ESSENDON and North Melbourne have honed in on Port Adelaide's Dougal Howard in a bid to replenish their key-position stocks.
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There is a growing belief the contracted Power swingman can be lured from Alberton despite him signing a three-year extension in December last year to remain until the end of 2022.
Howard's decision may come down to his willingness to play as a forward at Port Adelaide.
Dougal Howard played 15 games this season, but none after round 19. Picture: AFL Photos
The Bombers' interest in him goes back at least a year, and comes as speculation rages about star forward Joe Daniher weighing up a high-profile trade to Sydney.
Aaron Francis is consistently linked with a move home to South Australia, while AFL.com.au also reported in late August that Essendon was open to offers on Jayden Laverde.
Howard enjoyed a breakout season as a 199cm defender in 2018, averaging 10.8 spoils and two intercept marks in a career-best 20 games.
The 23-year-old's leadership qualities also saw him captain the Power against Gold Coast in round nine this year, in the absence of Ollie Wines and Tom Jonas.
However, Howard was dropped after kicking two goals among only five possessions in round 19, and didn't win his senior spot back in the final month of the season.
In between, coach Ken Hinkley redeployed him from defence to the forward line, including an impressive two-goal, second-half cameo against Adelaide in Showdown 46.
Howard, who grew up in Wagga Wagga, was unable to display the same consistency in attack that he'd previously shown down back.
Port preferred to operate with Jonas and Tom Clurey as their key defenders, with the likes of Ryan Burton, Riley Bonner, Darcy Byrne-Jones, Hamish Hartlett and Jarrod Lienert used around them.
Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall are Howard's primary competition up forward.
Hinkley typically plays two ruckmen as well, with Peter Ladhams set to partner Scott Lycett in 2020, as Paddy Ryder weighs up offers from St Kilda and the Bombers.
The Power announced post-season it had encouraged Ryder and Sam Gray to explore their trade options.
Midfielder Sam Powell-Pepper's name continues to come up in trade discussions, but Port Adelaide football boss Chris Davies has rubbished claims co-captain Wines could be available.
Meanwhile, the Kangaroos have lost defender Scott Thompson to retirement, and the jury is still out on whether Sam Durdin and Ben McKay can fill the void next to Robbie Tarrant.
Majak Daw also didn't play at AFL level this year after sustaining serious hip and pelvis injuries in a fall from a Melbourne bridge.
North Melbourne brought in ex-Port Adelaide players Jared Polec and Jasper Pittard in last year's Trade Period, while Mason Wood is believed to be up for grabs.
As for Essendon, All Australian backmen Cale Hooker (30 years old) and Michael Hurley (29) are closer to the end than the start of their careers.
Mitch Brown (29), Shaun McKernan (29) and Patrick Ambrose (28) are all nearing 30 as well.
The Bombers have some developing tall players at either end, such as Francis, Jordan Ridley, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Noah Gown.