Essendon defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher has requested a trade away from the AFL club.
7NEWS Melbourne’s Mitch Cleary reports the 25-year-old told the Bombers he wants to move to Port Adelaide.
Zerk-Thatcher is out of contract after his best season yet at the top level, having played 22 games.
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Essendon had hoped to retain the South Australian and put a multi-year contract on the table.
Zerk-Thatcher was selected with the 66th pick in the 2017 draft, first earning a long run of games in 2020.
He finally established himself as a regular through the back end of last season and through 2023.
His imminent departure, which will require a trade, is expected to force the club to press harder to recruit North Melbourne’s Ben McKay.
McKay has interest from Sydney and Hawthorn, who missed out on Geelong defender Esava Ratugolea.
Ratugolea nominated Port Adelaide after the two parties failed to get a move over the line last year.
The Power, who are still in the finals, will now need to send out multiple draft picks to secure Zerk-Thatcher and Ratugolea.
Port have also been linked alongside the Sydney Swans to Melbourne’s banished ruckman Brodie Grundy.
Ben McKay bidding war heats up
A ‘likely scenario’ emerged in the race for McKay last week, with a monster offer giving North Melbourne the chance to hold picks No.2 and No.3 in this year’s AFL draft.
The Kangaroos are so convinced McKay will ask to leave that they are yet to put a formal contract extension and financial offer in front of the defender.
But his possible destination has shifted in recent months.
Essendon, led by McKay’s former North coach Brad Scott, had been pegged as the frontrunner with Hawthorn and Port Adelaide also in the mix.
7NEWS Melbourne’s Mitch Cleary now believes the Sydney Swans loom large in what would be a big win for a Kangaroos draft hand already boasting pick No.2 and a late first-round pick.
“Everyone at North Melbourne is bracing for him to request a trade,” he said on Channel 7’s Talking Finals.
“Other clubs are often a good gauge when it comes to the market for rival players.
“Sydney are the strong word out of opposition clubs that they’re leading the race at this stage.”
McKay’s age – he turns 26 on Christmas Eve – is set to combine with a big-money deal to earn North Melbourne significant compensation from the AFL.
“(Pick No.3 to North) is the likely scenario at this stage, especially if it’s Sydney,” Cleary said on Channel 7’s Talking Footy.
“I think the Swans’ offer will be upwards of $700,000 a season.”
A shorter or inferior contract could have moved North’s compensation pick to the end of the first round.
But that is unlikely to be the case, particularly if Essendon and Sydney – somewhat cashed up after Lance Franklin’s retirement – ramp up their bidding war.