Essendon landed the biggest fish of the free agency period in Brendon Goddard.
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Few topics caught the football world's attention more than free agency in 2012 but like so many new initiatives, it proved less controversial than expected. Fourteen players ended up moving clubs as free agents in one form or another, with only one truly big name - St Kilda's Brendon Goddard - exercising his right to choose a new employer.
The rest of the free agents set to don new colours in 2013 are the types of players that the rule was designed to assist - those seeking greater opportunity, or a fresh start after falling out of favour with their coaches. Where they once might have fallen through the cracks of the draft system or been forced to stagnate in reserve teams, they can now set to work making an impact with their new clubs.
To that end, here are the top six free agents, ranked in order of their potential to make a difference to their new clubs in 2013...
1. Brendon Goddard (Essendon)
The former Saint was the biggest name to shift clubs during the AFL's inaugural free agency period and the Bombers will be the big winners as a result. Goddard will add some sorely-needed class through half-back and the midfield, freeing up Dyson Heppell to graduate into the centre of the ground. At 27 and with 205 games under his belt, Goddard is in the prime of his career and he could just be the missing cog that returns the Essendon machine to top-four contention.
2. Quinten Lynch (Collingwood)
Collingwood's pursuit of the big Q-Stick came as something of a surprise but their strategy became clear after they dumped second-string ruck Cameron Wood and traded Chris Dawes to Melbourne. The former Eagle's ability to play as a genuine key forward and compete in the ruck - where Dawes struggled - makes him a better fit for Buckley's vision of the Magpie game plan. If he plays 20-odd games, kicks 20-odd goals and allows Collingwood's midfield to retain their momentum in Darren Jolly's absences, he will be more than worth the gamble.
3. Troy Chaplin (Richmond)
Despite Alex Rance's dramatic improvement in 2012, Richmond were still short of a genuine big full-back who could reliably negate the opposition's No.1 target inside 50. Chaplin, a reliable performer at the Power for many years, fits the bill nicely. As long as the Tigers' midfield continues to improve and they can find a suitable foil for Jack Riewoldt up forward - perhaps Tyrone Vickery or Ben Griffiths - they should return to finals contention, for their backline should no longer be a concern.
4. Danyle Pearce (Fremantle)
With speed to burn and skills to match, Pearce looks tailor-made for the expanses of Fremantle's home ground, Patersons Stadium. The prospect of Stephen Hill on one wing and Pearce on the other should give opposition coaches nightmares, providing Pearce can buy into the defensive aspects of Ross Lyon's game plan. However, Lyon has a good record of getting the most out of his recruits and he wouldn't have plumped for the former Port Adelaide star if he wasn't confident about Pearce's attitude.
5. Nick Lower (Western Bulldogs)
Among the Western Bulldogs' many worries in 2012 was a lack of depth in the midfield. When Lower - a proven ball-winner at Fremantle with an AFL-ready frame - became available, coach Brendan McCartney wasted little time in swooping. Injury permitting, Lower should play most games for the Dogs in 2013 and rank among their top five possession-getters. With a rejuvenated Adam Cooney, the arrival of midfield jet Jackson Macrae in the draft, and the prospect of landing former Cat and Bomber Brent Prismall in the pre-season draft, the Dogs could present a vastly different midfield proposition next year.
6. Shannon Byrnes (Melbourne)
Aaron Davey's decline as a regular AFL player left the Demons sorely lacking in speed and skill across half-forward. Byrnes, who languished in Geelong's VFL side for much of the season, was recruited as a direct answer to Melbourne's problem. Byrnes has a strong body, a good eye for goal and plenty of speed - qualities in short supply at Demonland. Perhaps more importantly, he has tasted success and knows how to prepare for it. Byrnes' impact at Melbourne in 2013 will be just as great off the field as on it.
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