Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco received a rousing ovation after his first catch Sunday in the Patriots’ 30-21 home victory over the Jets. There’s no way to gauge how much of the applause was sarcastic in nature. If the fans are less than thrilled with Ochocinco, image how the team that gave him a nearly $5 million bonus feels. His climbing age, hefty salary and dwindling production put Ochocinco among the big-name veteran players facing an uncertain NFL future despite being under contract beyond this year. Here’s a look at such players who may be playing their final seasons with their respective teams. (All contract numbers are from rotoworld.com.). — Alex Marvez
Another questionable offseason Patriots acquisition has yet to pay dividends. Injuries have limited the defensive tackle to three games, in which he made a total of two tackles. Conditioning is a concern as the season unfolds. Haynesworth is set to earn a 2012 salary of $6.7 million, with $500,000 in offseason bonuses.
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
Although Peyton Manning still must dispel health concerns, the Colts have given every indication he remains part of the team’s plans in 2012 and beyond. That means they will have to carry the quarterback’s whopping $17 million salary-cap number. That also means they will look to clear space elsewhere. With a $5 million base salary, the middle linebacker Brackett is a prime candidate for release. He will be 32 next season and hasn’t completed a full season, because of various ailments, since 2007. Most important, Pat Angerer has emerged as a tackling machine since shifting to middle linebacker after Brackett (shoulder) landed on injured reserve in late September.
The Panthers thought the linebacker’s knee problems were done when they signed him to a five-year, $36.5 million contract this offseason. Davis, though, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament for the third time in Week 2 and is on injured reserve. It’s considered a lock that Carolina will release Davis in the offseason to avoid payment of an $8 million option bonus.
The cornerback’s once-burgeoning NFL career also was derailed by knee injuries suffered in his prime. Foxworth is now spending his second consecutive Ravens season on injured reserve. With a $5.6 million salary due in 2012, he won’t be around for a third.
A mainstay with New England from 2003-09, the Broncos defensive end (triceps) is missing his second straight NFL season. Combined with slumping play when he was healthy, Denver will assuredly balk at paying the 30-year-old Warren his $4 million base salary in 2012.
The Cowboys gladly shed salaries of declining veterans last offseason, releasing guard Leonard Davis, running back Marion Barber, wide receiver Roy Williams and tackle Mark Colombo. The 33-year-old cornerback Newman (shown attempting to defend against Calvin Johnson) is set to collect $6 million in base salary in 2012, so he likely will suffer the same fate.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Antoine Winfield, Steve Hutchinson
They are two of the best players of their generation, with the left guard Hutchinson (pictured, right) a bona fide Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate. But while both remain effective starters, the cornerback Winfield (left) and Hutchinson are approaching their mid-30s and carry big base salaries of roughly $7 million apiece in 2012.
With a slower-than-expected-recovery following a 2010 knee injury, the Jaguars defensive end is set to make his season debut Sunday against Pittsburgh. That leaves the 31-year-old 10 games to show he can still make a difference as a pass-rusher. Otherwise, the Jaguars may balk at paying Kampman’s $4.98 million base salary in 2012.
With a mere nine receptions in New England’s first five games, the receiver is one of the NFL’s biggest early season disappointments. This isn’t what the Patriots had hoped when they traded with Cincinnati for Ochocinco and gave him a $4.75 million signing bonus as part of a restructured contract. Unless he shows vast improvement, it’s highly unlikely New England would retain Ochocinco at his projected $3 million salary for 2012. A renegotiated deal is always possible to keep him in the fold, but Ochocinco will be 34 years old with younger, cheaper and better options available for the Patriots.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
A nifty historical perspective by esteemed Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette raises the possibility that inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons could shift outside on a permanent basis, like Chad Brown in the 1990s. If Timmons impresses in his stint replacing the injured Harrison, the Steelers could look at cutting ties with the latter and using the money saved on other contracts. (Wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Rashard Mendenhall are extension candidates.) Sidelined by a broken orbital bone, Harrison has admitted he wasn’t completely healthy entering the season following offseason back surgery. That was reflected in his early season struggles rushing the passer. Harrison will be 34 next season and is slated to earn $5.3 million.