The introduction of free agency at the end of the 2012 AFL season resulted immediately in the first substantial defection as Brendon Goddard departed the St. Kilda Saints and relocated to Windy Hill. Outside of the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney player signings, this certainly constitutes one of the most significant player movements of the modern era, not only because of Goddard’s talent, but also because of the historical significance of this league-first.
The establishment of new guidelines regarding player contracts and movement has divided opinion nationwide, however most importantly, it has been regarded as a positive move by the players themselves and the Players Association. Whilst free-agency is an established and accepted process of many sports, most notably professional leagues in the United States, for Australian players and fans, this method of operation has until now, remained foreign.
How it unfolded:
- As Goddard had (1) served eight or more seasons at one club and (2) was positioned within the top 25% salary bracket at the saints, he fell under the category of a ‘restricted free agent’
- St. Kilda as such offered a 3-year contract, worth around $1.9 million, which was refused by Goddard
- Essendon came in with an offer of approximately $2.9 million over 4 years, which the Saints then had the option to match.
- St. Kilda declined to match the offer, stating that their previous offer had “respected the club’s player payment model” and that Goddard’s decision to refuse their offer was “a decision that was outside our team-first structure” (Coach Scott Waters on SEN radio).
- Goddard signed with the Essendon Bombers and quickly commenced training with his new side, winning a spot in their leadership group for the 2013 season.
Impact for Essendon
Essendon believe that Goddard’s addition to the squad will provide benefits both on and off the field with his presence guiding a talented, albeit developing list towards a finals berth. In Goddard, they gain a two time All-Australian and arguably the game’s best utility player, as Goddard has the ability to play as both a defensive rebounder and a marking target in the forward line. His display in both the 2010 Grand Finals displayed a rare game breaking ability, however since then Goddard has been a hot and cold player with his 2012 form and commitment a potential issue if not rectified this season. The Bombers will also seek to inject Goddard into an already stellar midfield to provide workhorse Jobe Watson with added support around the clearances.
With up and coming young stars such as Hurley, Heppell, Zaharakis and Melksham, the bombers hope Goddard is able to relay his big-game experience to the troops and bring solidarity to a team hoping to avoid lapses in consistency that plagued them last season.
If Goddard is able to reproduce the form that he displayed during the 2009/10 seasons, then this signing will be seen as a success, with Goddard the final piece in the puzzle for James Hird and his finals aspirations. If he reverts to his form shown during the last two campaigns for the Saints, then the Bombers will be burdened by a contract that far exceeds the players worth, hindering their ability to sign their developing young players to bigger contracts as they grow into a bigger role.
Impact for St. Kilda
By letting Goddard leave, the Saints have lost both a key player and a potential future captain. Whilst detrimental in some ways, his departure should prompt the development of others previously consigned to life in Goddard’s shadow. Results may not have endeared him to the club’s faithful but in truth, Scott Watters managed St. Kilda perfectly last year, keeping the club competitive with its solid core of veterans whilst integrating young players. The argument could be made that St. Kilda got the best out of their former #1 draft pick in Goddard, with recent criticism coming from Leigh Matthews that after 2010, he has been a disappointment, looking like he “only wants to get outside ball and get out in space”. A few terrible performances last season, particularly against North Melbourne when youngster thoroughly outplayed him highlighted just how far Goddard’s aura had diminished since those recent Grand losses. Essendon’s contract based on his recent performances is a huge gamble, so the Saints will be hoping that they dodged a bullet by sticking to their team first structure and offloading a player who is feared more through reputation than form. Either way, the Saints still lose a player capable of winning matches of his own boot and will struggle to replace him in the short-term.
What to Expect in 2013
In what only rarely proves the reality in free agent acquisitions, this signing should unfold as a win-win situation for both clubs this season. Expect Goddard to pair with Watson and push Essendon towards a finals berth with consistent performances. Don’t expect him to rekindle the form that once had him considered as one of the game’s ‘next big things’. St. Kilda will certainly miss his presence on the field, however expect a youngster to take his place, becoming a staple of the 22 and relishing the talent vacuum in the Saint’s rebuilding outfit. The deal also opens up substantial salary cap space for St. Kilda, allowing them to pursue players such as Mitch Brown in the near future.
Goddard’s signing will undoubtedly spark greater player movement between clubs, with the AFL’s most talented and those who feel under-appreciated at their current clubs wanting to test their true worth in free agency, citing Goddard as an example. The entire competition now has an eye on how this transaction works out and whether or not their management of football operations should adapt to capitalise on this new avenue to squad improvement.
Dream Team Watch
Always a popular pick due to his dual-position eligibility, expect Goddard to either maintain or increase his fantasy value this season. With Essendon’s squad already full of high-possession players and Brent Stanton the side’s designated uncontested possession and outside ball-winner, Goddard’s scoring ceiling may decline, however with extra time in midfield promised under James Hird, expect improved general playing performances and as such, dream team scores. Look for a greater impact in Super Coach than in AFL Dream Team.