Denver Broncos Release Willis McGahee; Look to Future in Backfield


The Denver Broncos released running back Willis McGahee after two successful seasons (Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports).

You have to wonder if Willis McGahee felt as though he was on borrowed time.  In some regards his entire career, especially his time with the Denver Broncos has been that way.  That time has now been called due as the Broncos announced his release on Thursday.

After a brutal knee injury in his final collegiate game relegated him to rehabilitation for his first year as a pro, McGahee was still able to string together four 1,000-yard seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, and Broncos.  One of those four 1,000-yard seasons came with the orange and blue in 2011.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of having McGahee as a starter the last two seasons was simply how counterintuitive it was for a running back to be seeing so much success so late in his career.  Guys like Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis saw significant statistical decreases after their seventh seasons, whereas McGahee witnessed a rebirth of sorts in the Broncos’ read-option offense.

McGahee, now 31 and due $2.5 million in 2013, was going to be competing for the staring spot with former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno and this year’s second-round pick Montee Ball.  In addition, the team has speedster Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball, Jeremiah Johnson, and C.J. Anderson on a crowded roster.

It was very clear from early in the spring that the Broncos were enamored with Montee Ball.  John Elway even went so far as to compare him to his former backfield mate Terrell Davis, an endorsement that oozes with insinuations of the team’s plans.

I wrote last season that the Broncos’ running game will be an absolute dog and pony show as long as Peyton Manning is under center.  You really don’t even need to show it to setup the pass, but when a run is called, the back of choice has to find a way to get four yards on average.  The Broncos struggled the most last season when they couldn’t chew up 4 yards per carry.

Expect Montee Ball to replace McGahee as the starter.  The organization is impressed and not likely to be fooled twice by not having enough quality young backs after the team was unable to pick up a first down on the ground and run out the clock during the playoffs against the Ravens.

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