COMMENTARY | Injuries and a large salary are the worst signs for an aging NFL player fighting for a roster spot.
Willis McGahee was no exception.
The Denver Broncos released McGahee Thursday after relying on him the past two years. During his time in Denver, McGahee was a pleasant surprise--beating out Knowshon Moreno for the starting role and leading them to the number one rushing offense in 2011.
Still for a multitude of reasons, the Broncos ignored nostalgia and made the necessary cut.
"It's never easy to part ways with a veteran player who made so many positive contributions to our team," said Broncos executive vice president of football John Elway in a statement.
The decision wasn't easy, but it was logical. McGahee was expendable.
The Broncos drafted Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in the second-round this year and 21-year-old Ronnie Hillman will continue to develop. There was a youth movement at the running back position and it was clear that someone would be the odd man out.
Many people pegged that person to be Knowshon Moreno. A former first-round pick, Moreno has been inconsistent throughout his career with being injury-prone and was seen as one of the many mistakes Josh McDaniels made.
However as it is with most moves in the NFL, money was a primary factor in choosing who to cut. McGahee, 31, was scheduled to make $2.5 million this upcoming season and $2 million the year after. With only $500,000 of that guaranteed a year, the Broncos ended up saving $3.5 million.
Moreno's salary, on the other hand, is $1.7 million this year and $1.3 million the next. More importantly, if the Broncos cut Moreno they'll end up with $2.34 million in dead money. That's a noticeable difference when compared to the $1 million cap hit that McGahee will cost.
Injuries also gave the Broncos wiggle room to cut McGahee. The 11-year veteran suffered a torn MCL last season and played only 10 games. There were questions how he would look coming off the injury.
The Broncos couldn't afford to bring back McGahee only to have him struggle. There were already concerns about him coughing up the ball, fumbling five times in 2012 and losing it four times. McGahee also fumbled four times in 2011, losing three of them.
When the Broncos got the chance to see McGahee at mandatory minicamp, McGahee saw limited reps. The Denver Post reported that McGahee ran mostly with the third string, while Ball and Hillman took the majority of reps.
"In fairness to (McGahee) this gives him a better opportunity to hook on somewhere and gives us a better opportunity to give some of these young guys more reps," head coach John Fox told the Denver Post. "It's a conscious decision for us to get younger."
McGahee might not be remembered as a Bronco historically, but he was brought in a time where the team had lacked a signature running back. The Broncos ranked in the bottom half of rushing yards in 2009 and 2010. He helped re-install a winning culture in Denver. Along with Tim Tebow, the Broncos' read-option paved the way to let them lead the league in rushing with 2,632 yards. McGahee was a true leader.
For that, Denver fans can be thankful.
Now as he gets a new chance to start over somewhere else, the Broncos will do what McGahee's job was--to keep on rushing ahead.
Matthew Paras is a Journalism Major at DePaul University. He writes for multiple outlets including Maxboxing.com, Operationsports.com, and DePaul's student newspaper, The DePaulia. He can be reached by email at Mparas1432@gmail.com or on twitter @Mparas1432. He currently resides in Chicago, but lived in Littleton, Colo. for seven years.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Willis McGahee
- Denver Broncos
- Knowshon Moreno