Testing times as Demons pick up the pieces after finals heartbreak

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Money talksCredit: The Age

Melbourne face an important off-season period as their much-vaunted playing depth threatens to be wiped out after consecutive straight-sets finals exits.

Demons list boss Tim Lamb has expertly retained almost all the club’s priority talent in the past few years, except for Luke Jackson, but the coming player movement period still promises to be a busy one.

Key members Christian Petracca (2029), Jake Lever and Angus Brayshaw (2028), Kysaiah Pickett (2027), Bayley Fritsch and Christian Salem (2026), and Jack Viney, Steven May and Max Gawn (2025) are locked away.

Adam Tomlinson during the Demons’ semi-final clash with Carlton.Credit: AFL Photos

They have also told defender Adam Tomlinson, who is contracted until the end of next year, that he is a required player, and he is certain to stay after testing the market in recent months, according to a well-placed source unauthorised to speak publicly.

Spring-heeled Crow Shane McAdam wants to join the 2021 premiers – likely on a three-year deal – but Brodie Grundy, James Jordon and James Harmes seem set to depart, while Luke Dunstan has retired after his ACL rupture last month.

Neither Grundy (contracted until 2027) nor his management has publicly stated he will request a trade after one season in red and blue, but he is expected to pursue a move to Sydney, where he won’t have to play second fiddle to anyone.

Port Adelaide, who were an interested party, have already moved on to Bulldog Jordon Sweet and may even try to add contracted Tiger Ivan Soldo to a trade-period haul that is set to include Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher.

Grundy arrived at Melbourne as Jackson’s replacement, with the hope he could form a lethal combination with fellow All-Australian ruckman Max Gawn, but he played just once after round 17.

Brodie Grundy.Credit: Getty Images

The problem for the Demons, assuming Grundy departs, is they have two untried rookies as ruck depth behind Gawn, in Will Verrall and Kyah Farris-White, although they could turn to Josh Schache in a crisis.

They may recruit another ruckman, with the likes of Scott Lycett, Matt Flynn – who is being linked to West Coast, after they missed out on Bomber Nick Bryan – ex-Melbourne player Braydon Preuss, Todd Goldstein, and Tom Fullarton among the out-of-contract options.

Beyond Grundy, unrestricted free agent Jordon has a big decision to make after being on the fringes of the Demons’ senior side due to the club’s deep midfield.

Sydney, St Kilda, Western Bulldogs, Essendon and Carlton have all expressed a level of interest in Jordon.

Harmes, also contracted until next year, has long been in Jordon’s situation, but his nine senior appearances this season were his least since 2015.

McAdam, who is 181 centimetres tall, would join a heavily criticised forward mix that includes veterans Ben Brown and Tom McDonald, plus Joel Smith, all of whom are out of contract at the end of 2024.

Melbourne spent a first-round pick last year on tall forward Matthew Jefferson (2026) and have great hope for Jacob van Rooyen (2025), while Fritsch, Pickett and swingman Harry Petty (2025) are other major pieces. The future is unclear for Jake Melksham, who suffered an ACL tear.

The Demons have traditionally been aggressive under Lamb’s list-management reign, and are armed with picks five, 13, 24 and 32, while a Grundy swap could net them Sydney’s selection 22 or 30.

That suite of picks puts them in a good position to make a play for Gold Coast’s pick four, which is up for grabs as they seek draft points to match bids on their top academy prospects, or even West Coast’s top selection.

Saint to take time

St Kilda’s restricted free agent Jade Gresham could be weeks away from making a call on his future, with three opposition clubs still in play.

Essendon remain Gresham’s likeliest destination if he opts to leave the Saints – and he could yet re-sign – but Richmond and Carlton are other possibilities. None of the clubs has lodged an official offer, with Gresham prioritising his fit in the team.

The Blues were keen from a long way out, but the re-emergence of Jack Martin, along with the improved form of David Cuningham and Lachie Fogarty, means Gresham is no longer as high a priority.

The Bombers, who have one of the league’s largest war chests, have also pitched a long-term offer to in-demand North Melbourne restricted free agent Ben McKay, but face stiff competition from Hawthorn and Sydney.

Chief executive Craig Vozzo is playing an integral role in the pursuits, along with outgoing list boss Adrian Dodoro. Whichever club McKay chooses, in what is a tight race, is almost certain to trigger first-round compensation, which equates to pick three for the Kangaroos.

The other interesting factor in the timing of McKay’s decision is the AFL Commission will meet next week, when they will consider whether to grant North more assistance to help them be competitive again.

Changes afoot?

The draft and the list-management space could be in for major change in the months ahead.

The new collective bargaining agreement looks increasingly likely to include a provision that first-round draft picks will sign three-year initial contracts, rather than two, in a win for clubs.

The potential move would not only help clubs retain talent from interstate but also delay top draftees commanding huge contracts from their third year – a bugbear for clubs – often before they are fully established.

Separate to the CBA negotiations, the AFL’s player movement manager, ex-Collingwood list boss Ned Guy, recently surveyed clubs on a series of topical matters that could trigger rule tweaks.

Among them would be the ability for clubs to trade salary-cap space for picks, without having to include a player in the deal, which appears to be the next frontier of trading.

Clubs also want the ability to transfer players directly to the rookie list without having to delist them and redraft them, a mechanism they had in 2020 after the AFL slashed playing list sizes.

Another possible change would be mid-season draftees remaining eligible for the rookie list into their fourth season. Current rules state players must be promoted to the primary list after their third season, but mid-season draftees have only 2½ years in that scenario.

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