NFL training camp: Thirteen potential surprise cuts

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Training camp is a time of optimism for fans -- and anxiety for many NFL players. Below is an incomplete list of some notable names at risk of being released before the start of the season, in no particular order.

1) Brock Osweiler, QB, Cleveland Browns: Within hours of acquiring Osweiler, the Browns were reportedly making calls in hopes of trading him away while swallowing part of his salary. There were no takers, but the potential awkwardness of a $16 million backup hasn't changed. The subject of some soft-focus OTA stories, the scarcity of Osweiler's snaps with the first-team offense spoke louder than any Hue Jackson quote. If rookie DeShone Kizer and second-year man Cody Kessler look ready early in camp, the Browns could start calling around regarding Osweiler again or simply cut him outright.

2) Lamarr Houston, OLB, Chicago Bears: Signed by the previous Bears regime in free agency, Houston is due a lot of money for someone who has been unable to stay on the field. The same type of thing could be said for teammate Pernell McPhee, but Houston's extreme injury history sets him apart. Coming off a second torn ACL in three years, Houston has to show well in August to earn $5.95 million and stick at a crowded position in Chicago.

3) Jamaal Charles, RB, Denver Broncos: One of most unappreciated players of his era, Charles has a sneaky foundation to build a legit Hall of Fame case around. He's also at a career crossroads. Two lost seasons in a row left Charles released by the Chiefs and greeted in free agency with nothing better than a one-year contract with zero guarantees included.

The contract says the Broncos don't know if Charles can still play, because no one knows if Charles can still play. Everything is on the table here. It won't be shocking if Charles turns Denver's deal into the bargain of the offseason, because he's a legend, and that's the type of thing legends do. It also won't be surprising if Charles' knees, which prevented him from working in team drills this offseason, cut short a career with brilliant peaks.

4) Ryan Mathews, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: The NFL is a brutal business. Mathews is still recovering from neck disc surgery because of the repeated trauma he's suffered running the football. The Eagles are fully expected to release him before paying his $4 million salary, but they need to wait until he can pass a physical to avoid owing him the money. Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson announced Sunday that Mathews is excused from training camp. Essentially, Mathews is working hard at getting healthy so the team can promptly fire him.

5+6) Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Based on the breadth of his career, Smith came at a discount (three years, $15 million) in free agency. Based on last year's play in San Francisco and the minimal $500,000 guaranteed in his contract, Smith isn't even a total lock to make the roster. Positive offseason reports indicate that Smith should be safe, although teammate Nelson Agholor inspired even more shorts-and-shirts optimism.

The team's first-round pick in 2015, Agholor is currently slated to be Philly's fourth receiver -- at best. He can't take a step back in camp or he'll risk going the way of so many other Chip Kelly acquisitions.

7) Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots: For seven brilliant games in 2015, Lewis was as dynamic as any running back to play behind Tom Brady since Corey Dillon blessed Foxborough. Since then, Lewis has continued his career-long struggle with injuries and watched the Patriots sign roughly 47 competitors at the position. Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and James White are all locks to make the roster, meaning Lewis will need to show that old spark in August to ensure he's safe.

8) Alfred Morris, RB, Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott's uncertain status for the start of the season looms over the entire running back position, but Morris could be in trouble even if Elliott ends up getting suspended for the opener. With Darren McFadden expected to be the primary backup, Rod Smith and Keith Smith provide more versatility and special teams value than Morris.

9) Branden Albert, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars: At some point after the Jaguars drafted Cam Robinson No. 34 overall, Albert realized he didn't have as much leverage as he thought. It's worth wondering if Albert realized it too late. He showed up to mandatory minicamp after skipping OTAs and giving Robinson a head start in the battle for the left tackle job. It's not like the Jaguars have much invested in Albert. Due $8.875 million coming off a down year plagued by injuries, Albert was acquired in a trade for only a seventh-round pick. His status could be out of his hands. If Robinson looks ready to go, another trade of Albert isn't out of the question.

10) Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: A year ago at this time, Coates was expected to fill the shoes of Martavis Bryant as the team's prime deep threat. Coates did so with 21 catches and a league-leading "drop rate," according to Pro Football Focus. Now Bryant is back and Eli Rogers is locked into the slot receiver role, leaving Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter and Cobi Hamilton to fight for jobs. Offseason groin surgery didn't help Coates' case. Neither did the second-round selection of JuJu Smith-Schuster.

11) Victor Cruz, WR, Chicago Bears: Third-year pro Cameron Meredith is the best bet to be Chicago's top wide receiver this season. Kevin White, Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright all have significant guarantees in their contracts. That doesn't leave much room for Cruz -- unless he can reproduce the preseason magic that first had Rex Ryan talking a blue streak back in 2010.

12) Ahmad Brooks, OLB, San Francisco 49ers: Brooks specializes in escaping lists like this unharmed, having survived off-field concerns and four head-coaching changes in San Francisco. Penciled in as a starter to open camp, Brooks is 33 years old and has a cap number over $6 million for a team that is rebuilding. A strong camp by some younger teammates could leave Brooks vulnerable.

13) Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Coach Kyle Shanahan was going to be "sick" and dreaming of rookie Joe Williams if the team didn't draft him, according to the MMQB's Peter King. So general manager John Lynch wound up trading up to get a guy in Williams who wasn't even on his draft board.

Compare that investment -- emotional and otherwise -- with the team's lukewarm appraisals of Hyde this offseason. A talented and extremely elusive runner, Hyde has one year left on a contract signed three head coaches ago. He's admittedly the biggest long shot to lose his job on this list, but Shanahan and Lynch are just starting their extreme makeover and have proven they are ready to act with conviction.

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