Hawthorn are understood to have opened preliminary contract discussions with star defender James Sicily.

The 27-year-old is eligible for free agency in 2022, having last signed an extension with the Hawks in 2019.

Recent weeks have seen the Hawks look to lock in their most valued assets for the future, with defensive trio Changkuoth Jiath, Denver Grainger-Barras and Jack Scrimshaw all re-signing this pre-season.

Sicily now firms as the next name to retain in the eyes of Hawthorn's front office, with the 93-gamer arguably the club's most vital asset.

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Despite missing the entirety of last season due to an ACL injury sustained in 2020, Sicily will enter this year as a key cog in rookie coach Sam Mitchell's squad.

According to The Herald Sun, the Hawks have sparked contract talks with the Keilor product, with a new deal potentially placing Sicily as the top-paid player at Waverley.

The role of captain under Mitchell could also be a lure for Sicily to remain in the brown and gold, with the star interceptor seen as a likely candidate to succeed skipper Ben McEvoy at season's end.

Both Sicily and McEvoy are among the half-dozen Hawks classified as free agents this year, with Jack Gunston, Kyle Hartigan, Daniel Howe and Liam Shiels also eligible to enter free agency.

Gunston was among a group of senior Hawks reportedly placed on offer to rival clubs in the off-season, however ruckman Jonathon Ceglar was the only veteran to depart in a move to Geelong.

The list strategy comes amid a rebuild as Mitchell's steps into the helm, hoping to bolster his club's youthful stocks as they steer themselves back toward finals contention.

Hawks fans will get their first look at life with Mitchell as senior coach when the Hawks face Collingwood and Richmond as part of their pre-season schedule, which will precede their season opener against North Melbourne at the MCG on Sunday, March 20.