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Tyrod Taylor, DeMarco Murray among AFC cut candidates

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Kirk Cousins is the belle of the free agency ball. Alex Smith already found his new team. And the trio of Vikings quarterbacks set to hit free agency are being discussed to death -- all of which leaves Tyrod Taylor as the forgotten man in this offseason's quarterback puzzle.

That's largely because Taylor is a member of the Buffalo Bills, at least for now. Taylor is one of the big names on my annual rundown of veterans who could be released before the start of free agency. Last year's list included a few future Hall of Famers and the Super Bowl LII MVP. Below is a quick look at some of the AFC names on the bubble that could become available in free agency this year.

Note: Unless otherwise cited, salary-cap figures in this piece were found on OverTheCap.com.

Strong candidates for release

1) Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills: Taylor accepted a restructured contract to remain the Bills' starter last offseason. He's not playing that game this time around, so the Bills will have to either use $18 million in cap room on Taylor or set him free. I believe Taylor is worth that money as a mid-level starter, but it will be tough for the Bills to attract anything more than a late-round pick for Taylor in a potential trade after they benched him for rookie Nathan Peterman ahead of a Week 11 game against the Chargers. Taylor's 2018 status was all but written that day in Los Angeles, despite the fact that he was quickly reinstated as the starter and helped Buffalo end its long playoff drought.

2) DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans: In a feast-or-famine career that has included stints with three teams over the last four seasons, Murray became a symbol for all things Mike Mularkey in Tennessee. With Mularkey out as head coach, it's hard to see how the Titans justify spending $6.5 million on Murray while Derrick Henry (who is nearly six years younger and gained 4.7 total yards per touch, compared to Murray's 4.1) waits in the wings.

3) Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets: Wilkerson will wind up earning $36.75 million over two years of the "five-year, $86 million" contract he signed just two years ago. The move looked like a no-brainer at the time, just like Wilkerson's release does now. The Jets didn't even suit Wilkerson up late in the season, presumably out of fear that he'd get hurt, which would have potentially meant guaranteeing his 2018 salary. The team can save $17 million in cap space by designating him a post-June 1 cut.

4) Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets: Still an asset as receiver, Forte could potentially find one more job next season, when he'll turn 33. It just won't be for the $4 million he's currently set to make. Respect is due to the former second-rounder from Tulane, who has gained more yards from scrimmage (14,468) than anyone in the NFL since being drafted in 2008.

5) Julius Thomas, TE, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins seemingly try a different free-agent tight end every year, and they never pan out. Due $6.5 million in base salary next season, Thomas (who scored 12 touchdowns in the last three seasons combined after notching 24 from 2013 through '14 in Denver) is one of many pass-catchers whom Peyton Manning helped get paid over the years.

6) Jeremy Maclin, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Signed in a headline-grabbing move last summer, Maclin (40 catches, 440 yards, three touchdowns) was outplayed by Mike Wallace (52 catches, 748 yards) in 2017. The team could be starting from scratch again at the position if general manager Ozzie Newsome -- in what is planned to be his last free agency period in that role -- cuts Maclin, who is due $7.5 million.

7) Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans: Though Cushing is one of the defining players in Texans franchise history, it was a small surprise Houston didn't cut him after his suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances last season, the second such suspension of his career. Diminishing production -- along with the $7.6 million the Texans would save by letting him go -- should spell the end of his nine-year run in Houston.

UPDATE: The Houston Texans informed Cushing they plan to release him, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports.

8) Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos: I'm listing Talib based more on local reporting than logic. Talib turns 32 on the day this article gets published, but he's still performing at a very high level. Longtime beat writer Mike Klis said Talib was expected to be on the trade block, which is usually the kiss of death. ESPN's Jeff Legwold found three opposing general managers who expected Talib to be released. With Bradley Roby's salary climbing and Chris Harris making over $10 million, the Broncos now look likely to save $11 million by letting go of Talib. He has the extremely rare distinction of having been a top-shelf free-agent signing for two different teams.

9-10) Chris Ivory, RB, and Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: GM David Caldwell made all the right moves in 2017. The same wasn't true in 2016, when he gave Ivory a big free-agent contract and re-signed Hurns on a too-early extension for a former undrafted free agent. Cutting both players would save nearly $11 million in cap space, which is far too much to spend on two players who struggled to find playing time last season.

11-12) Tamba Hali, DE, and Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs: Hali is certain to get cut, a move the Chiefs likely would have made a year ago if not for the guaranteed money in the longtime pass rusher's contract. Dumping Johnson will be a tougher move, even with Johnson at 35 years old. But the team has found his replacement in Reggie Ragland, and new GM Brett Veach wants to make the roster younger. These moves would mark the end of an era, with 25 combined years of experience, nine combined Pro Bowl nods and a lot of terrific play in Kansas City walking out the door. (UPDATE: After the publishing of this piece on Tuesday, the Chiefs announced that Derrick Johnson will indeed hit free agency. The final remaining year of his contract will reportedly void on March 14.)

13) Mike Mitchell, S, Pittsburgh Steelers: Mitchell was hardly the only issue in the Steelers' secondary late last season, but he's the easiest to move on from because of his $8.1 million cap figure.

THE X-FACTOR: Broncos receivers. The Denver Post noted that Emmanuel Sanders could be placed on the trade block this offseason. Fellow starter Demaryius Thomas, meanwhile, is scheduled to have a $12 million cap charge.

I wouldn't think either receiver is at much risk of leaving, but Broncos GM John Elway is looking to shake things up this offseason and was notably non-committal when asked about the duo at the Senior Bowl. Sanders would appear to be the more likely candidate to go.

On the bubble

1-2) Sean Smith, CB, and Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders: Both players were once believed to be goners in Oakland, although the organization's change in coaching staff could alter those plans. Smith, who has not lived up to his big free-agent contract, has a cap figure of $8.5 million. The release of fellow veteran corner David Amerson could be a sign Smith will stick around. Crabtree's signing has worked in Oakland's favor overall, but his trajectory took a nose-dive last season. How much rebuilding does Jon Gruden really want to do?

3) Lorenzo Alexander, LB, Buffalo Bills: A fantastic story as a Pro Bowler in 2016, Alexander -- who will turn 35 in May -- came back to Earth last season.

4) Ja'Wuan James, T, Miami Dolphins: The Miami Herald believes the Dolphins won't keep their 2014 first-round pick at his current $9 million salary, which is a bit of a surprise for a talented young tackle.

5) Dwayne Allen, TE, New England Patriots: Bill Belichick barely gave up anything in trade compensation to get Allen from the Colts last offseason, which is good, because he barely produced (10 catches for 86 yards) for a player making so much money. The Patriots would save $5 million by cutting him.

6-7) Adam Jones, CB, and Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals: On most teams, Jones and Johnson's combined age (65 years old) and cap number ($13 million) would make them likely goners. But owner Mike Brown is more loyal to "his guys" than most, as the team's coaching situation indicates.

8) Corey Liuget, DT, Los Angeles Chargers: He hasn't lived up to his contract, but could the Chargers find a better player than Liuget? It's more likely that the team keeps Liuget on this win-now team and evaluates his status again next offseason.

Other players in trouble: Chiefs safety Ron Parker, Jets guard James Carpenter, Patriots linebacker David Harris, Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch, Jets offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, Steelers safety J.J. Wilcox, Steelers cornerback William Gay, Titans quarterback Matt Cassel, Titans safety Da'Norris Searcy and Broncos tackle Menelik Watson.

UPDATE: The Jets will not exercise Ijalana's option, and he will become a free agent, per Rapoport.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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