John Robertson fears Caley Thistle could lose Joe Chalmers to a Premiership club this summer as financial reality bites.
The Inverness manager has already offered the former Celtic and Motherwell midfielder a new contract with his current deal soon to expire.
Striker Nathan Austin has also been given the chance to extend his 18-month stay beyond the end of this season.
But the influential Chalmers, who has re-booted his career in the Highlands with brilliant performances for Caley Thistle, remains Robertson’s signing priority.
The 25-year-old’s consistency and quality has shone in the Championship and Robertson admits the converted left-back is sure to be on the radar of bigger-spending clubs.
Robertson said: “Joe has been terrific for us. He’s one we’ve offered a contract to, but he’s not accepted as yet.
“His agent may well be looking at other options. Given the form Joe has been in, this season in particular, I’d be hugely surprised if there isn’t interest from the league above.
“Premier League can pay higher wages than us. It is very difficult to stop.”
While Chalmers has become a considerable asset, Robertson stressed Inverness had also been good for him since waning fortunes brought release by Motherwell in May 2017.
Robertson acknowledged: “Joe has been a class act. When he first arrived, his career appeared to be going nowhere, but he knuckled down.
“He has worked extremely hard. We’ve built him up and he’s done really well, hence why we want him to stay.
“But when you’re not in the Premier League, it is difficult to stop players leaving for the Premier League. I’m sure Joe – and others here – will be getting looked at.
“He’s a brilliant lad. His attitude and work-rate has been superb. His level of performance has been hugely consistent.
“We’ve put an offer to him and we’re waiting to find out whether he is going to accept it.”
Austin, with three goals in 22 appearances this season, has been linked with Airdrie and Queen of the South, among others.
It is understood many of Caley Thistle’s stand-out performers like Mark Ridgers, Coll Donaldson, Tom Walsh, Aaron Doran and Jordan White are contracted through to summer 2020.
But Robertson still expects interest in some and has offered contract extensions to a clutch of them.
Motherwell-bound Liam Polworth will definitely depart, while Wales’ goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams will be allowed to leave.
Robertson, meanwhile, wants victory against Dunfermline this weekend to carry momentum into the Premiership play-off double-header against Ayr.
He said: “At this level, we can’t just switch on and off – we have to look to go into the play-offs with another victory.”
Liam Polworth could recover from a knee knock but skipper Carl Tremarco is awaiting tests on a calf strain or tear.