Essendon are planning to launch their biggest assault on the trade and free agency period in recent memory as Bombers CEO Xavier Campbell declared the club must find ways to ‘raise the bar’ in 2018.
Speaking after the Bombers 65-point loss to Sydney in Saturday’s elimination final, Campbell told Fairfax Media that Essendon was in the best position they had been in a long time to improve their list via an ‘aggressive’ trade and free agency strategy.
“We have predominantly been a draft and develop team, with the odd exception of getting Brendon Goddard as a free agent,” Campbell said.
“We now have a greater flexibility with the way we have been able to manage our salary cap so that we can be a little more aggressive at the trade and free agency table.
“The process will be led by player availability, but it is something [list manager] Adrian Dodoro and [GM of football] Rob Kerr will drive.
“There will be a lot of discussions happening, because we want to improve our list.”
Fairfax Media understands that Essendon are one of a few clubs who are keen on luring Western Bulldogs forward Jake Stringer away from the Whitten Oval.
Stringer, 23, has been linked with a move away from the Western Bulldogs after struggling for form and consistency in 2017.
Campbell would not comment on particular players, but said any talent the club targeted “had to align with our list strategy”.
“We made finals which is a really significant achievement based on where we came from, but for 2018 the bar lifts again. We have to find improvement for next year.
The Bombers haven’t landed a ‘big fish’ style trade or free agent – save for Brendon Goddard in 2013 – in many years.
Aside from youthful draftees, the club have recently brought in seasoned players (Paul Chapman, James Kelly, Adam Cooney), or those less heralded such as Matthew Leuenberger.
The Bombers CEO said he sensed there would be a “more active” trade and free agency period across the AFL this year, and “feels more than ever that players who want to move clubs can create opportunities to do so”.
Essendon began the elimination final against Sydney in a positive fashion but were obliterated in the second quarter, scoring only two goals as Sydney racked up 10.
The Bombers’ CEO conceded his side “didn’t play their best” but was full of praise for the Swans, a team he said Essendon could learn from.
“They are an exceptional football side and one of the competition’s benchmarks,” Campbell said. “One of the things we have to take from the loss is the learning about what it takes to be a really great and consistent football team and Sydney have been that for a very long time.”
Meanwhile Essendon remain confident of winning an AFLW licence when the expansion clubs will be announced in Grand Final week.
The Bombers presented their bid to AFL executives in late July, and Campbell encouraged “the commission and the AFL executive to be bold in their ambition for the AFLW”.
“We feel like we have put forward a really compelling bid and application,” he said. “We have tried to create points of difference that leverage the key assets we have through our Next Generation Academy, and also in the north west region of Melbourne.
“That’s a really fast growing space and we feel like we can tap into that to leverage talent from the area as well as a significant link with our remote indigenous communities which we have had for many years. That link is really important to the fabric of the club.
“What we can bring – above and beyond having a really big supporter base who have clearly stated they want an AFLW team sooner rather than later – is an outstanding outcome for the AFLW competition.”