Adelaide are set to play hardball with young gun Jake Lever after he nominated Melbourne as his preferred AFL trade destination.
The 21-year-old has declared he wants to play for the Demons, who have reportedly offered him a five-year, multi-million dollar deal.
“I’ll be going back to Melbourne to be with my family and friends,” Lever told the Seven Network on Tuesday.
The key defender had been widely-expected to seek a return to Victoria after putting off contract talks earlier this year.
But his decision to nominate Melbourne has angered the Crows, who bluntly described his preference as “irrelevant” and would not rule out forcing him to take his chances in the pre-season draft.
“There’s 10 clubs in Victoria, so we’ll just negotiate with whoever’s going to give us the best value,” Adelaide football boss Brett Burton told reporters.
“As a footy club, we’re in a good position at the moment … we’ll take whatever measures are deemed necessary to do what’s best for the club.”
Burton said the Crows became aware Lever intended to leave in the weeks leading up to their shattering grand-final loss to Richmond.
He claimed Lever and his partner were happy with life in Adelaide and said the decision to reject a lucrative offer that would have placed him among the Crows’ top-earners was clearly “financially motivated”.
“We don’t think it’s fair on the rest of the playing group that we make him our highest-paid player,” Burton said.
“Right now, we’ve got a list that is evolving and we need to make decisions that are fair to the rest of the playing group so we can continue to improve.”
The Crows were expected to demand two first-round draft picks for Lever, who led the AFL for intercepts per game in 2017.
Such a trade would leave Adelaide in a strong position to make a fresh play for Carlton midfielder Bryce Gibbs.
Melbourne have pick No.10 at their disposal in this year’s draft but could be forced to also offer up a future first-round selection.
Burton confirmed that Collingwood had also spoken to Adelaide’s list management team about a potential deal for Lever.
Lever could nominate for the pre-season draft in the absence of a trade to Melbourne but would risk being snapped up by a team with a higher pick.