North Melbourne free agent Ben McKay has reportedly identified Essendon as his preferred landing spot ahead of the 2023 free agency window.
McKay has been on the radar of several clubs this year as he weighed up his future at Arden Street, with all of Port Adelaide, Essendon, Sydney and Hawthorn tied to the 25-year-old during the year.
A restricted free agent, McKay is able to exercise his rights and test the open market with little restraint from the Kangaroos, however North Melbourne are able to match a rival's bid for their key defender.
The Kangaroos confirmed McKay's decision to explore free agency on Friday afternoon.
“We understand that free agency is part of football,” North Melbourne list manager Rawlings said.
“Given Ben is a restricted free agent, we have the option to match any contract that's on offer to him.
“The official start of the free agency period is still a couple of weeks away so we've got time to assess our options and make a decision in the best interests of the North Melbourne Football Club.”
A matched bid would force the bidder to engage in trade discussions with the Roos to get a deal over the line that would see McKay land at his preferred club.
That club is now said to be Essendon, with AFL.com.au's Cal Twomey revealing McKay has opted for a move to Essendon via free agency.
A lucrative enough offer from the Bombers could see North Melbourne gain band one compensation for McKay, which would fall one draft place behind their current opening selection for the 2023 draft of Pick 2, giving the Roos two of the top three draft selections for November's count.
If Essendon are successful in their pursuit of McKay, it will come as fellow tall defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher seeks a move away from Tullamarine in the hope of landing with Port Adelaide this off-season. Zerk-Thatcher is not eligible for free agency.
The Roos confirmed Goldstein will explore his options earlier this week, while Gresham - another restricted free agent - is weighing up his future as the Bombers firm as a frontrunner for his services.
McKay joined the Roos as the 21st overall selection in the 2015 National Draft and has played 71 games in the blue and white.