Lance Franklin’s decision to put contract talks on hold till the end of the 2013 AFL season tells us more about the current changing climate in the AFL than the likelihood of Franklin walking out on Hawthorn.
The AFL landscape has changed. Where clubs once held the bargaining power, now the players hold the ace in the hole.
Club, past player and journalists’ claim that free agency will destroy the financially inferior clubs is grossly exaggerated.
In the simple sense, not much will change in the power struggle between clubs. The clubs that make the shrewd decisions in the draft, hand out reasonable player contracts and preach team-first cultures will continue to remain highly competitive and with a stroke of luck, be successful.
The clubs that butcher their draft picks, overpay average footballers and have, to put it politely, knuckleheads as leaders on and off the field, will struggle to win six games in a season.
The Sydney Swans are the ultimate model in running a club the right way from top to bottom. Yes, they get a little more room in the salary cap but their ability to identify talent that complements their game style and culture, makes Sydney the consummate professionals.
Granted, life as a Magpie is far less strained than life as a Bulldog. Yet, financial muscle does not mean instant domination.
Perhaps, the most critical draft for Collingwood was in 2005 as they had selections two and five. The Magpies selected Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury. The rest is now history.
On the other end of the scale, Richmond in the same draft selected Jarrad Oakley-Nicholls with pick eight. Yes the Tigers were severely under-resourced but to call out Oakley-Nicholls name on draft night without watching him play in person was just absurd. Once again it comes down to knuckleheads.
Around the world, we see small market teams triumph over the big dog and sometimes enjoy unrivalled success. In the NBA, small market teams, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, have been very successful. Yes, these teams are blessed with superstar talent but they are more importantly blessed with a smart “front-office”.
As a restricted free agent, I suspect Franklin will do his own due-dilligence and opt into free agency and listen to other club offers so that Hawthorn will be forced to match any contract offers, which they will.
Free agency might have wedged a stinging response from the football community but the clubs that exhibit a collective coolness and assuredness will be the ones who will come through kicking.