Training camp is a time for hope. It's also a time for The Turk. Every season of Hard Knocks reminds us that August brings the constant threat of getting fired.
1. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: Around the NFL heard whispers that the 49ers "sniffed around" tight end Julius Thomas when he was a free agent. If the 49ers were able to consummate that deal, Davis would have been released. Davis has received predictable offseason buzz this offseason for a potential bounceback. He's due $4.35 million in the final year of his deal.
2. Andy Levitre, Tennessee Titans guard: Levitre was considered one of the best guards in the league two years ago, and was paid like it by the Titans. He's essentially been a bust in Tennessee and coach Ken Whisenhunt hinted this offseason that Levitre isn't guaranteed a starting job. After taking snaps at center, he's expected to stay at guard in camp. He's due $6.5 million and needs to avoid a poor camp to ensure he stays put.
3. Matt Cassel, Buffalo Bills quarterback: Cassel entered the offseason as the favorite to start Week 1 in Buffalo, and he still has a chance to do so. A rough offseason adapting to offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system has complicated things. There's a solid chance that EJ Manuel or Cassel will be let go or traded if they don't win the starting job, and Manuel had the better offseason. Tyrod Taylor also has a chance and seems like a safe bet to stay on the roster, even as a backup. Cassel would certainly find work if released, but this is probably his last career chance to be a Week 1 starter.
4. Leon Hall, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback: Hall hasn't been the same since tearing his Achilles' tendon twice. (Who would be?) He's still paid like a quality starter, yet one Bengals beat writer doesn't see Hall as one of the team's top three cornerbacks. Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard are pushing for starting jobs. Adam Jones remains in the nickel role. Hall is due $7.7 million, and fourth cornerbacks don't make $7.7 million. He needs to earn that starting job.
5. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills running back: The resident Bills homer in the office insists this is "not happening," which certainly goes along with the local reporting in Buffalo. Jackson is viewed as a near roster "lock" after ownership became involved to keep him on the team in the offseason. And that's fair. But these are inherently going to be "surprise" cuts and would it be that surprising if Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, and rookie Karlos Williams outplayed Jackson in camp at 34 years old?
Even Jackson knows it's possible.
"We'll see what happens with me getting cut or not," Jackson said this offseason. "I'll go out and do whatever I can to make sure that doesn't happen."
6. Phil Taylor, Cleveland Browns defensive tackle: Taylor was once drafted in the first round to fix the Browns' rush defense, but that was way back in the Pat Shurmur era. Taylor is coming off knee surgery and his replacement (Danny Shelton) was taken in the first round in April. Taylor is due $5.477 million, so he needs to show he's healthy to stay on the team.
7. Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle: Mebane is similar to a lot players on this list. He's an aging (30) starter coming off a serious injury (hamstring surgery) with a healthy salary. He's due $5.5 million and the Seahawks certainly don't want to lose his run-stopping ability. He'll need to show he's healthy.
10. Brandon Carr, Dallas Cowboys cornerback: Carr and the Cowboys have been in a contract restructure dance all offseason. Dallas doesn't want Carr counting $12 million against the cap, and is looking to reduce his salary. Owner Jerry Jones is not eager to let go of any potential starter in a win-or-else season for the Cowboys. Carr is certainly overpaid, but it would be a surprise if they called Carr's bluff.
13. Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver: Letting go of Cooper would require Chip Kelly to admit a mistake just a year after a five-year, $22.5 million contract. Cooper is due $4 million in 2015, which isn't an outrageous figure. But what if he is essentially the No. 6 receiving option behind Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles, and Josh Huff?