The Gold Coast Suns received a franchise-saving raft of concessions before the 2019 AFL Draft, including four high draft picks across three drafts.
But has this diminished the ability of the Suns to negotiate at the trade table as rival clubs look to take advantage of a list manager with too many picks on his hands and no way to spend them?
Craig Cameron arrived at the Suns in the 2017 postseason in an observing capacity as Scott Clayton carried out his eighth draft as list manager since the club’s inaugural draft in 2010.
Cameron had just quit GWS ten days before the draft date as he couldn’t do both roles simultaneously and the job at the Suns – general manager of list and strategy – was bigger, better and higher paid.
For the record, the Giants had arguably their worst draft, whiffing on Aiden Bonar at pick 11, scoring Brent Daniels and Sam Taylor, while Zac Langdon was a break-even and the jury is still out on Nick Shipley.
However, while Cameron escapes criticism for that small disaster, he is often wrongly blamed for the Suns quixotic draft which he’d only been an onlooker.
He wasn’t even there when the Lachie Weller trade was negotiated in public via the media, which wasn’t even the club’s biggest howler of the trade period, with Scott Clayton perhaps unfairly blamed for the disastrous pick trade with West Coast that saw four second-round picks go West in exchange for a future first that amounted to rising two places in the 2018 draft order.
Is it a coincidence that Clayton was subsequently offered a job by the Eagles?
So what might be put down to bad list management or possibly too much executive interference (CEO Mark Evans got burnt by the Weller trade), the Suns at the outset of the Craig Cameron era were already known as a club that regularly got beaten up at the trade table by AFL heavyweights.
The Gary Ablett trade (enabled by the AFL inexplicably giving Geelong pick 19 as compensation for Steven Motlop walking out in free agency) may have looked OK on paper but, with the Suns paying half his 2018 salary, there was only one winner.
Then there is the Adam Saad trade, which looked reasonable at the time considering he had come to the club via the rookie draft, but that must now be questioned given his 2020 draft value.
Fast forward to 2018, with Cameron now fully in control of the Suns’ list rebuild and fearless in shifting players out who didn’t fit the club’s new culture shift, figuratively frogmarching Tom Lynch out of the building once the wantaway co-captain let the players know his position on leaving and they told him in no uncertain terms what they thought of him.
Compensation added up to Izak Rankine, but in light of the Jeremy Cameron trade, how much of Richmond’s 2018 and 2019 draft capital could have ended up belonging to the Suns had they matched the offer and gone hard at the trade?
Cameron was at Richmond before the Giants, so the Lynch negotiations had an added intrigue when the very second trade on day one of the trade period saw Anthony Miles and Corey Ellis traded to the Suns with an exchange of future third-round picks. This outlier, which quite frankly is surprising that the AFL signed off on it at all, was Richmond’s bribe for the Suns not to match their offer for Lynch.
Steven May’s departure was handled quietly and with a year left on his contract. Word on the Gold Coast was that May wanted to stay, but negotiations to extend him past his free agency year broke down and the move to the Demons was facilitated with Kade Kolodjashnij tossed in as steak knives.
Aaron Hall and Jack Scrimshaw were traded out for peanuts, but Jarryd Lyons couldn’t attract an offer at the trade table that met his salary demands. Cameron decided to dump his salary and give him to the Lions for free, which had the effect of bringing the franchise well below the salary cap so they could go out in free agency a year later a get Brandon Ellis.
Cameron’s six months on the road that year paid off when the AFL Commission gave the Suns first crack at pre-listing second tier players, with time in Melbourne split between watching Ben King tear opponents to shreds and talent scouting Werribee’s Sam Collins and Josh Corbett, as well as spying Chris Burgess at West Adelaide when going to see Izak Rankine. But it is telling that he didn’t use any of those picks as trade bait as Carlton did.
Nevertheless, the three mature-aged players being pre-listed and so many players traded, the Suns had so many picks they couldn’t use and they only rated one Academy player having recruited four the year before. This led to picks being traded below value over several trades that culminated in Jez McLennan getting picked at 24 for a points deficit equivalent to pick 10. There was also a terrible future pick trade with Brisbane that had a deficit of a late first-rounder.
Talk about Jack Martin dominated the trade period, yet Stephen Silvagni and Cameron simply couldn’t get a deal done, with the Suns wanting a player or pick nine, but the Blues and Martin’s now erstwhile player manager couldn’t reach an agreement. In the end, the Blues flipped that very pick to the Suns in live trading, which meant the Suns got a fourth pick in the top 11, even if it ended up costing Martin plus picks 17 and 22, the latter being a priority pick that came for free anyway.
The trade with Geelong was highly criticised given it was effectively picks 11 and 64 for pick 27, but that isn’t quite right. The 2020 future mid-first-round pick, another priority pick from the AFL and third to be used by the Suns at the 2019 draft, was used by Geelong in the Jeremy Cameron trade and has already slipped to pick 13 for GWS after they and the Bombers got compensation picks in the top 10 for the departures of Zac Williams and Joe Daniher in free agency.
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Depending on live draft bids, the pick could drift out three or four more places, so suddenly pick 17 for pick 27 is only the difference of a mid-third-rounder in draft value points.
Which brings us to the Suns this week trading out their pair of second-round picks for a pair of future third-round picks, giving up pick 27 to Geelong for a future third tied to Melbourne, after trading pick 37 to Sydney for a third round pick tied to Carlton. Pick 27 may drift out to around 32, but 37 should pretty much hold its value, so they’ve given away the equivalent of two late seconds for two mid thirds.
However, they’ll make up for the deficit if they use the picks to match bids on Academy talent and get a 20 per cent discount. There is conjecture that they could have taken these picks to the draft and live traded, but with that, they risked nobody trading with them and losing any value whatsoever.
Peter Wright was traded for unders so that the Suns could dump his salary. They aren’t paying any of it either as he signed a renegotiated three-year deal with the Bombers. This kind of iceberg trade is indicative of Cameron’s style, where on the surface things look one way but underneath there is a lot more going on.
Pete’s going home to play for his local club. It was the only place for him. The Suns needed to move his salary off their books so they can go after free agency again in 2021 and they are accruing late picks to be able to match bids on their Academy kids.
The verdict There have been bad trades, gambles that didn’t pay off and bold moves with points deficits, but there is always an upside or a silver lining. It’s a hallmark of Craig Cameron’s that requires deep analysis to see the benefits come to fruition. The Suns have the best 2021 draft hand as things stand, with extra picks in the first, third and fourth rounds.
The Suns Academy Class of 2021 will be the best yet. The list rebuild will then be complete, AFL concessions will cease and the premiership window will be open.