Posted June 13, 2013

Willis McGahee release paves way for Montee Ball in Denver

Denver Broncos
Willis McGahee should not have trouble finding work with another team, following his release by the Broncos. (David Zalubowski, AP)

Willis McGahee should not have trouble finding work with another team, following his release by the Broncos. (David Zalubowski, AP)

The Denver Broncos thinned out their crowded backfield on Thursday, releasing veteran Willis McGahee, possibly paving the way for rookie Montee Ball to take over as the No. 1 RB option. ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported McGahee’s release.

McGahee’s contract ($2.5 million in 2013 and $2 million for ’14), his decision to skip voluntary OTAs and the fact that he’s coming off a broken leg all combined to put the 31-year-old’s roster spot in jeopardy. He had even less wiggle room after the Broncos spent a second-round pick on Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, a player they have talked up incessantly since drafting him. Denver then squeezed McGahee out in early work at its mandatory minicamp, with Ball and Ronnie Hillman reportdly receiving much of the reps.

Still, McGahee’s release comes as somewhat of a surprise — especially to McGahee, who said on Tuesday that he planned to be the Broncos’ starting back come Week 1, according to USA Today‘s Lindsay Jones.

Ball now figures to have the inside track on those duties, with Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball and Jacob Hester all still occupying the roster as well. McGahee led the Broncos in rushing last season with 731 yards, despite playing only 10 games, but Moreno, Hillman and Lance Ball combined for 1,010 yards.

Montee Ball could soar past that number, if he’s given the reins as a starter. He rushed for a combined 3,753 yards and a staggering 55 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Wisconsin; he also caught 59 passes during his college career. The concern with Ball is over his workload — he averaged 348.5 touches over his junior and senior seasons.

That fact aside, he appears to be a near perfect fit for Denver’s offense alongside Peyton Manning.

McGahee, meanwhile, should quickly find work elsewhere, assuming he can prove that he’s fully healed from the injuries he suffered last season (though there were rumors he might have played in the AFC title game last January, had Denver not lost to Baltimore). He piled up 1,199 yards for the Broncos on the ground in 2011 and has more than 200 career catches.

A quick list of teams that might be in the market for a proven veteran back includes Cleveland (depending on Trent Richardson’s health), Jacksonville, Kansas City (as a backup for Jamaal Charles) and Pittsburgh. Of course, there are other options out there, like Michael Turner, Cedric Benson and Brandon Jacobs.

But as Denver’s decision proved, youth is often a key component on the backfield depth chart. Which means that Montee Ball will hit the ground running in his rookie season.

18 comments
geewhiz
geewhiz

Willis McGahee is a solid back, hope he can continue to play.

RobertM
RobertM

Hope the Chiefs get him and then use him to win AFC West.

drudown
drudown

Hmm.

Using Ball's numbers as a benchmark for projected NFL success? Gee, it's hard to "even keep up" with all the Big 10 running backs "dominating the NFL" in rushing, year after year.

Keep up the good work!

/s/ Ron Dayne

dbum
dbum

kinda shotty of them to wait this long to release him. hed have easily been the number one free agent running back from day one. it would be an excellent match for him to go to pittsburgh. their type of hardnosed running back. would contribute on any team though. seemed to have plenty left in the tank before he went down with the injury.

DanaBunner
DanaBunner

Where was McGahee's brain?  He has a $2.5M contract to protect, they draft a RB in the 2nd round, he's 31 years old, and he decides to skip the OTAs???   Does he think that $2.5M contracts for 31 yo running backs grow on trees and that he can just move on to the next one?

Hador
Hador

In many ways RB is the most volatile position in the NFL. Sure QBs are switched around in even higher numbers, but at least if you put up good numbers as a QB you will usually keep your job. At RB you can have an all-pro year and still be out of a job the next season because the team thinks you are too old or too injury prone. Plus there is ample supply of quality RBs coming into the league each year...

Annabel
Annabel

This makes no difference for Broncs - same scenario next year - cruise through the regular season again then loses first playoff game again.

j7apple
j7apple

Ball is going to kick butt in Denver. At WI is was keyed upon almost every play, and still had the results he did. With a team having Manning and Ball both to concentrate on, something will give. Denver looking good going  into this season.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@RobertM Yeah, because a 31 year old running-back is the only missing piece the Chiefs need to transform from the NFL's worst team to a division winner.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@dbum  No team would've been willing to invest more than a 1-year contract in a 31 year old running-back, no matter how early he was released into free-agency.

usameos6
usameos6

@dbum I think they had to wait and validate that his injury was okay prior to releasing him otherwise they could have been on the hook for it.  Had he shown up for the voluntary OTAs, this likely would have happened sooner (if it was still going to happen).  

usameos6
usameos6

@DanaBunner He did go to Miami - they call it the U because their players have trouble with multisyllabic words.

RobertM
RobertM

@Annabel In one season where they play a playoff game down to the wire against the eventual SB champs, a game that they were winning btw from an offensive perspective, is all that you need to cast aspersions on Peyton based on what logic? Your argument is not backed by any facts whatsoever.

Joebuckster
Joebuckster

@Annabel Wow - what a prescient, in-depth analysis. You should be a sportswriter - you'd fit right in.

RobertM
RobertM

@leehwgoc @RobertM Its not the only piece you idiot. They also changed coaches, GM, QB's, New RB's, new TE's, new franchise LT, etc. I find it so amusing how easily people can be rude while sitting at a computer screen when they would never be man enough to do it to your face. You are a hater and thus a real loser. I will not be responding to any more of your cowardly post.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@Joebuckster @Annabel If Peyton can never figure out how to play better in cold weather, then he's probably not wrong.  He's joined a team that will just about always play sub-40 degree home playoff games.

Shoulda joined the Niners, Peyton.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@RobertM @leehwgoc Oh and btw, I would have GLEEFULLY pegged you with that retort in person. I mean, you practically asked for it, man. 

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@RobertM @leehwgoc Look, dude, your embarrassment is making you rage and greatly overreact to such a relatively benign zinger.   It's not like I insulted your mother or something, pal.  

But seriously though, I don't hate the Chiefs or anything, so you just need to relax.  It was just some harmless sarcasm.  Take it like a man and learn to  laugh with us.  At yourself.