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On the bubble: 36 AFC players who could be released

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The confetti had barely hit the ground in Santa Clara, California, when the mass text arrived from the Philadelphia Eagles: The team had released Riley Cooper on the first day of the offseason. That was the first salary-cap casualty of the offseason, with players like Michael Griffin, Jahri Evans and Joique Bell also being released since the season ended.

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The cuts will pile up as we approach March 9, the first official day of free agency. Here's a look at the players that could be in trouble in the AFC. We'll hit the NFC on Friday.

Strong candidates for release


1. Arian Foster, Houston Texans: Foster has enjoyed an incredible seven-year run in Houston, emerging as the NFL's leading rusher only a season after he went undrafted. But he's missed 23 games in the last three seasons, turns 30 in August and is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. Foster is due $6.5 million plus $500,000 in bonus money. He ran as hard as anyone in football in 2014, so he should get more chances. It just might not be with Bill O'Brien.

2. Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills: Williams' career has generally been underrated until now, when he is properly rated as an albatross on the Bills' ledger. He didn't fit in Rex Ryan's scheme and wasn't effective last season. The Bills won't consider paying him $14.5 million next season.

3. Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos: Broncos general manager John Elway handed Clady a huge deal in 2013 that looked like a safe bet. Unfortunately, Clady had missed nearly all of two of the three seasons because of a lisfranc foot sprain and a torn ACL. He didn't look like his old self when he played in 2014. He will have to take a big pay cut from his $9.5 million salary to stay.

4-6. Andre Johnson, Trent Cole and Bjoern Werner, Indianapolis Colts: We loved the idea of Johnson replacing Reggie Wayne last season. Unfortunately, he played like Wayne circa 2014. It's hard to imagine the Colts bringing him back at $7.5 million (they would save $5 million if they cut him). Cole was another failed free-agent pickup from general manager Ryan Grigson. Cole is a rare player to hit this list two years in a row. Werner, the former first-round pick, doesn't cost much money. He also barely plays.

7. Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns: His issues are well known and go well beyond football. The Browns cutting Manziel isn't about money. It's about getting a fresh start for both sides. He's expected to be released March 9.

8-9. Antonio Cromartie and Breno Giacomini, New York Jets: The Jets should know better than to jump on the CromartieCoaster as it's cresting. There's only one way to go from there, and he crashed last season. The Jets are reasonably deep in the secondary and don't want to pay Cromartie $8 million. Giacomini should be a straightforward cut. He was one of former GM John Idzik's most curious moves.

10. Greg Jennings, Miami Dolphins: Due $4 million after gaining just 208 yards last season, Jennings is one of many well known Dolphins in trouble (see below). Jennings is unlikely to get a chance to help Ryan Tannehill get closer to "elite."

11. Cortez Allen, Pittsburgh Steelers: Veteran beat writer Ed Bouchette called Allen's five-year, $26 million deal "one of the worst big-money contracts in Steelers history." He's not wrong.

12-13. Toby Gerhart and Chris Clemons, Jacksonville Jaguars: Gerhart never panned out as a lead running back and Clemons couldn't recapture his Seattle form.

14. Rahim Moore, Houston Texans: The Broncos didn't have a hard time replacing Moore and the Texans didn't enjoy what Moore brought to the table.

15. Dwayne Bowe, Cleveland Browns: Last year's worst free-agent signing should be one and done.

Broncos hope it doesn't come to this


Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: The Broncos aren't talking contract to Brock Osweiler "out of respect" to Manning. That respect has a shelf life. If Manning hasn't retired before free agency starts, the Broncos will almost certainly release him. Manning's family doesn't want him to play elsewhere, but we wouldn't rule anything out. He's due $19 million. Retirement seems more likely than not.

Category of his own


Alex Mack, C, Cleveland Browns: Look for Mack to cut himself. He doesn't truly belong on this list, but Mack is not on any potential free agent lists because he's under contract with the Browns. A clause in his deal allows him to void the contract. He's due $8 million from Cleveland and might be able to top it on the open market with a team that has a better chance to win. Mack told Around the NFL's intrepid reporter Conor Orr not to "rule out" the center staying with the Browns, which sounds like a guy with one foot out the door.

Potential Surprise Cuts


1-3. Cameron Wake, Jordan Cameron and Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins: All three big-name Dolphins are drifting along in the same boat. They need to take a pay cut or lose their jobs. Wake is one of the best pass rushers of his era and certainly the best player of the Stephen Ross era in Miami. Wake also sneaky old (34) and coming off a torn Achilles tendon. The Dolphins would save more than $8 million in salary-cap space by cutting him.

The Dolphins need to create cap space to re-sign players like Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon, not to mention execute yet another new vision by yet another new coach-GM combination. Grimes, who will be 33 before next season, is coming off a relative down year yet remains a starting-caliber player. He and Wake appear to have a good chance to stick around at a reduced rate, but the Dolphins will be prepared to release them if they are asking for a pay cut. (NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports the Dolphins are talking extension with Wake.) There's a chance the Dolphins don't even offer Cameron a new deal and instead just release him. The tight end is due $7.5 million after gaining 386 yards in 2015, sixth on the team.

4. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens: We would guess that Monroe sticks around because the Ravens don't have a logical replacement. But he has massively underperformed his contract since joining.

5. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers: Timmons is a team leader and he passed the eye test with his play late in the season. He also has an outrageous cap number ($15.1 million) that's totally out of whack for a player on the decline. ProFootball Focus ranked him 90th out of 94 inside linebackers last season. A contract extension that lowered Timmons' cap number would make sense here.

6. Vince Wilfork, Houston Texans: Wilfork added plenty to the Texans in the way of leadership and Hard Knocks entertainment, but he's not a lock to return with a $4 million salary. Brian Cushing would be another big surprise cut because of his huge salary, although he seems like a safer bet to stay.

7. Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots: Just one year removed from a 953-yard season, LaFell was very ineffective as a deep threat in 2015. Danny Amendola looks like a safer bet to return, but the Patriots might see them as too costly as a pair.

Other cut candidates


1-3. Dennis Pitta, Daryl Smith, and Chris Canty, Baltimore Ravens: If Pitta wants to keep playing, it will have to be with another deal.

4-5. D'Qwell Jackson and Erik Walden, Indianapolis Colts: Does GM Ryan Grigson want to shuffle out somewhat overpriced free agent signings of yesteryear to try his hand in the market again?

6. Jeff Cumberland, New York Jets: Somewhere, Dan Hanzus sheds a tear.

7-8. Desmond Bryant, Paul Kruger and Randy Starks, Cleveland Browns: Kruger and Bryant played under Ray Horton the last time he coordinated the Browns' defense. That was also three regimes ago. We'd guess Kruger stays.

9. Zane Beadles, Jacksonville Jaguars: He's struggled to justify the big deal general manager David Caldwell gave him in 2014.

10. Earl Mitchell and Koa Misi, Miami Dolphins: It would be easier to name the Dolphins defenders that will be back with the team.

11. Donald Brown, San Diego Chargers: He's the highest paid third-string running back in the NFL.

12. Garrett Graham, Houston Texans: He doesn't fit O'Brien's system.

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