Salary cap pressure? Tippett's worth isn't the same as Reid and Jones

Afternoon all, it's hump day and the week is nearly over. That can only mean more beers and more Swans football. It's a bit of a shocker time slot on Saturday afternoon, 1.40pm in the afternoon, lets just hope the weather stays clear and the sun shines. A cold day at the 'G is a very cold day indeed.

There's been a lot of talk the last week about Tippett and his future at the Swans. This has originated from his not-so-surprising omission from the team last Wednesday, and with the Swans performing so well, there's a lot of debate surrounding his future. While I'd like to spend all my time pouring cold water on trade waffle and nonsense from the media, it's really hard to defend a player that's consistently been on the nose.

Criticism of Kurt Tippett isn't exactly a new thing. He's been maligned much of his career, especially with the the massive contract he's on at the Swans.

Recently though, the noise from the background surrounding his performances has grown to such a volume that it can't be ignored anymore. We've discussed Tippett in the last two SwansCast episodes, and while we'd like to discuss other topics, it simply can't be avoided. Stephen Treloar wrote a great article in defence of Kurt Tippett after the Hawthorn game and it's worth a read. He's by no means a rubbish player, but is he worth the money he's being paid? That's the hot topic.

But lets have a look at his time with the Swans. His eventual pick up in the pre-season draft looked like a winning gamble in the first two-to-three seasons. He played a lot of football injury free, kicked 35 goals from his first 12 games and looked like a born-again star of the AFL.

His transition from ruck-forward into power forward immediately paid off, and while he missed a patch of games in 2014, he still managed 34 goals from 14 games. With the Swans struggling to fit all their big men in at once, occasionally fielding Lance Franklin, Sam Reid, Kurt Tippett, Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke in the same team, Tippett's time in the ruck increased, to give the Swans another rucking option, and another rotation from the bench.

2015 was arguably his career-best year, and it looked like the massive money he was on was worth it. Shane Mumford was traded to Greater Western Sydney in the pre-season, so up stepped the big man to permanently fill the ruck-forward void, with Mike Pyke assuming the number one mantle.

It was a good season for Kurt, playing 22 games, kicking 44 goals and averaging 17.3 hit outs per game, at times looking like the best ruck combination in the league with Pyke. A good finals series off the back of a strong season had the Swans faithful, and even the broader AFL community keenly watching, waiting, and hoping Kurt would work out.

He went bang early in 2016 and was one of the best in the team, and arguably the best ruckman in the game for the first 11 games. His best game of the year was undoubtedly the Lions game, a huge effort in trying conditions with 25 disposals, helping the Swans scrap to a three point win. He was pairing well with Sinclair and Nankervis, but again was struck down with injury.

The Swans were forced to look inwards, with Nankervis and Sinclair struggling to assert themselves. The culmination of inexperienced and inability to jump culminated in the spanking the Swans copped at the hands of the Eagles, hardly their fault, but it served to highlight just how bad the situation was with the Eagles running virtually unchecked. Urgent changes were needed and the Swans turned to Sam Naismith, and he didn't fail to impress, immediately taking on the mantle with aplomb.

With Tippett nearing return, it was hoped that he would slot in to the forward line and pinch hit in the ruck, and provide another much needed avenue to goal. More importantly, finding that dominating early season form would be vitally important for the Swans to go deep into the finals. Once again, injury would hamper him, threatening to derail his finals series and Sydney's grand final dream.

After two poor games against North Melbourne and Richmond, he courageously played on through the Greater Western Sydney qualifying final loss with a fractured jaw. He missed the emphatic semi-final win, returning for the preliminary final, much to the chagrin of Swans supporters it has to be remembered after a convincing performance by Nankervis, his best game of the finals series. Despite two early goals, he was largely on the periphery, and was just abysmal in the grand final loss.

There was talk of locker room shenanigans and punch ups after the grand final involving Tippett and Grundy, but it was dismissed at the time as story mongering and click baiting. It's hard to dismiss it these days when you watch replays of his insipid last quarter against the Hawks in round 10.

There wasn't a lot of promise surrounding Kurt at the start of 2017, or much expectation. He would play the forward-ruck role with Naismith carrying the bulk of ruck work, and it was expected that he would at least kick a goal a game, and provide a forward line presence.

Circumstances haven't exactly allowed that situation to flourish often enough, but given the opportunities, his output has been well below acceptable standards, especially given his contract.

There's no concrete figure for what he's currently being paid, but best guess goes with the original contract mooted to be 3.5-million over four years, with an automatic 2-year extension around $950k per season. Given it's from Emma Quayle, it's pretty easy to take this one at face value, although the KPIs would have definitely been amended due to his suspension.

An injury crisis-aside, he's been arguably the worst ruck in the team, if not, one of the worst players. The stats don't lie and neither do the performances. While his first NEAFL game was on return from his second injury of the season in round 8, his second NEAFL game was the result of a good old fashioned dropping to the lower leagues.

Alarmingly, there's been a dramatic drop off in his stats this season, with disposals, hit outs and scores well below his career averages. Perhaps that goes hand-in-hand with the changing role, but the biggest problem of all is that he's kicked just 3 goals from 5 games. He's gone ham in the NEAFL, best on ground in his first hit out and dominated again on Saturday. But they've been against arguably the worst two teams the Swans NEAFL side has played this season.

I don't think the reserves winning by 170 points is a product of having Tippett in the side. He wasn't amongst the best three players on the ground, despite his big numbers. Gary Lyon said it best when he criticised Kurt Tippett's presence on the field earlier this season - he doesn't have any.

While this may be a long winded look at why Kurt Tippett hasn't worked out, spare a thought for the contract issues that the club is dealing with once again. Last season it was Mitchell, the season before another clutch of players, and so forth, and this season it's Reid and Jones. Which brings us to the crux of the issue - is keeping Tippett really worth losing Jones and/or Reid?

The best we can do is speculate on the situation at hand, unless someone from the clubs speaks to us anonymously, or someone in the know can shed light. What we do know is that salary cap pressure in 2016 eventually led to Mitchell seeking pastures anew, but we all knew he was going to leave. Other role playing players have inevitably been forced out, going as far back as 2014. It's all the same again this year and I believe that we're close to the tipping point (pun intended).

The rise of Zak Jones has been a massive boon for the Swans, given their slow start to the season, as well as the performances of big man Sam Reid. He's well on target to a career-best season, and if he can keep fit, he's going to be a key player in our finals chances.

There's little doubt the noise around Tippett's future will increase to crescendo late in the season and perhaps force the Swans' hand. There's just no way that we can afford to lose more important and performing players, to keep one promising, albeit inconsistent and fragile player, that plays 5 decent to good games a season.

I can't say for certain what the salary cap situation is with the Swans, but if the Swans extended the contracts of certain players, such as Mills and Heeney, with the expected extra cap space for this season, then it's quite likely that there's hardly any space left.

It's fair and completely reasonable to expect Reid to offered a lot more than he's on now. While I don't see any reason for why Sam would leave Sydney, albeit with his brother tapping him up in the rags again, the Swans are going to have to come to the market with bags full of cash to keep him. In this day and age, pony up or piss off, and nothing short of $2 million over 3 years would be enough.

While Jones won't be offered big money, there's always the possibility that he'll be offered overs to attract him to another club, potentially on a long term deal. Josh Kelly is being offered absurd sums of money by Victorian clubs, ridiculous numbers being thrown about in the media for the 22-year-old, like popcorn and candy, but if he's worth that where does someone like Zak Jones fit in? Well, it's on a fair bit more than $200k a season one would expect.

Anyhow, plenty to think about this weekend with the Swans taking on the Tigers. Injury aside, it's highly unlikely that Tippett will find his way into the senior side against the Tigers, and can expect to make his home in the NEAFL for a few more weeks yet, especially if Sinclair keeps performing.

The SwansCast will be up tomorrow late morning or early afternoon, and I'll be joined by Stephen Treloar from Over The Line Sports and a guest from the Richmond faithful to give us their perspective on the game ahead.

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Justin Mitchell

Justin is a passionate AFL and Sydney Swans supporter, and football blogger since 2016. All articles are of his own opinion. You can reach him by twitter and Facebook at @theswansblog

Melbourne, Australia

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