JOHN Eustace is to stay at Derby County for next season.
The 34-year-old midfielder had a 12-month clause in his contract which has been taken up by the club.
And it is a similar situation regarding striker Jamie Ward.
“They will be staying with us,” said first-team coach Paul Simpson.
“Those two had options in their contracts and the manager has made it quite clear he would like them around.”
Derby are also in talks with central defender Zak Whitbread and left-back Lee Naylor, who are both free agents.
Eustace made 31 starts this season and was a regular in the holding role in midfield until he was suspended.
George Thorne, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, stepped in and kept his place to leave Eustace among the substitutes.
“Eusty played a great part for us, he really did,” said Simpson.
“He is coming to the stage of his career where he probably doesn’t expect to play 46 games, but like every footballer he wants to.
“He will be important to us next season. He is a top professional to have around the place.
“His knowledge and experience will be very important in what is a young changing room.”
Ward made 35 starts and the 28-year-old Northern Ireland international scored seven goals.
Whitbread was on loan from Leicester City and Naylor signed a short-term contract as cover for Craig Forsyth.
Whitbread arrived at the beginning of October and made three consecutive starts before he was injured in the victory at Watford.
Jake Buxton came back in and stayed there to form a solid centre-back partnership with skipper Richard Keogh. Whitbread’s one other appearance was in the final league game against Leeds United at Elland Road when Buxton was rested.
Whitbread, 30, was released by promoted Leicester at the end of the season.
Naylor, who is 34, was used four times as a substitute by the Rams.
“Discussions are ongoing between the manager and both Lee and Zak,” said Simpson.
“Zak was unfortunate when he got injured in the Watford game and the two centre halves (Keogh and Buxton) have been magnificent.
“When Keogh was injured we had to bring in Michael Keane on loan because Zak was not fit.
“Lee and Zak played a massive part in the run-in with their experience.”
Simpson says wheels are already turning as Derby plan their squad for next season.
“We have been out and about watching games and seeing players. We know who is out there and what we need to bring in. The job now is to try to bring players in,” he said.
“Discussions are taking place about what we want, what we need and how we can do that.
“I am sure there will be meetings between [chief executive] Sam Rush and the board, and hopefully we can have a real good go again next season.”
Loanees George Thorne, Andre Wisdom and Patrick Bamford have returned to their clubs - West Bromwich Albion, Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.
Goalkeeper Adam Legzdins and midfielders James Bailey and Ben Davies have not had their contracts renewed and have left the club along with Callum Ball, James O’Connor, Valentin Gjokaj and Michael Hoganson.
“We want to thank them for eveything they have done while at the club,” said Simpson.
“Most of them didn’t play a lot of football while myself, Steve McClaren and Eric Steele have been here but they have been a credit to their profession in the way they have gone about things.
“Decisions are being made over the next day or two about the under-21s who will be retained and released because that is something we need to improve on for next season to make sure we have a really strong under-21 group who can come in and compliment the first-team group when needs be.
“We will be a lot of bodies down then, and so we need to add.
“We are not going to put a number on what we need, but by the start of pre-season we hope to have a couple of new faces that can come into the group and then be ready to start having a go at building the squad for the start of the season.”
Asked how optimistic he was about Thorne, Wisdom and Bamford returning next season, Simpson said: “They have done so well for us that their clubs want them back.
“We would like to bring them in, if possible, but George belongs to WBA, Andre to Liverpool and Patrick to Chelsea. So those clubs hold all the cards.
“There might be room for manoeuvre to get those players back, whether permanent or on loan again, but we will wait to see on that over the next few weeks and months.”