THE 17 active AFL players banned as a result of the Essendon drug saga have knocked back Mick Malthouse's offer to coach them this season.
While the majority of players will still train together throughout the year, they have opted against doing so under the former Footscray, West Coast, Collingwood and Carlton coach and his long-time fitness trainer David Buttifant.
The pair had reportedly wanted more than $1million for the job.
"I wish them all the best, no worries to me. I understand their plight to get through the year," Malthouse told Fairfax Media.
Given Malthouse currently has no official links to the AFL or any of its clubs, he would have been free to coach the exiled players under WADA rules.
The three-time premiership-winning coach met with a number of players last week, however it is believed the Essendon contracted players drove the decision to knock back the offer.
While most players will train through the banned period, some will spend their time overseas or focus on their careers after football through study.
Melbourne's Jake Melksham will be rested from training until the middle of the season, while St Kilda recruit Jake Carlisle is likely to focus on his career in construction.
Essendon meanwhile are hoping to make a decision on their 10th and final top-up player as soon as the end of this week.
Former Brisbane Lions forward Sam Michael has been training with the Bombers squad for the past fortnight, and is favourite to take out the final position in the heavily affected Essendon squad.
"We'll make a decision on that 10th spot maybe by the end of this week, but definitely within the next week or two," coach John Worsfold told SEN on Wednesday.
"We've had Sam Michael training with us ... so we've had a good look at Sam. There's other players out there who we can give consideration too."
After another tumultuous off-season, the Bombers will finally return to the football field this Sunday for their NAB Challenge match against Carlton.
Worsfold says `three or four' of the new top-up players are likely to make their Bombers' debut in the match, with the club desperate to manage them into the season without injury.
"The others will either come in the second NAB Cup game or maybe the third one," he said.
"It's an interesting part of the process of trying to get these guys ready for the season without rushing them because that can lead to injuries that will set them back."