RIVAL clubs are showing growing interest in Adam Cooney as the restricted free agent and the Western Bulldogs remain some way off finalising a new deal.
AFL.com.au revealed in May that the Bulldogs and Cooney had deferred serious contract negotiations until later in the year despite the 27-year-old's impressive start to the season.
Discussions between the Bulldogs and Cooney remain ongoing and amicable, but the parties are not close to signing a new contract.
AFL.com.au understands Cooney remains more likely to stay at the Whitten Oval than leave, but opposition interest in the 2008 Brownlow medallist continues to grow the longer he remains fit and in form.
"Cooney is clearly one of the biggest talents in this year's free agency pool and is one free agent you sense could leave, but any club looking at him has to be prepared to take a risk," one industry insider told AFL.com.au.
Cooney would have attracted huge offers several years ago, but his degenerative right knee will be a massive consideration for clubs considering making a play for him ahead of October's free agency period.
He entered this year on the back of two injury-plagued seasons when his knee limited him to 27 games and made him a shadow of the player he was in 2008.
But post-season treatment in Germany, which involved taking blood from his arm, separating and incubating its growth cells and injecting them into his knee, has helped Cooney train harder and perform better than he has in years.
In 12 games this season, Cooney is averaging more than 23 possessions – his best return since 2010 – and has kicked 13 goals in a new role across half-back.
Cooney missed rounds nine and 10 with a hamstring injury, but has made a strong return in the past four rounds, racking up 26 possessions last Saturday in the Bulldogs' nail-biting win over Greater Western Sydney at Canberra's StarTrack Oval.
The Bulldog star signed his existing contract in May 2010 for a reported $550,000-$600,000 a season. At that time, Gold Coast had approached Cooney to be part of its inaugural list and the right patella he cracked in the 2008 finals series had not yet degenerated to the extent of 2011-12.
Cooney almost certainly faces a hefty pay cut regardless of whether he recommits to the Bulldogs or seeks a fresh start.
The Bulldogs find themselves in a similar position to that St Kilda faced with one of last year's big-name restricted free agents, Brendon Goddard.
St Kilda was compensated with pick No. 13 in last year's national draft for losing Goddard, a selection it included in its trade for Gold Coast ruckman Tom Hickey.
Like St Kilda, the Bulldogs are in a rebuilding phase and will be mindful that under last year's free agency compensation model they will likely receive a second-round pick should Cooney leave.
Based on their current ladder position of 15th, the Bulldogs could expect a pick in the early-mid 20s.
In the event the Bulldogs do not come to terms with Cooney prior to October's free agency period, they can still retain him by matching any opposition offers made then.
Nick Bowen is a reporter with AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter @AFL_Nick