ESSENDON and Brent Stanton are close to agreement on a three-year contract extension, as the ascending Bombers begin an intensive period of re-signing their large contingent of players who come out of contract this year.
Patrick Ryder's management is in discussions with the club, as is that of fellow Western Australian Ben Howlett, while the greatly improved Sam Lonergan and Leroy Jetta (also from WA) and Angus Monfries head the list of those the Dons will try to re-contract over the next 10 weeks.
Ryder, who has been of interest to Greater Western Sydney, is expected to seek a deal of four or more years.
The Dons have an even larger group of players coming off contract than Collingwood - 16 or 17 senior list players - but the fact that many are either veterans nearing the end of their careers or players without huge names, has meant there has been little focus on them.
In addition to Stanton, Ryder, Howlett, Lonergan, Jetta and Monfries, the players whose contracts for 2013 have yet to be secured include Alwyn Davey, David Myers, Kyle Reimers, Ricky Dyson, Brent Prismall and veterans David Hille, Mark McVeigh, Dustin Fletcher and Nathan Lovett-Murray.
Key forward Michael Hurley was re-signed earlier this year on a five-year deal that will make him the club's highest-paid player.
While there has been speculation about Essendon's desire to recruit a blue-chip midfielder to press for a premiership, chief executive Ian Robson said last night that the notion that the club had a ''war chest'' to embark on ''a massive raid in the name of free agency'' was not coming from the club, which remained focused on recruiting and developing its own players.
''If feelers come along, we'll look at them, [but] our definite priority is that we'll continue to grow from within,'' he said.
Robson said the club was ''concentrating plans over the next 8-10 weeks to get the [contract] outcomes''.
Stanton and Monfries are eligible for free agency this year, with Stanton set to become a young veteran-listed player from next year under the new rules (giving Essendon a salary cap discount of $112,000).
The Bombers will meet with player manager Colin Young next week to discuss the futures of Jetta and Myers. The situations of McVeigh, 31, Hille, 30, and Fletcher, 37, are likely to be left until later in the season.
Coach James Hird has said that Fletcher has the right to determine whether he plays on in 2013 in what would be the defender's 21st season and would put him close to 400 games.
While Essendon carries the perception it doesn't have the A-graders on its list like some other clubs, the Dons are pleased they have demonstrated - amid a plethora of soft-tissue injuries - they have a depth of players who can perform and fulfil a role for the team.
''We've been delighted at how we've been able to respond,'' Robson said of the injuries in the opening six rounds.
Negotiations over Stanton, who was runner-up in the best and fairest last season, have been handled by his former teammate Adam Ramanauskas at Elite Sports Properties.