AFL greats say Dustin Martin will leave Richmond after Damien Hardwick's shock resignation - and another big-name Tiger could be following him out of Punt Road
There was speculation last year that the three-time premiership winner could leave the Tigers to escape the Melbourne bubble following the death of his father Shane Martin.
The strong bond that Martin has with Hardwick would have been a key part of his decision to remain at Punt Road, but with the champion coach now out of the top job, Martin could again entertain a move.
Hardwick expressed a waning passion for his job and attributed his mental exhaustion to his 14-season tenure at Punt Road. Under his leadership, the Tigers underwent a remarkable transformation from a struggling team in the AFL to a three-time premiership-winning powerhouse.
However, in the past two seasons, the Tigers have experienced a decline from their previously dominant form. They barely managed to secure a spot in the top eight last year and have struggled to keep up with the competition in 2023.
Both Hardwick and Martin began their careers at Richmond simultaneously. Hardwick debuted as a coach, while Martin made his first appearance as a player in round one of the 2010 season.
Four-time premiership winner Jordan Lewis believes Martin will look for a change of scenery for the twilight of his career.
'I think (Martin) will play elsewhere … either [in] Sydney or Queensland,' Lewis said on radio station RSN.
AFL analyst and former Port Adelaide midfielder Kane Cornes said Martin leaving could be mutually beneficial.
'Yes, but it's his call. I don't think it's Richmond's call,' Cornes said on SEN.
'If he goes to the club and says, 'This is what I want to do', [it would be] like Damien Hardwick and [Richmond's] ability to let him stand down.
'With what [Martin's] contributed to the club, he's going to be a legend in the Hall Of Fame … he goes with their blessing.'
'Because they've traded all their picks, it would free up a big portion of their salary cap … even if they paid some of Dustin Martin's wage,' Cornes said.
'He's not at his absolute best. He's been really good and really solid … and for the first three quarters [against Port Adelaide on Sunday], I thought he's the one that is going to win them the game, but then you don't see him in the last quarter.'
Former Magpies champion player and coach Nathan Buckley believes that Hardwick's resignation could cause the dominos to fall at the Tigers and players like Martin could suddenly become available.
He believes that not only will Martin depart, but champion Jack Riewoldt could also consider leaving or retiring.
'One thing I would suggest is once a stalwart like Damien Hardwick decides to step out, then everything is up for grabs,' Buckley said on SEN.
'What it was, it's not what it's going to be because there's going to be a shift in perspective and a change in philosophy or direction.
'So Dustin Martin could well end up wherever he wants to end up.'
He believes Gold Coast looms as the logical destination, given they tried to sign Martin already and they are well distanced from the Melbourne bubble.
'Gold Coast's salary cap is not as precariously placed as it was 12 months ago, partly because Jack Bowes was traded out to Geelong. I'm not saying they've got a lot of space but they're not in as bad a position as they were 12 months ago,' Buckley said.
'This is what we know about Dusty based on the people I speak to that know him far better than I do.
'The attraction of living in Sydney or the Gold Coast is real at some stage down the track, whether it's soon or after he retires. The Tigers will look somehow to get back into the first round of the draft, at the moment their first pick is pick 23.
'Gold Coast, which has built a pretty good list, are likely to ask the question again. The view from one list manager I spoke to a couple of days ago is that the Suns could look to give up a top 10 pick for Dusty, which he's probably not quite worth anymore, but Richmond would pay a large chunk of his salary next year.'