St Kilda enter the off-season with a total of 14 players still unsigned for the 2024 season as several fringe and senior figures face an uncertain future at Moorabbin.
Senior coach Ross Lyon will get to work with list management gurus Stephen Silvagni and Graeme Allan over the coming weeks ahead of what will be his first trade and free agency period since returning to Moorabbin, having been appointed as Brett Ratten's replacement less than two weeks after the trade period concluded last October.
Lyon was able to get the most out of an injury-hit and youthful side that was viewed as an underdog outfit almost each week through to their home elimination final on Saturday against GWS.
The four-goal loss to the Giants brought the Saints' year to a close, with Lyon flagging after the game that the club will "explore" the player movement mechanisms available to them to "get some near-term assistance".
Before putting the moves in place to add to their list, St Kilda's first steps through the off-season will be to shift the available spots in their squad to get a better understanding of just how active they can be before the exchange period and subsequent draft window.
Of the 14 players yet to cement their future for next year, six didn't appear at senior level this year, while a further three unsigned Saints played six or fewer games.
Injuries prevented wingman Dan McKenzie and defender Nick Coffield from getting a look under Lyon, with niggling calf issues taking their toll on the duo throughout 2023.
Senior ruckman Tom Campbell wasn't required given Rowan Marshall's clean bill of health, however the former Bulldog and Roo was viewed as St Kilda's second-string ruck option as Max Heath and Isaac Keeler still require more time to develop before being deployed at AFL level.
South Australian defender Tom Highmore was another not to feature at senior level, with the backman finishing fourth in Sandringham's Neil Bencraft Award count, two spots and as many votes behind Campbell in the voting.
Jones' horror injury run prevented the gritty midfielder from getting a consistent run at selection, while Peris made his debut in Round 18 against the Suns in what would be his only showing.
Bytel, who would start four of his six matches in 2023 as the tactical sub, would only break onto Lyon's plans once after Round 9 despite strong form at the state league level.
The 23-year-old is likely placed toward the back of the retention queue with Highmore, Adams and Connolly, while pre-season addition Liam Stocker is likely the first in line to earn a new deal 12 months on from his delisting at Carlton.
Stocker would play 23 games in the red, white and black this year, including the Elimination Final loss to the Giants as the tactical sub.
Restricted free agent Jade Gresham is the headline name among the crop of out-of-contract Saints, having garnered reported interest from Carlton and Hawthorn this year before links began to cool.
The South Morang junior joined Stocker and Byrnes as the only currently unsigned players to play 20 or more matches this season, with Gresham's back end of the year an improvement on his opening appearances.
Defensive-minded midfielder Hunter Clark is a curious case, having missed five of a possible 24 games after suffering a knee injury in May. Clark was floated as a potential trade target for North Melbourne last year even though he was contracted with the Saints, with any move falling through despite some haggling over a potential high-end pick swap that might've included the former top 10 selection.
Clark and Gresham aren't the only Saints who have been on the end of external advances, with AFL.com.au reporting Coffield has interest from Brisbane, while Bytel was said to be on the radar of rivals in 2022 before he earned a one-year extension in October.
St Kilda's list of unsigned players for 2024
The situation that surrounds Campbell is an intriguing one also, with St Kilda likely hoping Heath can be ready for senior opportunities next year if needed. If not, then Campbell could earn an extension to bridge the gap as the standby ruck option behind Marshall.
Mature-aged recruit Jack Hayes' injury luck is yet to turn, but the former Woodville-West Torrens star remains a suitable partner for Marshall when fit.
The uncertainty of St Kilda's ruck crop could lead Lyon and Co. to dip into the 'ruck merry-go-round' - a market Campbell is unlikely to be a part of.
Perhaps the most fitting target for the Saints to consider is contracted Gold Coast tall Mabior Chol, who can offer some support to Marshall in a forward-ruck role.
Chol's manager Ashley Blair has flagged a decision by his client won't be made until after the Suns' VFL finals campaign, however interest in the former Tiger is present.
“Mabior is focusing on the VFL final series and hopefully winning a premiership with the Suns. We are aware and have been approached by a number of clubs that are interested in Mabior due to his high-end talent to see where everything sits," a recent statement by Blair read.
Set to open their draft bidding at Pick 12 as the current order stands, the Saints are also likely to look toward bolstering their midfield through trade or draft recruitment.
Lyon's post-game press conference on Saturday drew attention to Jack Steele's "lone hand" standing in the Saints' midfield ensemble, with hopes held for emerging talent Mitch Owens and Mattaes Phillipou to be part of the leading engine room force at Linton Street in the long term.
The 'short-term assistance' Lyon is after is unlikely to come through Pick 12, either at the draft or via a trade, as the Saints coach has already spoken on his desire to add young talent over the coming months through the top end of the draft.
If the Saints did overachieve in 2023, then the idea of parting with their 2024 first-round selection should be off limits, with a top eight spot certainly no guarantee despite the Saints' finish this year with their reliance on a younger crop.
It's likely the Saints will need to move on players with currency to package more middle-range draft selections and be a chance of either adding talent that can have an instant impact, or advance their place in the draft queue.
Clark and Coffield could both secure the Saints something worthwhile on the trade table, while Gresham would need to depart through free agency for the club to acquire compensation.
The Saints are facing a balancing act, wanting to add top draft talent and ready-made names from elsewhere, with their list priorities after a promising first year back for Lyon set to show in the coming months.