Which way is the Lever pulling?
As the Crows look to be heading towards the finals with a double chance and, potentially, two home finals in hand; West Lakes seems the place to be at the moment. But the uncertainty over two of Adelaide's brightest young stars is beginning to take the shine away from a season that, to this point, has lived up to the expectations of the fans.
An announcement yesterday on talkback sports radio station FIVEaa has sent the fans into a state of uncertainty and panic. Many beginning to hope that the crows won't see a repeat of years gone by that have seen them lose elite calibre players, particularly when they are in a position now more than years passed to compete for silverware come September.
Jake Lever, Adelaide's first selection in the 2014 draft has exceeded the expectations of supporters since his debut in Round 6, 2015 and has grown into one of the upper echelon defenders in the AFL. At the age of just 21, he has improved in every major statistical category over his first three seasons and established himself as one of the most critical members of the Crows side. However, with Lever set to be out of contract come year's-end, the Crows hierarchy and fans had been hoping that a signature on a new deal would have been inked well before now, but yet they're still waiting.
Photo Credit : July 6, 2017 - Source: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images AsiaPac
June 20 saw the finalisation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the AFLPA and AFL in a bid to allocate clubs with additional room in their salary cap. This has been a determining factor in a number of players' (Including Lever) hesitation to prematurely sign contracts. However although it's only been three weeks since, captain Taylor Walker's willingness to sign a new contract yet sacrifice financial gain to help Adelaide compete against interstate clubs for those coming out of contract is a prime example of Adelaide attempting to lock in their top-end talent. This was reiterated in his press conference shortly after penning a new deal that sees him extending his stay at West Lakes until the end of 2021.
"We structured it in a way that guys who are coming into the peak of their career that they can earn as much as they can at this footy club," Walker told reporters.
Supporters could be forgiven for thinking the worst given the situation two years ago, when they had to wait the entirety of the home and away season just to be told that their best player at the time was returning interstate. However, Lever recently reassured fans not to stress if a deal was not completed in the short term.
"My manager is coming over tomorrow and I'm sure we will sit down with the club in the near future and the contract negotiations will continue," Lever assured.
"But if it's not in the near future, I wouldn't be worried."
While fans can appreciate the honesty, as days pass without a decision it is becoming scarily reminiscent of days gone by.
The latest developments were reported by Stephen Rowe on air yesterday afternoon.
"Jake’s long term partner hasn’t renewed her teaching contract with what I would call a prominent Adelaide college -- [she] finished up on Friday," Rowe revealed.
“You read into that as you will. But for me, that’s not a positive sign.”
Whether or not it is just bad timing remains to be seen, but social media went into overdrive at the thought of Adelaide not doing enough to retain another one of its stars. With the CBA finalised and the lucrative offers from Victorian clubs on the table in Lever's home state, the Crows will know exactly how much they need to pay to get it done.
Since being drafted at pick 14 with concerns over an ACL injury sustained when he was 18, Lever has since returned and gone on to show his worth and in a team in legitimate contention for a flag over the next two years. Locking him to a deal would surely be right at the top of the list of priorities for the AFC when the sharks are circling and they don't need unnecessary distractions heading into a finals campaign.
Lever is scheduled to be on FiveAA later this afternoon, where I'm sure he will be asked about the legitimacy of yesterdays reports, but until a signature is given, the supporters will become increasingly restless.