Broncos released Willis McGahee on Thursday (USA Today Sports Images)
On the final day of their offseason program, the Denver Broncos have announced that they have released veteran running back Willis McGahee.
"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 released by the team. "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."
McGahee joined the Broncos in 2011, signing a four-year, $9.5 million contract after the 2011 lockout was lifted. McGahee started 14 of 15 games in his first season in Denver, leading the team with 1,199 rushing yards and earning a Pro Bowl nod for the second time in his career. McGahee added 137 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos' two playoff games in 2011.
McGahee, 31, was well on his way towards another 1,000-yard season in 2012, racking up 731 yards and four touchdowns before suffering a torn MCL in his right knee Week 11. McGahee underwent surgery and was expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with the Broncos placing him on their "Injured Reserve-Designated For Return" list. McGahee would not be activated before the Broncos' playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 12.
By releasing McGahee, the Broncos save $2.5 million in cash and cap space in 2013, leaving them with around $10.5 million under their 2013 cap with their top three picks in the 2013 NFL draft to sign. The Broncos are also working on a long-term extension with franchised left tackle Ryan Clady.
Because the release of McGahee comes after June 1, he will take up $500,000 in "dead" space on the Broncos' 2014 cap.
The Broncos do have plenty of depth at the running back position.
The Broncos used a 2013 second-round pick on Montee Ball, who ran for over 5,100 yards with 77 touchdowns during a 49-game career at Wisconsin. With McGahee spending most of the offseason workouts on his own in Miami, Ball has been getting a lot of work with the first-team offense and could open the season as the starter. Also competing for the starting running back job is Ronnie Hillman, a 2012 third-round pick out of San Diego State who played sparingly (18.2 percent of the snaps) as a rookie.
Then there's 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno, who went from game day inactive to starter following McGahee's injury last season, rushing for 510 yards on 130 carries with three touchdowns over the final six games. Moreno actually finished the season slightly ahead of McGahee in Football Outsiders' DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric. McGahee and Moreno were also 1-2 in FO's "Success Rate", which "represents the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays".
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