Any calculator manufacturers looking for some extra promotion might want to get in touch with the Brisbane Lions, whose list management team will be feverishly crunching numbers over the next few months.
Now eliminated from the AFL premiership race after a horror preliminary final loss to Geelong, the Lions turn their attention to some significant list calls around the trade period and draft.
It’s widely expected off-contract Lion Dan McStay will exercise his free agency rights and request a move to Collingwood on a five-year deal worth up to $600,000 a season.
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But it’s juggling who’s set to join the club, rather than those who’ll leave, that looms as one of the AFL trade period’s most delicate balancing acts.
WHAT DO THE LIONS NEED TO DO?
Brisbane had a big win on Monday when off-contract Bulldog Josh Dunkley turned down significant offers from the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide and requested a trade to the Lions. He’s set to sign a six-year deal at Brisbane, reportedly worth between $700,000 and $750,000 per season.
On top of Dunkley, the Lions are tied to two of the best draft prospects of this year’s class in father-son duo Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher.
Bal magnet Ashcroft, the son of triple premiership Lion and 318-game great Marcus Ashcroft, is committed to Brisbane after officially nominating the club last month as his preferred destination under the father-son rule. It means Brisbane will get the opportunity to match a rival club bid on Ashcroft, who should be a walk-up Round 1 selection next year.
The versatile Fletcher – the son of Adrian Fletcher, who played 231 games for four clubs, including 107 for Brisbane – is in late first-round calculations following an outstanding Under 18 national championships for the Allies. He hasn’t officially declared he wants to join the Lions yet, but recruiters expect him to do so before the nomination deadline.
It means the Lions face a tricky trade period where they’ll need to satisfy the Dogs in a Dunkley trade while also banking selections to match inevitably early rival club bids on Ashcroft and Fletcher.
“We‘re just going to have to work through post-season,” Lions recruiting boss Stephen Conole told the Road To The Draft podcast last month. “There’ll be a bit of work.
“It‘s going to be an interesting time … We’ve got a pretty good record with that. Our trade stuff is usually spot on and I’m sure Dom (Ambrogio) and the boys will get it all covered.”
WHAT ASSETS DO THEY HAVE TO WORK WITH?
Brisbane will enter the trade period hold Picks 15, 33, 44 (via Port Adelaide) and 69 in the draft. According to the draft value index, those four picks total 2086 points.
Most recruiters expect Ashcroft to attract a rival club bid at Pick 1, which is worth 3000 points. If North Melbourne holds Pick 1 and bids on Ashcroft at No. 1, the Lions would need 2400 points to match with the 20 per cent father-son discount.
Then there’s Fletcher, who’s being touted as a top 15 to 20 pick. A rival club bid in that range would require the Lions to cough up between 890 and 730 points to get Fletcher … when they already don’t have enough for Ashcroft.
You can see why, initially, it seems like the Lions face a tough task.
But the Lions have, most importantly, time and a few routes to explore.
They’ll be compensated for losing free agent McStay. Where that pick will land remains uncertain – due to the AFL’s secret herbs and spices formula – but an end-of-first-round compo pick would give them just over 900 points, while an end-of-second-round selection would net them around 500 points.
There’s also the chance free agent Darcy Gardiner departs, with the defender still unsigned beyond this year. A compensation selection would likely be in the second or third round. Although the sense is he’ll stay at Brisbane.
That would give them enough points to match an Ashcroft and, potentially, Fletcher. Although they could look at going into draft deficit next year.
But then there’s the small issue of Dunkley – and the high asking price the Bulldogs will enter negotiations with.
HOW EXACTLY CAN THEY GET DUNKLEY THROUGH THE DOOR?
Dogs list manager Sam Power on Monday made it clear how much the Dogs rate Dunkley and wanted to retain him. He said Dunkley was “at the peak of his powers in a football sense” after his “career-best season in 2022”, hence the club “tabled an attractive contract offer for him to continue with us for the long term”. That contract was reportedly worth five years.
To secure Dunkley, the Lions will have to strike a trade with the Dogs as he’s not eligible for free agency. And Brisbane‘s future first-rounder mightn’t be enough, with the Dogs expected to target two first-round picks for Dunkley, according to AFL Media.
Brisbane will hold some power at the trade table. They can hold their ground on their suggested trade – a future first and second-rounder, for instance – given Dunkley isn’t contracted anymore and the Dogs will desperately want to be compensated for losing a player that topped their Brownlow Medal count on Sunday night.
The Lions could use purely future selections to land Dunkley. Alternatively, they could take the hit and be the first club since the bidding system was introduced to go into a significant draft points deficit next year. The consequence of that would mean their first pick next year at next year’s draft – which arguably has better and more exciting high-end talent than the 2022 class – would be pushed back.
But Brisbane would also be pondering getting creative and killing a couple of birds with one stone during the trade period.
Father-son bids aside, the Lions could use their top 2022 selection (Pick 15) instead of their future first in the Dunkley deal. They could then split that future first-rounder in a separate trade with a club that not only wants to get into the early part of next year’s draft, but also has second and third-round picks to offer back to Brisbane. It means the Lions would bank more points to pay for the father-son duo – the strategy many clubs have used in the past to acquire Academy and father-son guns.
The Lions could also split Pick 33 in a trade and bank several later picks that way to help them acquire more points.
Alternatively, any Brisbane players that want out for a better opportunity at a rival club might be encouraged to leave.
Deven Robertson, Tom Berry, Jaxon Prior, Callum Ah Chee and Tom Fullarton are all still out of contract, while midfielder Jarryd Lyons (contracted until 2024) fell out of favour during the finals series you still sense Rhys Mathieson (2023) hasn’t completely cemented his spot in the best 22 yet despite a promising finish to this season. It was reported in July this year rival clubs were looking to take advantage of a selection squeeze at Brisbane.
Despite Friday night’s horror loss, the Lions are still expected to be among the flag and finals contenders next season.
And if Brisbane list manager Dom Ambrogio and football boss Danny Daily can work their magic and land Ashcroft, Fletcher and Dunkley all in the same off-season, the Lions will be well placed for the future.