Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge has conceded he is unlikely to be a factor in the early rounds of the season.
The Hawks have deliberately not set a return date for their star as he recovers from the posterior cruciate ligament injury that ruined his 2012 campaign.
A surgeon told Hodge he should not place any limitations on his knee from now on, but must instead focus on conditioning his other leg muscles before he starts playing.
The 28-year-old also had calf issues last season, suffering a setback in Hawthorn's final training session before round one which caused him to miss the first four games. Hodge said he would prefer to sit out the early rounds of the season if it increased his chances of staying injury-free in the second half of the year.
''Of course, at this stage of the year you are always champing at the bit to get out there and play. But I made the mistake last year of coming back earlier than I should have and got hurt,'' he said.
''So we deliberately haven't set a date that I'm going to come back, so I can just take it as it comes. When the body feels right and the club is happy that I've done enough work, then I will be right to go.
''The knee has felt great for probably a month [and] it's pulling up great from training sessions.''
The 2008 Norm Smith medallist will have his first competitive hitout when the Hawks stage a modified intraclub match on Friday.
Hodge is one of seven Hawthorn players on the free agents list, but he was keen to assure supporters that he won't be going anywhere.
''I'm in no urgent need to [re-sign]; I know where I'm going to be next year,'' he said.
The three-time All-Australian also revealed he was expecting to take a pay cut in his next contract. ''I think as you get older it's been proven in the past that you're going to have to go lower so that the younger blokes coming through can get paid probably a little bit more than what they deserve,'' he said.
Despite playing only 10 games last season and missing all of the NAB Cup, Hodge rejected the notion that injury and age were catching up with him. Prior to suffering the knee injury in round seven last year, he has played 19 games or more in the seasons between 2004 and 2012.
''I think last year was the first year in about seven or eight where I've missed a high number of games and it was through an impact injury,'' he said. ''Whether you're 20 or 30, the injury I had was just football - it is a collision sport.''