When the AFL decided to allow teams to trade their future draft choices, one year in advance, the dangers were obvious: That clubs would mortgage their futures, miscalculating on where they would finish the following year or buying the wrong mature player.
Today, no club has benefited so obviously from the future picks as Melbourne, who have punted three times in futures trading and come up trumps each time. There’s been an element of good fortune in their future pick deals, but their choice of player – mature and untried kid – has been sound or inspired.
Demons defender Jake Lever.Credit:Getty Images
North had given up their 2019 first-round pick (eight) in exchange for Melbourne’s first draft pick in 2020, which meant that if the Dees didn’t arrest the slide, the Roos would hold an early pick in the COVID-ravaged season.
The Dees, who had to get a trade consummated with Fremantle for Ed Langdon, swapped that North pick with the Dockers (No.12), but still landed one of the players they fancied most: the explosive small forward Kysaiah “Kosi” Pickett, who arrived at the same time as highly touted Western Australian tall Luke Jackson.
The Dees had also used futures trading to land Clayton Oliver in 2015 (when they did a swap of first rounders in 2015 and 2016 with Gold Coast) and in 2017 they paid a huge price by trading two first rounders to Adelaide for Jake Lever.
When Lever went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in mid-2018, it looked like they’d flipped at the blackjack table and busted.
Kysaiah Pickett has been excellent for the Demons.Credit:Getty Images
But this year, as Lever has fully recovered from his ACL and formed possibly the best key defensive duo in the AFL with Steven May, that future pick punt could well be the difference between a serious shot at that fabled first premiership since Norm Smith left and falling short.
In my view, trading future picks is highly fraught exercise, comparable to buying a home off the plan. The club that gives up the future pick cannot know where it will finish, because there are simply too many variables – injuries, most of all.
If you buy an apartment off the plan, you can’t be sure what it will be like until the place is built, no matter what the glossy brochure promises.
To forego a future pick means you don’t know what you’re selling.
Collingwood’s decision to trade a future first last year, to gain more draft currency in 2020, was largely motivated by the fact that, unless they finished last, that first pick would be swallowed up by a bid for father-son Nick Daicos, rated by most clubs as either pick one or two in this year’s draft.
But the Pies cannot have counted on falling from sixth to the bottom four, even if they should have planned to slump a little after the trade period firesale. So that choice they handed to the Giants, in exchange for picks 24 and 30 (counting bids on academy players), is suddenly a far more valuable commodity, probably pick 2-5 by season’s end.
The Giants thus, would have found themselves in the unusual position of barracking for the Swans on Saturday.
If the early choice would be soaked up by the younger Daicos anyway, it’s worth considerably more today than it was last December, when it was effectively used on the admittedly promising Caleb Poulter and Liam McMahon.
A further complication hindered Collingwood – that they had an academy player, Reef McInnes, who would potentially swallow an earlier draft pick last year, making it harder to trade into the first round of 2020.
But that now early pick could have been used on a mature player, or traded into the 2022 draft. The Pies don’t have their future second rounder, either, by the way, having traded that to the Hawks.
Essendon gave up their current and future first rounder for Dylan Shiel in 2018, an exchange curiously similar to the Treloar trade of 2015. Given they’ve gone into rebuild mode, this trade looks an overreach by the Bombers, although the cost is offset by Essendon pinching, at lower cost, the very player that GWS drafted via the Shiel deal in 2018 (Jye Caldwell).
West Coast, meanwhile, have punted heavily on Tim Kelly, giving up their 2019 and 2020 first rounders to the Cats, who in turn, bet not simply the farm, but the whole western district, on Jeremy Cameron, by trading pretty much everything the Eagles handed over for Kelly.
Future picks have an element of going on a blind date. Yet, while clubs should exercise great caution in such adventures, Melbourne’s successes show there’s no ironclad rule in giving up a future player to gain one in the present, except that the bet has to land.
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