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Will they be back? Banned Dons mulling options

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 2: Michael Hibberd of the Bombers kicks the ball during the 2015 AFL round 18 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Australia on August 2, 2015. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
Michael Hibberd is set to wait until later this year to decide if he will return to Essendon

SUSPENDED Essendon pair Michael Hibberd and Ben Howlett will wait until later in the year before deciding whether they want to return to the club next season as they mull over their options.

The duo is among seven of the 12 banned Essendon listed players who are yet to confirm their intentions for 2017 once their 12-month WADA suspensions end. understands Hibberd remains undecided about his future, while Howlett is weighing up a contract offer from the club against rival interest.

Hibberd has been training with the group of suspended players and will soon head overseas to break up his time out of the game. 

He is contracted to the Bombers until the end of 2017, but after the disappointment of his ban in January he is no closer to joining the five Essendon players that have already re-signed or committed to returning next season.

Dons to hold talks on Hurley's future

Howlett's two-year deal at Essendon expires at the end of this season, and the Bombers have committed to adding an extra year onto his contract to tie him to the club until the end of 2017. 

However, the club has only offered a trigger for a second year as part of that deal (for him to remain on the list in 2018), which has seen talks put on hold as Howlett considers his next move. 

The tough 27-year-old has been a staple of Essendon's side in recent years, playing 19 games or more in each of the past five seasons. His versatility has seen him used through the midfield, in run-with roles and also as a half-forward. 

Hibberd played 21 games in 2015 but struggled to reach his best form across the season, finishing eighth in the club's best and fairest after a top-four placing the previous year.

The 26-year-old remains a vital member of Essendon's hopes of moving back up the ladder with his rebound from defence and intercept marking across half-back.

He is managed by Paul Connors, who is also the player agent of Michael Hurley, another Bomber yet to recommit for next year. 

Dyson Heppell is the only banned Bomber with a standing contract beyond this season to recommit to the club for next year, while Cale Hooker, Travis Colyer, Heath Hocking and David Myers have all agreed to new deals.

Captain Jobe Watson, Brent Stanton, Tayte Pears, Tom Bellchambers, Hurley, Howlett and Hibberd have not publicly announced their plans for when their suspensions end later this year.

Pears, who has endured a terrible run with injury in recent seasons, is pursuing a career in firefighting during his stint out of football. 

Coach John Worsfold has spoken regularly throughout the year about wanting all 12 banned players to return to the club, and has said there will be no deadline placed upon them to make a call.