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AFC veterans on the roster bubble

Tuesday's flurry of cuts by the New York Jets was a reminder that the chopping block looms for veterans with bloated contracts. Let's take a look at the AFC salary-cap casualty candidates for the next few months.

Candidates for release

  1. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders quarterback: The Jets get much-deserved attention for their bloated contracts, but former Raiders owner Al Davis left general manager Reggie McKenzie in a salary-cap hell of his own. The most egregious example is the nearly $14 million in dead money left behind from free agent Richard Seymour's contract. Scheduled to earn $13 million himself, Palmer has no chance of returning as the starter unless he takes a pay cut. In full-blown rebuilding mode, the Raidersmight find that it makes more sense to give Terrelle Pryor a one-year trial run.
  1. Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback: Benched twice in favor of Brady Quinn last season, Cassel has reached the point in which a change of scenery is needed for himself, as well as Chiefs fans. Due $7.5 million, Cassel has no chance of returning. It will be interesting to see if he reunites with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels in New England, allowing the Patriots to shop backup Ryan Mallett.
  1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills quarterback: New coach Doug Marrone could find a hiccup in his quarterback competition. Fitzpatrick is due a $3 million roster bonus in March on top of a $4.25 base salary. It actually will cost the Billsmore to keep him than to cut him loose.
  1. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker: Although coaches still are counting on Harrison opposite LaMarr Woodley this season, the Steelers' front office is expected to balk at his $6.57 million salary. Unless all three sides can find middle ground, the declining star will be in another uniform for his age-35 season.

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  1. Jared Gaither, San Diego Chargers offensive tackle:Local and national observers expect Gaither to be history in San Diego after alienating coaches and teammates alike last season. Coined "Big Lazy," Gaither has earned a reputation with both the Chargers and Baltimore Ravens for malingering. The Bolts will take a $6 million cap hit to release Gaither.
  1. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: The No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft has flashed at times, but he hasn't shown the consistency to merit $7.721 million this season. McKenzie can find the much-needed salary-cap relief of $5.341 million by releasing Heyward-Bey.
  1. Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end: The No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft has failed as a pass rusher, and the Chiefs can field a poor run defense with or without Jackson's whopping $14.72 million salary.
  1. D.J. Williams, Denver Broncos linebacker: The Broncos sported one of the NFL's stingiest defenses with Williams watching from the sideline for the majority of the season. John Elway can save $6 million against the cap by releasing the 30-year-old who's coming off two suspensions in 2012.
  1. Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders linebacker: The No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft would have been axed this past season if not for salary-cap implications. A massive draft bust, McClain won't see his $4.005 million salary after disappointing on the field, off the field and in the locker room.
  1. Willie Colon, Pittsburgh Steelers guard: Colon keyed a mid-season resurgence in the Steelers' running game, but his $5.5 million salary is untenable after he ended the season on injured reserve for the third consecutive year.

Candidates to restructure

  1. Santonio Holmes / David Harris / Sione Pouha, New York Jets: Holmes isn't worth $11 million coming off Lisfranc surgery, but $7.5 million of that is guaranteed. Harris' $10.9 million salary is cost-prohibitive for a cap-strapped team after a subpar season in 2012. Pouha is due a reasonable $3.8 million, but that number counts $4.9 million against the cap. It doesn't help that his level of play fell off last season.
  1. Troy Polamalu / Heath Miller / Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette paints a salary-cap picture so dire that the Steelers could lose several key veterans if the players don't agree to pay cuts. Polamalu ($7.5 million) has missed multiple games in three of the past four seasons. Miller ($5.16 million) is coming off a torn ACL, PCL and MCL in his right knee. Taylor ($6 million) appears to have fallen behind free agent Keenan Lewis in the organization's pecking order.
  1. Anquan Boldin / Jacoby Jones / Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens: Three-time All-Pro Leach probably is the best bet of the trio to be outright released, as his $3 million salary counts $4.33 million against the cap. The Ravens can save much-needed cap space by extending the contracts of Boldin ($6 million) and Jones ($3 million, plus $1 million roster bonus in March).
  1. Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts: Mathis' roster spot likely is secure after the Coltscut ties with Dwight Freeney, but he might be asked to restructure a $4 million salary and $3 million roster bonus that count $10.75 million against the cap.
  1. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans: While the Titans have a low-paid starter in Jake Locker ($1.52 million), NFL backup quarterbacks simply don't collect $5.5 million in salary. Hasselbeck already has stated that he's amenable to a contract adjustment.

Potential surprises

  1. Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots wide receiver: After failing to fulfill expectations as the left-sideline "X" receiver in New England, Lloyd is due a $3 million option bonus on top of his $1.9 million base salary.
  1. Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos running back: McGahee's age (turns 32 in October), late-season right tibia injury and $2.5 million salary could have him on the roster bubble. The Broncos are in the market for a tailback with size, perhaps looking primarily at veteran free agents.
  1. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos running back: Moreno's $1.7 million salary in the final year of his rookie contract carries a $3.28 million cap hit. The Broncos might have lost confidence in Moreno's ability to stay on the field after he suffered yet another knee injury in the season-ending loss to the Ravens.
  1. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars tight end: Although incoming general manager David Caldwell labeled Lewis a "very good" player, one report suggests the tight end's Jacksonville future is in doubt at $4.35 million for 2013.
  1. Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans wide receiver: Washington has been the Titans' most reliable receiver over the past two seasons, but his $4.2 salary is more of a luxury than a necessity with the young trio of Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Damian Williams pushing for regular snaps.

Other potential cuts

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Steve Breaston, TE Kevin Boss - The Chiefs announced that both veterans were released late Tuesday afternoon.

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