Hawthorn legend Jordan Lewis says Essendon is now in a position where it doesn’t have to “overpay” players amid uncertainty around star midfielder Darcy Parish and others’ futures.
Despite the Bombers’ season being officially over after Friday night’s 70-point loss to Collingwood, Parish remains unsigned amid a pay stalemate just weeks after Essendon tabled him a five-year deal.
Reports this week claimed there’s a half a million difference of opinion between the two parties, though the free agent has previously stated he wants to remain at the Bombers.
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Essendon Bombers Press Conference | 08:54
Speaking on Fox Footy, Lewis urged Essendon to stand firm with its contract offer for the betterment of the club.
“It’s a tough decision (on Parish),” the four-time premiership Hawk began.
“I think Essendon are now in a position where they don’t have to overpay players.
“Parish has been there for a long time. If he’s committed and if you sell the vision, then you pay him what he’s worth and nothing over. If he doesn’t like that, then you’re free to let him go.
“We’ve seen it time and time again when clubs pay too much for one player, the rest of the bottom end falls away.”
The 26-year old, who was an All-Australian in 2021, got back to some of his best form this season, averaging 30.8 disposals per game and career-highs in tackles (4.3), inside 50s (6.1) and clearances (7.7).
Despite this, Essendon, after such a promising start to the year under new coach Brad Scott, fell away badly late in the season.
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Scott’s team dropped five of its last seven games – the two wins narrowly coming over bottom two sides West Coast and North Melbourne – including a horror 126-point loss to GWS last week.
“He hasn’t been the difference between being a finals team and not,” former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said of Parish on Fox Footy.
“You’ve got to weigh that up – Darcy Parish versus potentially a late first rounder and space in your cap.”
Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph described Parish’s contract situation as the “elephant in the room” for the Bombers, revealing the club would only receive a mid-to-late first-round compensation pick if the on-baller departed.
That compensation would be swallowed up if the Bombers land Kangaroos free agent Ben McKay.
“(Parish) has absolutely been offered a five-year deal, about $700,000-750,000 a year. They are reluctant to up their price – here’s the issue … if he leaves for a club like Geelong, any free agency compensation would be about Pick 9,” Ralph said on Fox Footy.
“Then it would shuffle back to about Pick 13 by the time the Gold Coast Academy picks and the Ben McKay compensation slots in.
“So you are really losing a player like Darcy Parish for Pick 13 in a mediocre draft over $50,000 a year. Or for nothing if of course they did secure Ben McKay as a free agent – that would cancel that compensation out.
“So big decisions ahead with a key back departing… still some significant list issues to try and fill.”
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The Bombers reportedly have $2 million in cap space ahead of big decisions for list management as they continue to mould their young side under Scott.
In addition to Parish, Brandon-Zerk-Thatcher, Harrison Jones, Jye Menzie, Massimo D’Ambrosio and Nick Bryan remain without deals for 2024, but Ralph said the club doesn’t to “overspend” or “overpay” their list.
“They haven’t offered enough right now for Darcy Parish to give away his free agency rights,” he noted.
“They certainly aren’t paying enough to be in the market for Ben McKay – they need another key back.
“If you’re Parish and you believe that Essendon was close to finals, the last fortnight has been a significant reality check.”
Ralph also revealed Zerk-Thatcher is likely to depart for Port Adelaide, while Bryan’s future remains clouded.
“My expectation is that Essendon believe Brandon Zerk-Thatcher will leave. He will request a trade to Port Adelaide,” Ralph said.
“As (Bombers footy boss Josh Mahoney) told Fox Footy (on Zerk-Thatcher): ‘He has had a deal in front of him for a long period of time. We’d like to think he’d stay but we also understand he might be looking for another opportunity’.
“That clearly is Essendon thinking he’s gone.
“Back-up ruckman Nick Bryan has been offered a new deal – he is yet to sign it. He is better than a backup, he dominates in the VFL.
“Again, clubs like West Coast are circling; they need to keep him.”
Ralph added: “Dylan Shiel is a required player as Mahoney said. He has explosiveness, he gives them a point of difference in their midfield so he will not be trade bait.”