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On the bubble: 29 NFC players that could be released


We've already looked at the players that could be cut in the AFC. Let's break down the NFC before any more actual moves happen.

Strong candidates for release


1. Mike Wallace, Minnesota Vikings: Wallace is on this list for the second straight season, joining Trent Cole and Andre Johnson in a club no one wants to join. He still can get deep, but he is paid like a guy that can do so much more and he didn't show great chemistry with Teddy Bridgewater. Getting released two straight years is a sign of a career in steep decline, with the market slowly catching up.

2. Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers: When the Panthers narrowly kept Johnson from leaving for Atlanta in 2011 with a six-year, $76 million contract, I thought the Panthers overpaid in a typical free agent bidding war. He wound up being worth the money, a bedrock pass rusher for John Fox and Ron Rivera. Johnson can still play at a starter level, but not for a $15 million cap figure. Carolina will save $11 million against the cap by releasing him.

3. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: There is no drama left about whether Griffin will change teams. The Redskins will spend their quarterback money on a Kirk Cousins franchise tag. There remains plenty of mystery about the level of interest RGIII will inspire in the open market. The case against Griffin is easier to make in most cities than the case for him, but some quarterback thirsty franchise with will give him a chance. The Rams would be a logical and deliciously ironic landing spot.

4. Victor Cruz, New York Giants: The immortal football analyst Chris Wesseling has declared a hunger strike against posts about Cruz, refusing to recognize that Cruz remains in the league after 26 consecutive missed games. He currently has the second highest cap figure ($9.9 million) on a deeply flawed roster. Reports indicate Cruz is ready to take a big pay cut to stay, but negotiating those deals for a big name player is easier said than done.

5-6. Chris Long and Jared Cook, Los Angeles Rams: Long, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 Draft, was one year away from completing a five-year, $60.5 million contract signed in 2012. Now 30, he has only four sacks in 11 starts over the last two years. He knows he would have to take a big pay cut to stay with $11.75 million in compensation on tap. Perhaps he could wind up joining his brother in Chicago?

Cook has teased and ultimately disappointed Jeff Fisher in two cities. Can they make it three? The Rams can't seem to quit Cook, yet Fisher has to realize a $8.3 million cap hit for a borderline starter is wacky.

UPDATE: Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Jared Cook were cut by the Rams on Friday.

7. DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles: Valued for his leadership, it will be tough for Ryans to survive another coaching change when the team is transitioning to a 4-3 defense. Jordan Hicks should take over in the middle.

8. Brandon Browner, New Orleans Saints: He was the NFC's answer to the Dwayne Bowe signing, except the Saints refused to bench him. Penalties and big plays piled up wherever Browner roamed. (Browner already bid farewell to the team on Twitter, so this isn't going out on a limb.)

9-11. Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, John Sullivan, Minnesota VikingsThe Vikings are in a bizarre situation on their offensive line. They have three high-priced starters that have all underperformed for various reasons and could all be released. But does the team want to start over from scratch?

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Complicating matters: Kalil was the fourth overall pick in the draft, while Loadholt and Sullivan are coming off serious injuries. Kalil has struggled badly in pass protection. The Vikings would save more than $22 million (!) in cap room by cutting all three. Kalil is due half of that and could be the most likely one to get released.

11-12. Roddy White and Devin Hester, Atlanta Falcons: White said after the season he wouldn't take a pay cut to stay, which seemingly ended his incredible tenure of the team. Yet the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this month the Falcons are leaning to retaining" White for his leadership.

"It's not always about the talent," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

No, but it's really rare to see a team keep a 16-game starter that barely topped 500 yards at a big salary. Perhaps the Falcons see that they'll only save $4.2 million if they cut White, and want to see how training camp goes. Hester, who is due $3 million in base salary this season, is a much safer bet to be released. He wasn't a difference maker as a returner or receiver last year. 

13. Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers: The versatile and tough outside linebacker is a great example of the NFL's sliding scale of justice. A lesser player would have been cut before now. It was a surprise the 49ers kept Brooks going into last season even before he was indicted on misdemeanor sexual battery charges. It does not compute that his cap number ($9.6 million) would be the second highest on the team. 

14. Brandon Carr, Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones tried to get Carr to take a pay cut entering last season. He said no thanks, and the Cowboys still kept him. It's hard to imagine them doing so again with a $13.817 million cap number, although the Cowboys think differently than most teams. Carr is a solid starter and should be paid like one. The Cowboys often retain big contracts a year too long.

15. Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals: Remember him? Once one of the game's most dynamic inside linebackers, it has been almost 26 months since Washington played after domestic violence and substance abuse problems. He remains on the suspended list, but would be nearly certain to get cut if he's reinstated.

Potential Surprises


1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: The Lions want Megatron to keep playing. One reason to believe he won't: Coming to terms on a new contract will not be simple. Johnson has a $24 million cap hit that includes nearly $16 million in base salary. So he either needs to take a big pay cut or new Lions general manager Bob Quinn has to give an extension to a player that is questioning his football future.

Before the retirement question came up, we knew this would be a complicated negotiation with the potential for a release. (At this stage, retirement or a new contract is more likely than a release. And the whole situation could drag past the start of free agency.)

2. Nick Foles, Los Angeles Rams: Jeff Fisher named Case Keenum the starter over Nick Foles heading into the offseason, which spoke volumes. Foles' play was even worse than his lackluster numbers indicate. Foles is due $8.75 million this season, with $6 million already guaranteed. (Another $1.75 million is guaranteed by the middle of March.) So the Rams would potentially have to pay Foles to go away, a rough reminder of how poorly general manager Les Snead handled the situation when Foles arrived last year.

3. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints: The team has an in-house replacement in Brandon Coleman, although it won't be easy to replace the franchise's all-time leading receiver. Colston deserves a chance to try to make the team in camp, although his has clearly lost a step.

4-5. Jason Peters and Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles: Peters was not the same dominant force last season, especially down the stretch. He's a decent bet to be back despite a $9.7 million cap figure, but it's a situation to watch. New coach Doug Pederson could decide to cut costs with Sproles, who could get squeezed out because the team is already paying DeMarco Murray so much money at running back.

6. Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers: I don't actually believe Peppers has much of a chance to be released. I just want to point out how impressive it is that Peppers is earning a salary with a cap hit over $10 million heading into his fifteenth season. He's a freak and still has plenty of value as a pass rusher and a run stopper.

7. Kenny Britt, Los Angeles Rams: Britt is the best pure outside receiver the Rams have, which is damning with faint praise. If the Rams are looking to trim costs, the Rams could shave nearly $5 million off the cap with no dead money by releasing Britt.

8. Logan Mankins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There is a better chance of Mankins retiring than him being released, but both options are on the table if Mankins didn't take a pay cut. Mankins has brought leadership and solid play to the Bucs since getting dealt by the Patriots

Other Potential Cuts


1. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions: When a new regime arrives in town, Pettigrew is the type of player that usually gets swept out the door.

2-3. David Hawthorne and Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints: Strief has said he'd retire if the Saints don't want him back. Hawthorne was not effective last season. 

4. Rodger Saffold, Los Angeles Rams: Remember when Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie botched signing Saffold in free agency? It wound up working out just fine because of Saffold's injuries. The Rams have youth on the offensive line ready to replace Saffold. 

5. Andre Williams, New York Giants: Tom Coughlin always seemed to have a blind spot for the Boston College grad. He's not versatile enough to stay in the pros for long. 

6-7. Gosder Cherilus and Bruce Carter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Carter's production has never matched up with his skill set. Cherilus has bounced around after once being a free agent prize.

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