The confetti had barely hit the ground in Santa Clara, California, when the mass text arrived from the Philadelphia Eagles: The team had released Riley Cooper on the first day of the offseason. That was the first salary-cap casualty of the offseason, with players like Michael Griffin, Jahri Evans and Joique Bell also being released since the season ended.
The cuts will pile up as we approach March 9, the first official day of free agency. Here's a look at the players that could be in trouble in the AFC. We'll hit the NFC on Friday.
Strong candidates for release
1. Arian Foster, Houston Texans: Foster has enjoyed an incredible seven-year run in Houston, emerging as the NFL's leading rusher only a season after he went undrafted. But he's missed 23 games in the last three seasons, turns 30 in August and is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. Foster is due $6.5 million plus $500,000 in bonus money. He ran as hard as anyone in football in 2014, so he should get more chances. It just might not be with Bill O'Brien.
3. Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos:Broncos general manager John Elway handed Clady a huge deal in 2013 that looked like a safe bet. Unfortunately, Clady had missed nearly all of two of the three seasons because of a lisfranc foot sprain and a torn ACL. He didn't look like his old self when he played in 2014. He will have to take a big pay cut from his $9.5 million salary to stay.
4-6. Andre Johnson, Trent Cole and Bjoern Werner, Indianapolis Colts: We loved the idea of Johnson replacing Reggie Wayne last season. Unfortunately, he played like Wayne circa 2014. It's hard to imagine the Colts bringing him back at $7.5 million (they would save $5 million if they cut him). Cole was another failed free-agent pickup from general manager Ryan Grigson. Cole is a rare player to hit this list two years in a row. Werner, the former first-round pick, doesn't cost much money. He also barely plays.
8-9. Antonio Cromartie and Breno Giacomini, New York Jets: The Jets should know better than to jump on the CromartieCoaster as it's cresting. There's only one way to go from there, and he crashed last season. The Jets are reasonably deep in the secondary and don't want to pay Cromartie $8 million. Giacomini should be a straightforward cut. He was one of former GM John Idzik's most curious moves.
Broncos hope it doesn't come to this
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: The Broncos aren't talking contract to Brock Osweiler "out of respect" to Manning. That respect has a shelf life. If Manning hasn't retired before free agency starts, the Broncos will almost certainly release him. Manning's family doesn't want him to play elsewhere, but we wouldn't rule anything out. He's due $19 million. Retirement seems more likely than not.
Category of his own
Potential Surprise Cuts
1-3. Cameron Wake, Jordan Cameron and Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins: All three big-name Dolphins are drifting along in the same boat. They need to take a pay cut or lose their jobs. Wake is one of the best pass rushers of his era and certainly the best player of the Stephen Ross era in Miami. Wake also sneaky old (34) and coming off a torn Achilles tendon. The Dolphins would save more than $8 million in salary-cap space by cutting him.
The Dolphins need to create cap space to re-sign players like Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon, not to mention execute yet another new vision by yet another new coach-GM combination. Grimes, who will be 33 before next season, is coming off a relative down year yet remains a starting-caliber player. He and Wake appear to have a good chance to stick around at a reduced rate, but the Dolphins will be prepared to release them if they are asking for a pay cut. (NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports the Dolphins are talking extension with Wake.) There's a chance the Dolphins don't even offer Cameron a new deal and instead just release him. The tight end is due $7.5 million after gaining 386 yards in 2015, sixth on the team.
5. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers: Timmons is a team leader and he passed the eye test with his play late in the season. He also has an outrageous cap number ($15.1 million) that's totally out of whack for a player on the decline. ProFootball Focus ranked him 90th out of 94 inside linebackers last season. A contract extension that lowered Timmons' cap number would make sense here.
6. Vince Wilfork, Houston Texans: Wilfork added plenty to the Texans in the way of leadership and Hard Knocks entertainment, but he's not a lock to return with a $4 million salary. Brian Cushing would be another big surprise cut because of his huge salary, although he seems like a safer bet to stay.