.
Despite the name, in recent years the rookie draft has consisted in large part of previously delisted AFL players, or players being “re-rookied” (see above for specifics on this).
Midseason Draft (MSD)Not really relevant to the end of the year, but it is a draft. The MSD happens in roughly the middle of the season, with the order based on the ladder position at the end of the most recently completed round. No trading or pick swaps are allowed. Only players who nominated for the previous National Draft, or were eligible as SSP (see below) players can be taken in the MSD.
Exception: players who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible can apply for an exemption to be declared eligible for the MSD. The AFL was quite lenient with this in 2022 for 19 year olds who didn’t nominate in 2021 due to the Unprecedented Times of 2020/21 but I’d imagine they’ll clamp down on it in future years.
Free agents are players who are uncontracted who can change clubs without their current club and new club having to agree to a trade. The free agency period begins after the end of the season, starting before, but overlapping with, the trade period.
Delisted Free Agents (DFA)Any player who has been delisted, and *was not offered a new contract by their current club* is a DFA. This means that if a club wants to keep a player, but he refuses to sign the offered deal, he does *not* count as a delisted free agent, and would have to enter the draft pool as normal.
Once a player has qualified as a DFA by being delisted, they are then an unrestricted free agent every time their contract expires. This can make the process of moving players to the rookie list (which requires delisting as described above) a risky move, especially for project players. See Mabior Chol at richmond, for example, who moved to the suns as a free agent.
A DFA may join any club of their choice without going through the draft, however they must be added to the senior list, not the rookie list.
Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)Any player who has been at one club for 10+ years and is out of contract is an unrestricted free agent. Additionally, any player coming out of contract for the first time since reaching 8 years at one club who does not qualify as a restricted free agent is an unrestricted free agent.
A UFA may join any club of their choice without going through the draft, however they must be added to the senior list, not the rookie list.
Restricted Free Agents (RFA)Any player coming out of contract for the first time since reaching 8 years at one club who is in the top 25% earning players at that club, is a restricted free agent. The top 25% requirement only applies to the year the player comes out of contract. If they were at the end of a 3 year contract where they were paid $2m per year for the first two years but only $200k for the last year, only the $200k would matter for RFA calculations.
A RFA may accept a single offer from one club. Their current club may choose to either let the player leave, or match the offer (total duration and total compensation). If the offer is matched, the player may opt to stay at their current club with the matched contract, or seek a trade or nominate for the draft like any other uncontracted player.
A RFA offer must be for at least two years. In theory, the AFL also monitors contracts to ensure that teams abide by both the letter and spirit of the contract. For example, if a player signs a two year $5m contract and then once they changed clubs immediately signed a four year extension to make it a much more manageable dollar value, the AFL would in theory not allow the extension. You decide how strongly you think they enforce this.
Compensation PicksFor unrestrcited and restricted free agents, teams that lose players can be awarded compensation picks in the draft. Compensation is decided by secret magical formulas but the key factors are the age of the player and the size of the contract. In addition, compensation for outgoing free agents is reduced by any incoming free agents (e.g. carlton lost Eddie Betts as a free agent to adelaide, but got no compensation because they also brought in Dale Thomas from collingwood). Compensation picks for a club fall into five bands: a pick immediately after assigned first round pick, a pick at the end of the first round, a pick immediately after their assigned second round pick, a pick at the end of the second round, a pick immediately after their assigned third round pick.
Here “assigned” means the pick a club would have had prior to any trades. So if a team finished 13th and so got assigned pick 6, a band 1 compensation pick would be pick 7 even if the club had traded out pick 6, or had traded in a higher pick.
Note: this means that the premiers would get worse compensation for losing a top quality free agent than the wooden spooners would. This is a feature, not a bug.
Although technically compensation picks are handed out only at the end of the free agency period, clubs are given an indication of (i.e. told explicitly) what compensation they are likely to receive by the AFL as offers come in, so they can take that into account when deciding whether to match RFA offers, bring in other FAs, etc.
The trade period occurs before the draft, and its first week overlaps with the second week of the Free Agency period.
Trading BasicsTeams can trade players for players, picks for picks, players for picks, or any such combination. Players can only be traded during the two-ish week trade period that happens soon after the conclusion of the season. Picks can be traded for most of the time up to draft day and during the draft itself.
In order for a trade to go through, it must be agreed to by the current club, the new club, and any player(s) involved. Players cannot be traded without their permission.
Future PicksTeams are allowed to trade picks from the next year's draft (no further into the future), with some caveats.
- a team can trade either as many future picks from the second round onwards as they wish or their future first round pick. They can not, for example, trade their future first round and future third round picks. However, this can be addressed by trading in future picks from other clubs. So if a club traded out their future third round pick, they could not trade out their future first round pick unless they first traded in a future third round pick or better from another club
- teams must have taken at least 2 first round picks in the previous 4 years. If they have not done so, they cannot trade their first round pick until they meet this criteria. They can apply for an exception if they have traded in high quality young players (e.g. if the crows gave up their first round pick this year to trade for Jason Horne-Francis, the AFL would likely count that as using a first round pick for the purposes of this rule)
- a team cannot trade in a pick from a team that they originally traded that same pick to
- the AFL is allowed to say no to any trade, although they very rarely do. This is mostly used as a threat for trades where the fairy dust (see below) points differential is suspiciously large, or where a free agency move might be accompanied by an apparently lopsided trade
Once all the trades are done and the National Draft comes around, things are far from simple. There are many players who are not available in the draft without strings attached, and those strings grow ever more tangled.
Priority PicksPrior to the draft, teams can apply to the AFL for "assistance". This is typically because they are very, very bad. If the AFL agrees to give them assistance, this could take a lot of forms. Salary cap relief, priority access to mature age state league players, or most importantly here, picks in the draft. A priority draft pick could be anywhere (end of round 1, before round 1, pick 12 because it's Gil's favourite number, whatever). When a priority pick is granted, it is simply inserted into the order, and every other picks gets pushed back accordingly.
Actual Picks OnlyOn the day of the draft, each team is limited to having a number of picks equal to the number of empty spots they have on the list. If, for example, a club finished the trade period with picks 12,15,26,40,45,52,55 but they only had four empty list spots they would enter the draft with picks 12,15,26,40. While this may seem irrelevant given a team can't take more players in the draft than they have empty spots, it is important for the points system described below.
This restriction was eased in 2020 because of Unprecedented Times, but I believe it’s back in force now.
There are a number of ways in which a player who is eligible for the draft may be tied to another club. In the case where a player is eligible for multiple systems (e.g. Father/Son and Academy) it is the player’s choice which one takes precedence.
Draft Points a.k.a. Fairy DustFor all of the bidding systems outlined below, the AFL created a points system. Each pick in the draft is assigned a points value (based on maths, they insist) starting with 3000 points for pick 1, 2517 for pick 2, all the way down to 9 points for pick 73. In order to match a bid, a club gives up their next available pick. If the pick is worth too many points, it gets moved to whatever position the remaining number of points is worth. If the pick isn't worth enough points, the pick gets moved to the end of the draft, the club then gives up their next pick, and keeps going until they've matched the required points.
BiddingBidding works as follows: during the draft, a team reads out an eligible player with their pick. The club with rights to that player then chooses whether or not to match the bid. If they choose to match the bid, then they must give up picks worth assigned points value of the pick less a discount of either 20% or 197 points, whichever is greater (e.g. pick 1 is worth 3000 points, so a club would have to provide 2400 points to match). The 197 point minimum discount means that any bid after pick 55 can be matched for free.
The player is considered to be taken with the pick number that was bid, and the bidding club gets the next pick. This may also be a bid on a different player, there is no limit on the number of players a club can bid on with their pick.
If the eligible club chooses not to match a bid, then the bidding club gets the player and the draft proceeds as normal.
As might be obvious, if a team is expecting a high bid to come in before their first pick (e.g. the lions this year will expect Marcus Ashcroft to be bid on in the first few picks, well before their first round pick) they will look to either trade up to get in front of the bid or, more likely, trade out their highest pick for later picks worth more points. For example, most teams would prefer to have pick 15 instead of picks 43,44,45, but the latter three picks are worth more fairy dust, so it would be a sensible trade for both sides if pick 15 is expected to be eaten up by a bid.
If a team doesn’t have enough points to match the bid with this year’s picks, they push all their picks to the end of the draft, and go into deficit for the following year’s draft. This works by subtracting points from the club’s picks the next year, starting in the round the original bid came (so if you don’t have enough points to match a third round bid, your first and second round picks next year will be unaffected). The limit of the deficit is 1726 points, which is the number of draft points that the premiers will get by default. If a team has traded out a future pick, the limit is adjusted accordingly.
Father/Son PlayersA draftee is eligible to nominate as Father/Son (F/S) player if his father played at least 100 games at AFL level for the club. There are additional rules about SANFL and WAFL players prior to WA and SA clubs entering the competition, but these are rarely relevant for those clubs, and not at all for Essendon. A F/S nomination requires both the player and the club to agree to the nomination. If the player's father played 100+ games for multiple clubs, it is the player's choice who they give priority to.
Players are not obliged to make themselves eligible as F/S players (Marc Murphy for example did not), nor are clubs obliged to match a bid (the swans for example did not match the bid for Josh Dunkley).
If a nominated F/S player is not bid on by any other club, the nominating club is obliged to take him with their last pick in the draft.
If a F/S eligible player is not drafted in the National Draft or Pre-Season Draft the club can, with the player’s agreement, automatically add them to the category A rookie list.
Academy PlayersSometimes referred to as Northern Academies, applies to the swans, giants, lions, and suns. Each team has areas (roughly related to where they're based) in which they have priority access to any player who nominates for the draft. In order for a player to be eligible for an Academy, they have to live in the area, they have to sign up for the Academy, and they in theory have to have substantial interaction with the Academy in terms of training sessions, etc.
Unlike with F/S, a player tied to an Academy cannot choose whether or not to eligible as an Academy player. The club can choose whether or not to nominate them, but is not required to take them if no bid comes. If an academy player is not bid on during the National Draft, the club may automatically add the player to their category A or B rookie list.
As part of an AFL assistance package, the suns are not required to go through the bid matching process on their Academy players, they can simply add them to their list prior to the draft. This concession ends in 2022, and from 2023 onwards, the suns will have to match bids as normal.
There are limits on the number of Academy players that a team can take in a single year. If they finish top 4, they can only match one top 20 bid, 5th-8th two top 20 bids, and no limit if they didn’t make finals.
Next Generation Academy (NGA) PlayersThe NGAs were introduced (depending on who you ask) to help encourage players from diverse backgrounds to take up Australian rules football who otherwise wouldn't, or to stop Eddie McGuire complaining about the sydney swans academy. Each club in WA, SA, and Victoria gets given priority access to players from multicultural and indigenous backgrounds in specific areas in exchange for identifying and developing those players as juniors.
For the purposes of NGAs, indigenous is defined and someone who identifies as, and is recognised by the community as being, indigenous. Multicultural is (roughly), a player who was born in Asia or Africa, had one parent born in Asia or Africa, or the player or both their parents were born in a CALD country.
As of 2022, clubs can only match bids for NGA players if the bid comes outside the top 40.
The last opportunity to add players to the list is the SSP. The deadline for SSP signings is typically just after the last practice game of the pre-season. Any player who nominated for the drafts is eligible, as is any player who has ever been delisted from an AFL list regardless of whether they nominated for the current year’s drafts.
The SSP exists in theory to cover for any players who suffer season-long injuries, retire, or otherwise will be ineligible to play football at any level for the club in the upcoming season. Teams can also simply leave list spots open to trial players during the pre-season.
If you want to see all the points values for each pick, they’re in the document below. It’s an old version and some of the rules it specifies are no longer up to date, but the points values are still correct