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Broncos release top rusher Willis McGahee
That gave them the faith to put the football and their fortunes in the hands of the two young running backs Thursday by releasing McGahee, the 31-year-old bruiser who led them in rushing last season despite missing the final two months with a right knee injury.
The move wasn’t unexpected, but the timing of it was a bit of a surprise.
The Broncos could have kept McGahee through training camp as an insurance policy against injury even if he wasn’t going to vie for the starting job. Instead, they sent him on his way just before wrapping up their three-day mandatory minicamp where McGahee had gotten just a handful of handoffs.
“In fairness to him, I think (for) the things he’s done for us, this gives him a better opportunity to hook on somewhere,” coach John Fox said. “It gives us a better opportunity to give some of these young guys more reps. It’s just a conscious decision for us to get younger.”
McGahee was mostly a spectator this week and seemed resigned to his impending release when on Tuesday he said, “If it happens, it happens.”
“I’m not here for money, honestly,” Ball said shortly before heading inside team headquarters to sign his contract. “And that’s what I told my agent. I told him not to bother them that much. I’m just blessed to be here because it’s always been my favorite team.”
The Broncos are still deep at the position with former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno and versatile fullback Jacob Hester, among other veterans, also in the mix.
McGahee was the first signing Fox and his boss, John Elway, made when they joined forces in 2011, and Fox said parting ways with the affable pro was difficult both for him and running backs coach Eric Studesville, who had worked with McGahee back in Buffalo.
“I’d like to thank Willis for everything he did. He did a great job for us, leading rusher. He was one of our first signees when we came here to get this thing turned around and it’s an unfortunate part about this business, but he did a great job for us,” Fox said.
Elway said, “It’s never easy to part ways with a veteran player who made so many positive contributions to our team and community. 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.”
Even with Ball, who scored an NCAA record 83 touchdowns at Wisconsin, joining a bulked-up Hillman in the Broncos‘ backfield, McGahee shunned the team’s three weeks of voluntary workouts this spring, something Fox insisted had nothing to do with Thursday’s decision to release him.
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