Wales’ regions are braced to lose many of their biggest stars due to drastic cost-cutting measures.
Cardiff head coach Dai Young admitted the club cannot match the offers being made from elsewhere with Liam Williams, Josh Adams and Jarrod Evans targeted.
Dragons are hoping Ross Moriarty stays despite a lucrative offer from France.
Ospreys said a player has already signalled he will quit, with a regional finance deal still to be agreed with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).
On a sobering day for Welsh rugby, in which three of the four regions held press conferences, it was left to their head coaches to spell out the impact of the expected budget cuts.
WRU chief executive Nigel Walker said on Monday, 27 February that an agreement would be in place in a “matter of days” a deal has not been signed.
So while regions have offered verbal contracts, players’ futures remain uncertain while talks go on at the game’s Professional Rugby Board (PRB) level.
‘I expect us to lose players’ – Young
Cardiff’s annual budget is set to be cut by £2m, from £7.2 to £5.2, which will have a major impact on the squad.
There are reports Cardiff players on wages up to £250,000 have been offered new deals as low as £30,000 a year and chief executive Richard Holland says they are trying to “unlock” funds to form a squad for 2023-24.
“I expect us to lose a number of players, that’s the market,” said Young.
“There are a lot of standout players, those recognised as leading players for us, who have very competitive offers on the table from other clubs.
“They’re around the type of figures they are currently on, but we simply can’t match those offers for them to stay.
“A number of those players would prefer to stay, but we can’t be competitive.”
Williams is weighing up offers from France and Japan, Lyon are chasing wing Adams, while Harlequins are reportedly on the brink of signing fly-half Evans.
Young added: “There are ongoing discussions between our board and the PRB about increasing the funding, but right now we can’t put competitive offers on the table.”
One issue is those players are under national squad contracts.
Previously the WRU paid 80% of such contracts, but the regions look set to be handed the responsibility for paying the full wages, rather than 20% under the current agreement.
“There is a contribution coming our way for those national players, but only for one season, not beyond that,” added Young.
“These were players that were valued by the WRU, who decided their salaries. Regions put their hand up if they were interested in that player, but based on paying 20%. That’s very different to the full amount.”
‘I’ve already lost a player’ – Booth
That could have a huge impact on Ospreys who have the most Wales internationals within their squad.
Director of rugby Toby Booth confirmed verbal offers have been made, but admitted the quality of his squad may be compromised.
“There are going to be some departures for sure,” said Booth
“Some of those have been forced upon us and some by choice because it’s taken too long.
“I’ve already lost one player, who I won’t name, who would’ve been nice to keep, but they have got an option and they’ve gone elsewhere. That’s an unfortunate casualty of this scenario.”
Wales prop Nicky Smith has been strongly linked with a move to England.
“The ratio of depth to quality is going to be a difficult thing to manage. We’ve got a priority surrounding some of our young and emerging players,” added Booth.
“We’ve certainly made some progress and we are in a better position this week than last week, but there’s still plenty to get done.”
‘No-one else in Wales does what Moriarty does’
The east Wales region has offered 12 players verbal contracts.
Among those is British and Irish Lions back-row Moriarty, who has been linked with Bayonne.
“He’s got a decision to make. We want to be in a position to offer him a formal contract, not just a verbal one, but he has to decide what’s best for him,” said head coach Dai Flanagan.
“I’d like to think he’s enjoying it here and he’s been superb for us.
“Missing out for Wales could impact his thoughts, but Ross will harbour thoughts that he should be in the squad. No-one else in Wales does what he does. He’s one of the best ball-carriers in Europe.
“He’s still only 28 and has lots more rugby in him.”
Another to be offered a verbal contract is centre Jack Dixon, despite being ruled out for the rest of the season following ankle surgery last week.
“We’re in exactly the same position as before. Hopefully players appreciate the honestly and I think there’s more harmony around [and] that things will be sorted,” said Flanagan.
“We’ve been smart with our business, but no-one who has been offered a verbal contract has said no.”
Dragons have already lost one of their leading players, with Wales lock Will Rowlands destined for Racing 92 in the French Top 14.
Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel said earlier in the week they are making formal contract offers as an agreement inches nearer, but he accepted players will leave the west Wales team.