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Nervous time for up to 20 out-of-contract Bombers as Essendon gets set for huge list turnover

Biting allegation, Dons infighting, Swan's hope Matt Thompson with your Monday Footy Feed
We'll probably have a harder list cut than we have had before
James Hird

THE UNCERTAINTY surrounding Essendon extends beyond the future of coach James Hird, with the club set to head into the off-season with nearly half of its list out of contract.

Pro scouts from rival clubs believe Essendon's list of unsigned players is among the longest in the competition, with up to 20 players' deals expiring at the end of this season. Gold Coast is believed to have more than 20 unsigned players.

Essendon's group includes veterans Dustin Fletcher, Jason Winderlich and Paul Chapman, who are all expected to retire, as well as experienced recruit James Gwilt.

The club has a further four free agents yet to sign on for next year – ruckman Tom Bellchambers, senior midfielder Brent Stanton, half-back Courtenay Dempsey and defender Tayte Pears.

After the Bombers' 112-point loss to Adelaide on Saturday, coach James Hird indicated a large number of players were set to depart the club at the end of the season

"We'll probably have a turnover of between six to eight, maybe a bit harsher depending on what we think we can get in the draft and what happens in the trade (period)," Hird said.

"But we'll probably have a harder list cut than we have had before."

Jake Carlisle and Mark Baguley are among the handful of regular senior players out of contract, while top-10 pick Jake Melksham is also waiting on negotiations to ramp up regarding his future.

Younger options Alex Browne, Lauchlan Dalgleish, Will Hams, Elliott Kavanagh and Nick O'Brien face another uncertain month as the Bombers assess their list, while rookie-listed trio Kurt Aylett, Shaun McKernan and Ariel Steinberg also remain unsigned for next year.

After two years of draft penalties, the Bombers are likely to go to this year's intake with a bigger batch of selections intent on adding to their midfield stocks.

The Bombers' dismal season looks likely to see them hold a top-four pick at November's NAB AFL Draft, which would be their earliest selection since they took Scott Gumbleton with pick No.2 in 2006.

Hird said last week the club had identified the midfield as an area it needed to boost, with Geelong Falcons on-baller Darcy Parish among the possible candidates for their first pick.

The Bombers have used more than five live picks at the draft only twice in the past 10 years.