A Buddy Restriction

The idea that occasionally a newspaper or a journalist tries to enhance a sense of controversy in a story with the aim of selling papers is nothing new. Especially when the papers are Melbournian and the story is related to the AFL’s off-field shenanigans. In the past few weeks, Caroline Wilson of The Age and others like her at the Herald Sun have tried to create controversy related to Buddy Franklin’s contract situation without acknowledging the whole story. Subsequently, talkback radio and television panel shows have jumped on the bandwagon, similarly attempting to cash in on speculation and concern amongst Hawks supporters about the future of their star forward.

While the media has been focussed on Franklin’s decision to put off contract discussions with the Hawks until season’s end, they have rarely focussed on one crucial piece of information: Franklin will be a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent.

Restricted free agents can seek out and/or receive contract offers from other clubs for the following season, however their current club has the opportunity to match any offer the player receives. If their current club chooses to match all offers, the player must remain with their current club.

This puts Franklin in quite a different situation from, for example, Brendon Goddard last year who was an unrestricted free agent and welcome to sign with any club who offered him a contract regardless of what St.Kilda might have wanted to occur.

So, if David Koch is right and Port Adelaide are going to place a contract offer on the table in front of Buddy, two things need to happen before Franklin becomes a member of the Power: (1) Franklin needs to accept the Power’s offer, and (2) the Hawks must decide not to match Port’s offer.

Similarly, if GWS place a contract on the table and Andrew Demetriou and the AFL offer Franklin more money to become a football ambassador in Sydney, two things need to happen before Franklin becomes a Giant: (1) Franklin needs to accept GWS’s offer, and (2) the Hawks must decide not to match GWS’s offer. The Hawks don’t need to match the AFL’s extra money – it’s not something that the Hawks need to consider at all.

Either way, the final choice of Buddy’s location in 2014 will eventually be made by Hawthorn.

Caroline Wilson argues that Franklin has made a “crazy decision to take hostage of the Hawks’ season” by not completing his contract discussions now. This metaphor appears to mean one of two things:

(1)   The most reasonable argument is that if Franklin plans to re-sign with Hawthorn, he should do so as soon as possible because the club will then know how much money they have left under the salary cap to sign other players for 2014. It could be argued that Franklin has “taken hostage” of the Hawks as they won’t be able to sign other players until they re-sign him as he’s one of their highest paid players. This makes some sense, until you actually look at what has occurred since Franklin made his decision: the Hawks have re-signed both Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell for 2014 – their highest paid uncontracted players. The only other Hawks who will be free agents at year’s end? Max Bailey, Xavier Ellis and Michael Osborne. If their contracts aren’t sorted till the end of the year, that’s hardly Franklin holding the club hostage.

(2)   The other way that Franklin can be seen as holding the club hostage is included in the caption to the image in Wilson’s story: “If Lance Franklin struggles for form, the contract issue will be continually mentioned.” So, what Wilson seems to be trying to say is that if Franklin doesn’t sign a contract with Hawthorn during the season, she and other members of the media will keep harping on about it. The implication of this being that such media coverage will ensure that the Hawks are distracted and don’t perform as well as they should this season. If this interpretation of the phrase “take hostage of the Hawks’ season” is correct, it’s interesting to think that some sections of the media might see it as being their role to attempt to cause damage to the performance of football clubs.

In other sports, restricted free agents usually gain a sense of their own worth by waiting till season’s end and testing the market. Most often, they are offered contracts that are matched by their own clubs, or they learn that other clubs aren’t nearly as interested in them as their current clubs are. Just occasionally, though, something different happens.

After Linsanity hit New York and the NBA in 2012, Jeremy Lin was a restricted free agent. Instead of re-signing with the Knicks during the season, Lin decided that he should find out what he was worth on the open market in order to maximise his earnings. The Houston Rockets offered him a relatively huge offer sheet which he signed, expecting the Knicks to match the offer so that Lin could return to New York where he had become so very loved. Some argued that the Rockets weren’t even expecting to sign Lin, they just wanted to ensure that the Knicks took as big a hit to their salary cap as possible when signing him. To the surprise of almost everyone, though, the Knicks decided Lin wasn’t worth the contract and suddenly he was off to Houston, opening up cap space in New York in return.

Maybe Buddy Franklin will be playing in the colours of a team other than Hawthorn next year. Maybe Port or GWS or someone else will offer him a massive contract that the Hawks will choose not to match. Maybe the Hawks will need to let go of Bailey, Ellis, Osborne and others to ensure they can afford the increase in Franklin’s contract.

But those reading the Melbourne papers need to ignore the headlines that imply otherwise and remember one thing. In the end, Buddy is not unrestricted and free to choose exactly where he plays next year. The final decision on his future belongs to the Hawks.

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