AFL trade news, rumours, whispers 2023: Ben McKay to Essendon, draft compensation for North Melbourne, salary, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher to Port Adelaide, Bombers’ asking price

Essendon’s current offer for free agent Ben McKay may not be enough to trigger the first-round compensation that will see North Melbourne accept his exit, reports the Herald Sun’s Jon Ralph.

While the exact herbs and spices of the AFL’s compensation formula are unknown and forever changing, the Bombers are currently offering McKay a salary of “$780,000 plus some incentives and triggers”, according to Ralph.

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That’s below the salary required to trigger first-band compensation two years ago, and the trigger number should have risen along with the salary cap.

North Melbourne is keen to match an offer for the restricted free agent if it’s clear they won’t get Pick 3 (first-band compensation after their natural pick of 2), because the alternative would be accepting a pick in the 20s (an end-of-first-round pick that would fall backwards due to bid matching).

It leaves the McKay situation on a knife’s edge.

“My understanding is the guaranteed element of this contract is under $800,000. The Hawks offered more and longer, so it’s something like $780,000 plus some incentives and triggers – but that is not normally enough to trigger first-round compensation,” Ralph said on Fox Footy’s On the Couch.

“Essendon said we’ll pay you what you’re worth, not what triggers the first-round compo. So unless the AFL comes to the party or massages the deal, the Roos and Alastair Clarkson might have a big decision to make on matching that one.

“You had to get to $790,000 two years ago. Now we’ve just had 10 per cent pay rises this year and 5 per cent next year.

“Clubs will ask the AFL’s salary boss Ned Guy this week, what’s the price point? Right now I don’t think the price point is right for Ben McKay.

“Clarkson has said we will (match), we haven’t got any defenders, it’d be pick 19 not 20 which would get pushed back to around 26.

“So if I was Essendon I’d be smart, just drag it up another $20,000 or $30,000 (or) $40,000, get Pick 3 for the Roos.”

However former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley praised Essendon’s stance, saying “they’re not there to make life easy for North.”

On the other hand, Essendon is asking Port Adelaide for a first-round pick in return for young defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher.

The 25-year-old is keen to head back to South Australia after 51 career games, including 22 this past season at the Bombers.

But the Power don’t have a lot of picks to work with when trying to secure their current targets of Zerk-Thatcher, Geelong tall Esava Ratugolea and Bulldogs ruckman Jordon Sweet, because of their very busy 2022 trade period which saw them trade out future selections.

They own picks 38, 44 and 71, plus their 2024 future first-round pick which seems likely to be dealt, or at least split, and the Bombers’ surprisingly large ask will make things more difficult.

“The Essendon demand right now is a first-rounder from Port Adelaide … they’re saying the best pick you have right now is pick 38 in a really poor draft, gets pushed back to 45,” Jon Ralph said on On the Couch.

“So right now Port Adelaide is trying to satisfy the Cats on Esava Ratugolea, the Dogs on Jordon Sweet. It’s not gonna be a bumper trade period but the fights are gonna be spectacular.”

The Bombers’ price stunned Melbourne great Garry Lyon, who responded: “Did he change his name to Brandon Zerk-Fletcher? Turn it up!”

Originally published as Bombers’ ‘20k short’ deal could blow up Ben McKay move

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