SWINGMAN Dougal Howard is emerging as the player who could help deliver Essendon forward Orazio Fantasia to Port Adelaide.
The Bombers met with Howard this week, after AFL.com.au revealed last week they had long coveted him, including before he signed a three-year extension in December.
The 199cm defender-forward also had meetings with North Melbourne and St Kilda, while Collingwood has made an enquiry.
AFL.com.au reported in July that Fantasia, who is contracted until the end of 2021, was keen to return to South Australia before his AFL career ended.
The 24-year-old's family and girlfriend still live in his home state, and he has a strong relationship with Power assistant coach Nathan Bassett.
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Fantasia told reporters as recently as late August that he would "definitely" be at Essendon next season, but industry sources believe the Bombers are bracing for him to request a trade.
He has parted ways with his manager, Anthony McConville, but is yet to lock in a replacement.
Essendon is still waiting for a definitive answer from another forward, Joe Daniher, who is being linked with a move to Sydney.
Port Adelaide is also aware of the Bombers' interest in Sam Powell-Pepper, although there's been no negotiations yet about the strong-bodied midfielder.
Powell-Pepper, like Daniher, is contracted for next season.
Howard's situation has developed since his exit meeting at the Power, where he was told his future at the club was as a forward and no longer down back.
There hasn't been the same encouragement given to Howard to explore his options as there was for Paddy Ryder and Sam Gray, who could both land at St Kilda in the upcoming Trade Period.
However, it's believed Howard is clear on where he stands – and started canvassing rival clubs' interest on that basis.
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AFL.com.au also understands Port's salary cap position is not playing a role in Howard's situation and that the club actually has money to spend on players.
Neither Howard nor Powell-Pepper on his own is considered commensurate value for Fantasia, with the Power likely to have to part with a draft pick to make any trade work.
The Bombers don't have a first-round selection this year, after trading for Dylan Shiel in the 2018 Trade Period.