This is the Dockers’ biggest off-season ever

Just hours after Fremantle’s finals exit at the hands of Collingwood, club president Dale Alcock was already looking ahead to 2023, with one ambition in mind.

Winning the premiership.

For a club that has been starved of success for many years, and for many years under Ross Lyon, refused to even mention the P word even when they made a first, and only, Grand Final, it’s refreshing to hear the president set such bold and clear goals for 2023.

But with that comes pressure and expectation, and that starts pretty much straightaway with the Trade Period.

It’s been quite a ride the Dockers took us fans on in 2022. A blistering start saw the coining of the phrase ‘Flagmantle’, a moniker that started with the fans but was quickly adopted by a certain media outlet in Perth as well.

But reality bites, and the reality was in 2022 that Freo just weren’t quite there yet. The forward line is too flaky and it’s still a relatively young side with a lot of growth to be had.

Collingwood may be the Cinderella story of the season, but if you line their team up on Saturday night as opposed to Freo’s, Collingwood’s average age was more than a year older than the Dockers’ starting 22.

In fact, Fremantle came into the finals series with by far the youngest team, and the least finals experienced side, with even Geelong’s four emergencies in their qualifying final having played more finals than the 22 the Dockers fielded in their elimination final the very same day.

With all this in mind, it’s clear that the two finals Freo played in 2022 – a stirring comeback win at home over the Bulldogs in front of a record Optus Stadium crowd and getting to experience playing in front of over 90,000 people at the MCG against the extremely impressive Pies – will be a great experience for a side that is still improving.

Whilst all of this is great, and the logical trend for this list is upwards into the top four and a crack at being a ‘real contender’, it doesn’t always turn out this way. That is why the pressure is on Peter Bell, Justin Longmuir and the recruitment staff to absolutely nail this off-season period.

Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw of the Dockers celebrate.

Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw of the Dockers celebrate. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Already five names – including key cogs Blake Acres, Rory Lobb and Griffin Logue – have been linked with exits; Freo need to decide who they want to keep, for what price, and if they are going, just how they can maximise what they get for these players.

Lobb looks as good as gone, and to be honest, as a Freo fan, I’m not concerned by this. He is a marking target in an already weak forward line, but his form is patchy at best and he can often play entire games without having any influence on them,

I’ve been convinced he’s been mentally checked out for while, and as he is still contracted, it’s a great opportunity for the Dockers to turn his exit into some draft capital, which they are short of at this stage.

Darcy Tucker and Lloyd Meek are both depth players, who whilst handy, you wouldn’t begrudge seeking better opportunities to play week in, week out. Tucker to North Melbourne makes sense, and with the potential signing of Luke Jackson, it’s very hard to see opportunity for Meek in purple. There will be no shortage of clubs lining up for a very solid ruckman, including West Coast.

The two that have the most intrigue, and the two who as a fan I’d most like to see stay at the club, are Acres and Logue. Both have been offered new contracts at Freo, but both are seemingly being lowballed to accommodate Jackson, and potentially others, into the salary cap.

Acres has an offer on the table from Carlton which is well and truly blowing what Freo have offered him out of the water. Whilst he is one I’d like to keep, the likes of Nathan O’Driscoll, Liam Henry, Neil Erasmus and Matt Johnson will all push for his spot, and I think the club can cope with his exit.

Logue has proven himself to be a reliable swingman this season, filling some big roles down back, including blanketing Jeremy Cameron, but also providing a marking target and pressure up forward. He doesn’t necessarily strike me as a natural forward, but he is an athlete and with a lack of forward options on the trade table, keeping Logue is key especially if Lobb leaves.

Logue also seems a great clubman and is one who I hope they up the offer too. Let’s see what happens.

It looks certain there will be players out the door, adding to the retirement of David Mundy, which means Freo will definitely have list spots to fill. It looks almost certain that one of those spots will be taken up by Luke Jackson.

It sounds like even Freo fans are split on Jackson: he has a lot of talent for sure, but the truth is he is a ruckman, not a ruck-forward. This creates an interesting conundrum considering Sean Darcy is already one of the competition’s premier big men.

Where does Jackson fit in the Freo line-up, and does he really solve the issue of a non-functioning forward line?

It’s hard to make a case that Jackson will help in the forward 50: he kicked less goals this year than Lobb, the player he would be replacing in the side. Watching Melbourne this year, Max Gawn even looked more natural in the forward line than Jackson did.

He also won’t come cheap – you’d expect Melbourne to ask for two first-round picks – and it’s clear Jackson will be on a hefty salary over a number of years at the Dockers.

The ‘messiah complex’ is one we’ve seen at Freo before; over-paying on Jesse Hogan, Lobb himself, Cam McCarthy and Trent Croad years prior. If Lobb leaves, you’d argue all of those high-profile trades were failures, and it’s dangerous to add Jackson to that mix.

I’m not necessarily saying don’t go after him, but I do question whether he should be the priority. Bell and co need to be strong enough to walk away if they feel the deal is going to jeopardise other list management options.

Sam Switkowski of the Dockers

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The forward line is clearly the area of concern. The backline is top-four quality, the midfield is emerging with the likes of Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong, with a fit Nat Fyfe potentially back on the cards next season.

It’s kicking a score that has plagued the Dockers this season. They do have options already on their list, though. Jye Amiss has been super impressive in both finals – but he is young and certainly can’t be expected to be a flag-winning spearhead in 2023.

Josh Treacy and Sam Sturt also show promise and I’d hope both get a lot more opportunity next season.

Matt Taberner at his best is a very good forward – the problem is he rarely seems to get on the park, and was the most subbed out player this season.

This means Freo definitely needs reinforcements in this area. The problem is I don’t really see any jumping off the page.

Logan McDonald and Mitch Georgiades are the two that would likely be top of the wish list, but neither look like they’ll be leaving their current clubs (Sydney and Port Adelaide) anytime soon; and no other big names in this part of the ground spring to mind.

Would Freo be bold enough to make a play on someone like Jack Gunston? He doesn’t really fit the age range but would add something to an inexperienced forward line.

The ‘Moneyball’ play would be looking for someone who is out of favour at their current club and bringing them in on the cheap, similar to Will Brodie last season. The Suns brought Mabior Chol in for 2022 without having to give a sent to Richmond under free agency rules – is there someone out there that fits a similar mould for Freo to eye?

It’s less clear who else Fremantle might make a play at, I’ve heard Gold Coast winger Jeremy Sharp’s name mentioned a couple of times, and he would fit as a possible Acres replacement, but it’s still lacking that star power that you need to force yourself into the top four.

In addition to their list questions, there will be threats from below as well for the Dockers to face in 2023. Richmond will make a huge splash with Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper both coming across from the Giants, whilst you can be sure Melbourne will be hurting from their loss on the weekend, and may well team Max Gawn up with Brodie Grundy for next year.

It’s up to the Dockers to ensure this season isn’t a one-off and their progress continues trending upwards, and that starts by nailing the off season.

It’s shaping up to be a busy one.

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