ESPN The Denver Broncos released running back Willis McGahee, the team’s starter the past two seasons, from their crowded backfield on Thursday. Since making his NFL debut with the Bills in 2004, only three active running backs have rushed for more yards than Willis McGahee, who was released by the Broncos on Thursday. “I knew it was going to happen. It is what it is. They are going younger,” McGahee told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. Second-year pro Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball have been getting most of the work out of the backfield for the Broncos this offseason. McGahee, pushing 32, is coming off a significant knee injury that sidelined him for the final two months last season and was set to make $2.5 million in 2013. McGahee said earlier this week that he’s 100 percent now and has no restrictions running. “It’s never easy to part ways with a veteran player who made so many positive contributions to our team and community,” Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said in a statement. “I appreciate all of the competitiveness, toughness and leadership Willis brought to the Broncos. He was an integral part of our team’s turnaround during the past two seasons, and I wish him the best as he continues his NFL career.” The 11th-year running back skipped each of the Broncos’ 10 “voluntary” practices over the last month but showed up for the start of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday. McGahee said he skipped the OTAs for family reasons and insisted that missing those workouts didn’t put him in a bad spot by giving the youngsters a head start. McGahee, who became one of the NFL’s most dependable runners despite tearing all the ligaments in his left knee during his last game in college, tore a ligament in his right knee in a game against San Diego last November — when he was tackled low by Quentin Jammer, who signed with Denver this offseason — and missed the rest of the year. Still, he led the team with 731 yards rushing. Although he still had a limp, he would have been eligible to return to the field for the AFC championship had the Broncos not lost to Baltimore in the playoffs in a game in which they really could have used McGahee to salt away a lead late in the fourth quarter. McGahee rushed for 1,930 yards with eight touchdowns in 25 games with the Broncos. He has 33 100-yard games, the most of any active NFL running back.
Add Willis McGahee to the growing crop of talented but older running backs in the NFL who are looking for work, along with Michael Turner and Brandon Jacobs. More than any other position in the league, running back is a young man’s position, and productive veterans with a lot of tread on their tires are almost always looking for work by their early 30’s.
I feel for running backs, they take such a beating and their career expectancy is so short due to injuries or younger, faster guys who have less wear and tear on their bodies being brought in to replace them, that they need to make as much money as possible while they are young and still can.
On a side note, Montee Ball’s fantasy stock will now rise dramatically, as the rookie projects to be the starter in Denver’s high powered offense. Also, look to grab Ronnie Hillman in the later rounds, he is a nice handcuff option, in case the rookie Ball does not hold up under the rigors of an NFL season. Ronnie Hillman has great hands out of the backfield and will likely serve as Denver’s third down back, so he has additional value in Point-Per-Reception leagues.