This summer will be a crucial one in the history of Derby County.
With relegation from the Championship to League One now confirmed thanks largely to their 21-point deduction, the Rams will be desperate to bounce back next season.
The first, and most important aspect of that recovery, will be completing Chris Kirchner’s proposed takeover of the club, to ensure its long term future.
Beyond that, Derby will need to put a squad together that is capable of competing next season, and that may not be easy with so many members of the current side out of contract this summer.
As a result, manager Wayne Rooney will have to bring in plenty of new recruits over the coming months.
However, Derby will no doubt want to tread carefully from a financial perspective, to avoid a repeat of the situation they are now trying to get out of.
With that in mind, the club may elect to target the free agent market this summer, rather than spending significant sums on transfer fees, even if a takeover is completed.
So here, we’ve taken a look at three players who will be out of contract this summer, that Derby County could target ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.
One familiar face that Derby could consider bringing back to Pride Park in the summer, is Bradley Johnson.
The 34-year-old midfielder has been something of a bit-part player for Blackburn in the Championship this season, but you get the feeling he could still do a job in League One, and he may be open to a return to his old club, to try and help them out of the situation they are in.
Indeed, with so many players potentially set to leave Derby this summer, bringing in someone with the experience and leadership of Johnson, could certainly be helpful in terms of guiding the young players who have been thrust into such a challenging situation at Pride Park recently.
It is likely that Derby will need some extra firepower in attack from next season, and Vadaine Oliver is someone who could fill that role.
The striker is someone who does know where the net is at this level, having scored 27 goals in 82 League One games over the past two seasons, for a Gillingham side who have just been relegated from the third-tier.
Oliver has now confirmed that he will be leaving the Gills following their relegation, and he could be keen for another chance to show what he can do at this level, particularly with a big club such as Derby, where he may feel there will be even more chances for him to put the ball in the net, to the benefit of both him and the club.
At the other end of the pitch, with current Derby ‘keeper Ryan Allsop apparently attracting attention from a number of Championship clubs, including Cardiff City, a new number one could also be on the agenda for the Rams.
One option who could be worth considering to fill that role is Lee Burge, who has plenty of experience at this level from his time first with Coventry, and now Sunderland.
Burge did recently admit that he is keen to sign a new deal with the Black Cats, but a lack of game time this season, could dent the chances of that happening, especially if they win promotion. Should that happen, a move to another big League One club with a strong following could be appealing for Burge, and Derby do fit that mould.