Why this offseason will dictate Fremantle’s future

2022 was a successful season for the Fremantle Dockers. Despite the fact that some ‘Flagmantle’ enthusiasts had loftier goals, claiming a finals win and breaking their seven-year finals drought was a tick for the Purple Army. Now comes perhaps their biggest challenge of the year though. A large number of players have already declared they want to leave the club with a young Demon in their sights at the trade table too. The moves they make this offseason could have ripple effects on the Dockers for years to come, which makes every potential trade an important one.

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Off the back of their successful campaign, the Dockers are expected to be one of the biggest participants in this year’s trade period. Everyone is aware that David Mundy will be departing after 376 pro games, but a number of key players from their best 22 could also be shipped off to new homes. Rory Lobb has made his intentions clear for the better part of 12 months, eager to seek a trade to Victoria, with Blake Acres chasing the same outcome as he seeks a pay rise.

Versatile swingman Griffin Logue is another important piece who faced an unclear future throughout the season, with North Melbourne positioned well to chase both him and Darcy Tucker in the offseason. Throw in the likes of Liam Henry and Lloyd Meek, and Freo could be undergoing wholesale changes to their list this summer. But why?

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After making huge on-field strides, it is somewhat puzzling to see that so many Dockers want out. Chasing a financial upgrade and/or the opportunity to play a larger role at a new club will be the main motivation for a lot of the departures as Fremantle’s younger brigade looks set to make the selection squeeze even tighter next year. Ultimately, if these players were chasing a flag, you’d think they’d want to stay hitched to the Freo wagon given their current trajectory and the season they have just undergone. If people want out though, there’s not much the club can do to force them to stay and turning them into future assets/players is all part of the nature of a professional sports team.

Should there be a mini-exodus this offseason, then the Dockers are well poised to fill those vacancies with rising talent and external players who are eager to join the Purple Army. The most publicised such player is the reigning Rising Star winner Luke Jackson, who after 52 games at Melbourne has requested a trade back to WA. Fremantle remains in the box seat to secure his services with youngsters like Jeremy Sharp and Ollie Henry also in their sights during the offseason, along with forgotten forwards Elliott Himmelberg, Josh Schache and Josh Corbett.

As Freo prepares to enter negotiations with the Demons, it’s crucial that they remain steadfast in paying an acceptable price, rather than being lured into coughing up whatever assets are necessary to secure the Melbourne unicorn. Should the Dees decide to play hardball with Luke Jackson and for whatever reason, Freo is facing an uphill battle to meet their demands, let him go to West Coast.

Any passionate Dockers fan could reel off the strong lineage of failed experiments Fremantle has had in the past and paying overs to secure Jackson could be just as detrimental. While the allure of adding a special talent like the soon-to-be former Demon is real, handing him a mammoth contract that could cause future salary cap problems, while also sacrificing a ton of draft capital would be a foolish manoeuvre.

All signs point to a fair agreement being settled upon for Jackson, but the club needs to maintain a long-term view when considering the contracts they agree to bring in this offseason. In years to come, Freo will have to commit a larger slice of the pie to Caleb Serong (deal ends 2023), Luke Ryan (deal ends 2023), Brennan Cox (deal ends 2024), Will Brodie (deal ends 2022) and Sean Darcy (deal ends 2024), just to name a few. While the salary cap is expected to rise thanks to the new TV rights deal, the Dockers still need to play their cards right this summer to avoid causing future issues.

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Their playing list isn’t the only one undergoing changes with lauded assistant Josh Carr bailing for his old stomping ground and general manager Peter Bell reportedly linked to a reunion with the Kangaroos. Bell has worked wonders for Fremantle since his return in 2018, displaying a trigger-happy approach and still making sure he has received adequate compensation in any transactions. If he were to turn his back on the Dockers and relocate to Arden Street, his loss would almost be as glaring as the rest of the player personnel who want out.

There is still a world where Freo manages to keep Peter Bell and perhaps a few of the players mentioned in trade rumours, despite their desire to depart. If they all leave then the media will paint a bleak story around the Dockers and their inability to keep their budding talent at the club, following the high-profile departures of players like Lachie Neale, Ed Langdon, Adam Cerra and Bradley Hill in recent times. While it’s far from ideal to lose 5-6 solid players in one offseason, it’s important to remember that this Fremantle team still boast a relatively young core and they are certainly trending in the right direction.

Of the 22 players who featured in their season finale against Collingwood, 12 of them have played less than 70 games and only two players from that team were over the age of 30. Buoyed by a young midfield that features Andrew Brayshaw (22 years old), Will Brodie (24) and Caleb Serong (21), Fremantle fans have a genuine reason to be optimistic, however, this offseason will still be critical in their hopes of living up to future promises.

As the owners of a relatively weak draft hand in 2022, Freo wouldn’t turn their backs on the idea of receiving draft compensation in trade negotiations, giving them ammunition to potentially chase other players. Perhaps, the Dockers will look to make a play for out-of-contract West Aussies like Deven Robertson, Jason Johannisen or Quinton Narkle. Maybe they’ll steer their attention towards the draft again following their success in picking strong contributors over the past 2-3 years. Or they could even demand future draft picks to utilise in trades during the 2023 offseason and beyond. Either way, if the likes of Acres, Logue, Lobb and then some are set to flee, Fremantle have options on how to fill the void.

If they are able to absorb the gut punch that comes with so many players leaving, then there’s reason to believe that Justin Longmuir’s men can continue their climb up the ladder as they transform into a perennial premiership threat. To do that, it’s crucial that they make the most of their departures this offseason to keep the hopes of ‘Flagmantle’ alive. If history repeats itself and they replicate the failures of years past by investing in the wrong characters, we could see them miss their window and once again let down their faithful fans. Losing these players isn’t a death sentence, but they’ve got to nail the replacements.

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