The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), however, seemed to have made up its mind and Dhoni, who has stonewalled retirement talks in his rare media interactions, was conspicuous by his absence in the 27-player list.
In the new list, captain Virat Kohli, opener Rohit Sharma and pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah have retained their place in the A+ grade, worth 70 million Indian rupees ($986,923) a year.
The 11 players grouped in the A grade with retainers of 50 million rupees include Rishabh Pant, who is seen as Dhoni's successor in limited-overs cricket.
Test wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha was promoted to grade B where he joins opener Mayank Agarwal and three others who will earn 30 million rupees each.
The final group comprises eight players with retainers of 10 million rupees for the period from October 2019 to September 2020.
Dhoni, who was in grade A in the previous list, remains India's most successful limited-overs captain who led the team to World Cup victories both in the 20-overs (2007) and 50-overs (2011) formats.
Dinesh Karthik, Khaleel Ahmed and Ambati Rayudu also missed out on a contract.
Grade A+ - Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah
Grade A - Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav, Rishabh Pant
Grade B - Wriddhiman Saha, Umesh Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Hardik Pandya, Mayank Agarwal
Grade C - Kedar Jadhav, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Manish Pandey, Hanuma Vihari, Shardul Thakur, Shreyas Iyer, Washington Sundar
($1 = 70.92 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Christian Radnedge) ((email@example.com; Twitter: @Amlan_Reuters))