Carlton will be eligible for draft compensation for Liam Jones, with the AFL ruling that the key defender will be classified as a free agent at the end of this season.
Sources with knowledge of the move have confirmed that Jones, who quit the Blues and AFL football before this season because of an unwillingness to be vaccinated, is expected to join the Western Bulldogs, his old team, on a three-year deal.
Depending on the size of the contract, Carlton would therefore be entitled to draft compensation for losing a free agent. The Dogs are set to give him three years to accommodate his salary under the salary cap, spreading the money out over three seasons rather than two.
AFL sources said Jones would be deemed a free agent because he had been on Carlton’s list for eight seasons, the minimum period necessary to qualify for free agency. While he retired from the game before this season, due to his stance on vaccination against COVID-19, Jones remained on Carlton’s playing list.
The AFL ruling – which is yet to be released by the league – makes it easier for the Bulldogs to acquire him. They were one of four or five clubs that considered Jones. Essendon’s list manager Adrian Dodoro met him in Queensland, where Jones has been playing for a local club Palm Beach-Currumbin in the QAFL. Jones has stopped playing in the Queensland league to prepare for his return to the AFL.
Jones played 66 games for the Bulldogs, between 2009 and 2014, before he was traded to the Blues, who reinvented the inconsistent tall forward into a valuable full-back.
The Bulldogs have a strong need for a tall defender who can take an intercept mark and negate opposition tall forwards, having struggled defensively this season. They have not had a defender with the size and ability to stop opposition key forwards for some time and their issues were underlined when they dropped their primary tall back, Alex Keath, for Saturday’s game against Geelong, who have the dangerous duo of Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.
Jones can return to the game because the AFL no longer requires players, in both the AFL (men) and AFLW, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The league followed the more relaxed position of governments on vaccination by dropping the vaccination mandate.
Jones has been replaced at Carlton by former Bulldog Lewis Young, who has been Carlton’s secondary tall back supporting Jacob Weitering. Jones and Young will effectively have swapped clubs to play the same role.