New Zealand Rugby are open to the idea of giving All Blacks skipper Kieran Read a Richie McCaw-esque sabbatical before the 2019 World Cup.
Read, 31, is contracted until the end of 2017, with negotiations ongoing for a two-year extension.
The tournament in Japan is likely to be the Crusaders No.8's last in the black jumper, as he will celebrate his 34th birthday during the Cup.
NZ Rugby chief Steve Tew said the union was open to giving the 97-cap Read a sabbatical in 2018 to refresh before a final tilt at the Webb Ellis.
If granted, the sabbatical would imitate former captain McCaw's six-month break from the game at the beginning of 2013.
McCaw, in a bid to preserve his body for the ultimately successful 2015 World Cup defence, missed most of Super Rugby in 2013 and the June series against France.
"We've proven over a long period of time now that we'll sit down with each player and, within reason, be incredibly flexible," Tew said on Monday.
"If that's what any player wanted and we believed it merited in terms of their tenure and loyalty, and their workload, we'd consider that." - Steve Tew
Irrespective of any sabbatical, Read will be forced to take a prolonged break from rugby after having his wrist operated on two weeks ago.
Crusaders boss Scott Robertson confirmed on Monday that Read would sit out Super Rugby action until April, just two months before the Lions tour.
As a result Robertson has elected to install Test lock Sam Whitelock as his side's 2017 skipper, giving Read the chance to recuperate and rejuvenate.
The 83-cap Whitelock had previously captained the Crusaders during Read's absence at the start of 2016.
"Kieran has been an excellent captain, he's a courageous leader who the players admire and love," Robertson said.
"This will allow Kieran to focus on just playing and enjoying himself in the Crusaders' environment."
Meanwhile, Tew confirmed contract offers had been extended to All Blacks stalwarts Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith.
All three will be off-contract next year and have reportedly fielded lucrative deals from clubs in Ireland and France.
Head coach Steve Hansen has publicly called on the trio to stay until 2019 and write another chapter in their Test stories.
"They all know we love them to death and we'd love them to stay, but they've got to make their decision," Tew said.
"We continue to work really hard to create great environments for our players."