Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley admitted the club actively forced out star pair Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson during the AFL trade period because of mounting salary cap pressure.
In a revealing radio interview on Monday morning, Buckley said it was a pain the Magpies had to deal with now after "a lot of senior players" had money pushed back in their contracts over multiple years.
Those decisions led to a squeeze that Buckley says had been "on the cards" for three or four seasons.
Buckley said Collingwood had tried to act on the salary cap issues 12 months ago and that this year's crushing semi-final exit at the hands of Geelong had brought them to a head.
Treloar and Stephenson were offloaded during last week's trade period fire sale, along with Tom Phillips and Atu Bosenavulagi, in what Buckley conceded were "brutal" business decisions.
"We had to (drive them out)," Buckley told SEN.
"The conversations were pretty short and sharp, and for a varying number of reasons - some inside of their control and some with absolutely nothing to do with those individuals.
"We needed to make those decisions and force those outcomes.
"There's no doubt that I think the element of what people are perceiving and feeling is that 'forced' element.
"It wasn't natural, it wasn't smooth, it wasn't organic - and I think we've been a natural, smooth, organic club for a couple of years."
Since the trade period, Collingwood have clarified their strategy was designed to the ease salary cap pressure for the future pursuit of free agents, as well as to bolster their draft hand.
They have also admitted that strategy was communicated poorly amid a furious backlash from disgruntled supporters.
"We wanted to play it quieter in the trade period," Buckley said.
"We didn't get a great result anyway, let's be clear with that, but I don't know if you would get a better result if you come out and say, 'We need to adjust our salary cap and we're making these decisions on these players'.
"I think it would be even worse, so we probably foolishly tried to maintain some bargaining position on the trade table by shutting our mouths and that has caused some angst - even more angst on the other side (with the players)."
Buckley admitted Collingwood is now a "fractured" club but believes that will be overcome.
"It's our determination, with our knowledge, that we've actually let players go that will not damage the fabric of the inner circle of our playing group," Buckley said.
"That's not to say that they weren't liked or respected, but in every organisation there's glue guys, there's people that are fundamental to who you are, and sometimes the perception from outside is not actually what you see and what you live every day inside.
"That was part of our determination and landing on the 'who'. We're confident that we'll be able to come back together."
Collingwood believe they will now be able to attract fresh talent in the draft - taking two first-round selections for the first time in six years, with picks 14 and 16 - and can have a good look at the free agency market next year.
"We needed to put it behind us and then we needed to attack '21 and beyond with a clean slate," Buckley said.
"We've now got options and capabilities that we didn't have for the last four or five years.
"We've given ourselves more scope than we've had for a long time by making these tough decisions."
Australian Associated Press