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The AFL’s 9 out-of-contract players set to dominate headlines this year

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afl 2024, out of contract players, free agents

The AFL Trade Period is the favourite part of the off-season for many footy fans.

So much so that, even during the throes of the season, it occupies more than a fair share of newspaper space.

Many current and past AFL stars have forged successful multi-team careers. At their first club, the foundations for stardom were laid. At their second, and even third, they reached full bloom.

However, an increasingly rare breed of stars’ careers are defined by loyalty, rejecting mammoth offers from rival clubs and concluding long and storied careers as proud one-club players.

It’s at this crossroads that many up-and-coming AFL stars find themselves in 2024.

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The 9 top AFL out-of-contract players of 2024

Several emerging AFL stars are without a contract beyond 2024. While some of them look more than likely to re-sign, that won’t stop other clubs from pursuing them. Watching these scenarios play out is always fascinating.

Here are nine key players who come out of contract at the end of 2024 – different to the league’s crop of free agents – we think will dominate headlines throughout the year.

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Western Bulldogs)

After a breakout 2023 season, Ugle-Hagan has attracted plenty of interest – and some big contract offers – from rival clubs. Some reports suggest clubs such as Hawthorn and Richmond have tabled offers in excess of $1 million to the 21-year-old. Sydney, Collingwood and Essendon have also been raised as potential suitors.

However, opposition pursuits appear to be in vain, with many outlets reporting that Ugle-Hagan is set to sign an extension to stay at the Bulldogs until 2026 or 2027.

Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans)

Gulden is another who will be difficult to prise from his current club, with a top-4 finish in the Brownlow Medal another step towards stardom in an already impressive career.

While the 21-year-old will undoubtedly be the top priority in the Swans’ contract negotiations, a player of his potential will always be of interest to opposing clubs. Adelaide and Fremantle are said to be interested at this time.

It appears increasingly unlikely Gulden will leave the Swans, the club whose academy he graduated from, especially considering their status as perennial finals contenders.

Max Holmes (Geelong Cats)

The emerging Cats midfielder is one of the hottest out-of-contract prospects this year. Like many others on this list, Holmes is expected to earn a big contract wherever he signs.

Holmes reportedly has the option of a four-year or a two-year deal on the table from Geelong but could fetch as much as $1 million per season – on a deal as long as six years – from other clubs, according to recent reports. He has stated his intentions to focus on football until later in the season, so expect to hear plenty more speculation surrounding his future throughout the season.

Bailey Smith (Western Bulldogs)

Smith looms as the player on this list who is most likely to be playing his football elsewhere in 2025, with a pre-season ACL injury eliminating any chance for the former top-10 pick to take to the field this season. The 23-year-old was one of the biggest names who failed to find a new home in last year’s trade period, and while the Bulldogs have tabled him a two-year offer, interest from big rival clubs Geelong, Collingwood and Hawthorn may be too good for Smith to refuse.

Liam Baker (Richmond Tigers)

Another West Australian native, Baker’s name is another that has recently emerged as a trade target for both WA clubs. With the Tigers now in a new era under Adem Yze, the Tigers’ success could be an influencing factor in what Baker decides on his future.

The Dockers expressed interest in Baker a couple of years ago, while the Eagles have a number of veterans nearing the end of their careers and are certainly rebuilding their list. Adding to the intrigue, Baker recently purchased a home in Perth – could this be the telling factor?

Logan McDonald (Sydney Swans)

Widely regarded as the heir to the Swans’ key forward throne after the retirement of his fellow West Australian Lance Franklin, McDonald’s ties to his home state are an attractive factor for clubs out West. Fremantle are particularly interested in luring the 21-year-old back home.

With three first-round picks at their disposal, the Dockers appear well-poised to table a big offer to the Swans in exchange for McDonald. The club inquired about his availability during the 2023 trade period, highlighting their sustained interest in the key forward.

McDonald recently hinted that he’s happy at the Swans, although that’s far from an on-paper commitment. Keep an eye on how this situation plays out.

Swans coming off contract in 2024, afl, errol gulden, logan mcdonald
Logan McDonald (left) and Errol Gulden (right), the Swans’ two key stars coming off contract.

Dougal Howard (St Kilda Saints)

Howard crossed to the Saints from Port Adelaide at the end of 2019, signing a five-year deal that expires at the end of this season. Despite the big contract, Howard was reportedly on the table to rivals during the 2023 trade period, meaning he could well and truly be on the market again this year.

With key defenders always a hot commodity on the player movement scene and Josh Battle appearing to be higher in the Saints’ pecking order, clubs that missed out on Roo-turned-Bomber Ben McKay could come calling for Howard this time around.

Will Phillips (North Melbourne Kangaroos)

It’s easy to forget that Phillips is a former pick three, with the 21-year-old surrounded by plenty more top talent at the Roos. Unfortunately for Phillips, however, it looks as though he could be on the outer as the likes of Harry Sheezel, George Wardlaw and Colby McKercher, alongside the more experienced Luke Davies-Uniacke, assume the midfield reigns.

Phillips surely has plenty more to offer to a club needing young midfield talent. Could he continue his career beyond 2024 at a new club?

Check us out on socials, @onlysportsanz: Instagram | Twitter | Tik Tok

Denver Grainger-Barras (Hawthorn Hawks)

Grainger-Barras was a casualty among Hawthorn’s pre-season injury woes, sustaining a foot injury that’s set to keep him out until the mid-season bye. The key defender appeared to fall out of favour at the Hawks in 2023, playing just seven games to take his career tally to 28 across his first three seasons in the league.

As a key defender, ‘DGB’ will certainly be of interest to other clubs, particularly if he’s unable to regain a spot in the Hawks’ senior side in the latter half of the 2024 season.

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