Lance Franklin joined the Sydney Swans as a free agent. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Lance Franklin joined the Sydney Swans as a free agent. Picture: Phil Hillyard

The AFL’s best 10 free agent signings

SEVENTY-six players have moved clubs as free agents since Brendon Goddard became the first big name to exercise his rights under the new concept in 2012.

Goddard has been followed by superstars, players squeezed out by tight salary caps and battlers hoping for better luck elsewhere.

Then there are the delisted free agents who have found a lifeline at a new home, some of whom have turned out to be huge bargains while others have disappeared without a trace (remember Demon recruits Tom Gillies and Ben Newton?).

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Meanwhile, the compensation handed out for losing free agents has generated its own controversy.

As we prepare for the opening of the eighth AFL free agency period tomorrow, we've taken a look back and selected the top free agent signings in the past seven seasons. Did we get it right? Who are the biggest winners and losers? Vote in our poll and leave a comment below.



1. Tom Lynch

Star goalkicker who chose the Tigers over Collingwood and Hawthorn and couldn't have done any more in his first season in yellow and black. Despite coming off virtually no pre-season he played every game - which turned out to be vital after Jack Riewoldt suffered the first injury-interrupted season of his career - and finished third on the AFL goal-kicking table with 63 majors, including two in the grand final. Plenty for Tiger fans to get excited about over the next six years of Lynch's contract.

The Suns received pick 3 as compensation for losing their former captain and used it on exciting South Australian youngster Izak Rankine.

Blockbuster free agent Tom Lynch basks in Richmond’s premiership glory. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Blockbuster free agent Tom Lynch basks in Richmond’s premiership glory. Picture: Phil Hillyard

2. Lance Franklin

It wasn't a shock when Buddy decided to leave Hawthorn after winning the 2013 flag, but the destination was as the Swans pulled the rug out from under the Giants and most of the footy world. Franklin has been a massive success in the Harbour City by just about any measure (booting 364 goals in 118 games) except premierships, and he can hardly be held responsible for that, booting four goals against his former club in the 2014 decider. He still has three years to play of a nine-year contract.

The compensation handed to Hawthorn was slammed at the time since a first-round compo pick fell at pick 19 for the premier. But they used it as part of a trade with St Kilda for Ben McEvoy, who has been a great pick-up. The Saints used the pick on Blake Acres.

3. Eddie Betts

Betts didn't plan on leaving Carlton but Adelaide's $2 million contract offer was well above what the Blues were prepared to pay. The move was a masterstroke for the Crows as Eddie booted 50-plus goals each season from 2014-17 including some absolute specials from his own pocket at Adelaide Oval. Things have soured since then and Betts could be on the verge of a return to Carlton.

Rubbing salt into the wound for Blues fans was the fact they received no compensation for losing Eddie because the compo formula took into account the fact they gained Dale Thomas in the same free agency window.

Adelaide fans love Eddie Betts.
Adelaide fans love Eddie Betts.

4. Shaun Higgins

Hasn't received the fanfare of the above trio but Higgins has been a super pick-up for the Kangas, winning two best-and-fairests and earning All-Australian selection last season. He has also largely shed the injury problems that dogged him at the Western Bulldogs after he was selected with pick 11 in the 2005 national draft.

Geelong saw enough in him to try to poach him from the Roos but Higgins signed a one-year contract extension two weeks ago.

The Dogs used the second-round compensation pick they received for losing Higgins on Lukas Webb, who has played 24 games.

5. Brendon Goddard

The first big name to take advantage of the new free agency system, Goddard left St Kilda as the Saints started to slide down the ladder but he couldn't have predicted how his time at Essendon would pan out. Months later the supplement scandal exploded, but Goddard stepped up as a leader and you could never question his commitment, playing 129 of a possible 133 games in his six seasons at Tullamarine. He won the Bombers best-and-fairest in 2013 and captained the club in 2016.

The Saints traded their second-round compensation pick to Gold Coast, who used it on Jesse Lonergan.

Brendon Goddard was one of first AFL free agents.
Brendon Goddard was one of first AFL free agents.

6. James Frawley

Another Hawthorn recruiting masterstroke following in the footsteps of Brian Lake, Frawley arrived from Melbourne at the end of 2014 and played in a premiership the next year. He has gone on to play 86 games for the Hawks as a dependable full-back.

This one almost counts as a win-win with Melbourne using its generous first-round draft compensation to select Angus Brayshaw with pick three.

7. Jarrad Waite

Another smart recruiting move by the Kangaroos, capitalising on the Carlton exodus at the end of 2013-14 (when Eddie Betts, Jeff Garlett and Shaun Hampson also departed). Waite kicked 125 goals in 60 games with the Roos including a bag of seven against the Lions and four in the 2015 elimination final.

As with Betts, the Blues received no compensation for losing their leading goalkicker in his final year at the club.

8. Matt Suckling

This is the kind of move free agency was designed to encourage. Suckling was on the fringe of selection at the Hawks and was offered more money and playing opportunities at a club further down the ladder. He won two flags as a Hawk (including one as a sub in 2015) and amazingly his new club played in a shock premiership in his first season, although he missed the Grand Final with an achilles injury. Suckling has played 50 games in three seasons as a Bulldog.

The Hawks received a second-round compo pick which was traded to North Melbourne, then the Lions who used it on midfielder Rhys Mathieson.

9. Dale Thomas

Daisy rode a rollercoaster at Carlton, generating headlines with his departure from Collingwood at the end of 2013. He kicked a goal with his first kick in navy blue then battling injuries and some barbed criticism to become a reliable member of the Blues side and a fan favourite, playing 101 games over six seasons including 20 in each of his last two seasons, and earning top-10 finishes in the best-and-fairest in 2014 and 2018.

Losing Thomas came back to bite the Pies again five years later. Collingwood received a first-round compensation pick for losing Thomas, which it traded to West Coast - who used it to recruit 2018 Grand Final hero Dom Sheed.

10. Nick Dal Santo

The third Kangaroo on this list after the Saints declined to match their offer for the silky midfielder in 2013. He was a reliable contributor over three seasons for the Roos, playing 62 games and helping North Melbourne reach preliminary finals in 2014 and 2015 - his 35-disposal game in the 2014 semi-final win against Geelong was a standout.

St Kilda traded its free agency compensation to Brisbane, which used it on Dan McStay. In return the Saints received Billy Longer and another draft pick which ended up at Geelong (Jake Kolodjashnij).

Mitch Robinson has been a great pick-up by Brisbane. Picture: Sarah Reed
Mitch Robinson has been a great pick-up by Brisbane. Picture: Sarah Reed


1. Mitch Robinson (2014, Carlton to Brisbane)

2. Ricky Henderson (2016, Adelaide to Hawthorn)

3. Tim Membrey (2014, Sydney to St Kilda)

4. Matthew Wright (2015, Adelaide to Carlton)

5. Jarryd Lyons (2018, Gold Coast to Brisbane)

6. Dylan Roberton (2012, Fremantle to St Kilda)

=7. Joel Hamling (2014, Fremantle to Western Bulldogs), Xavier Ellis (2013, Hawthorn to West Coast), Jonathan Simpkin (2012, Geelong to Hawthorn) - all premiership players.

News Corp Australia

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