It was a long goodbye for Clinton Portis, who finally got released by the Redskins on Monday. He’s been on the way out, it seems, since mid-2009, when post-concussion issues ended his season. Then last year he missed 11 more games with a variety of ailments, and the clock began ticking even louder.
Once upon a time, Portis was one of the most durable, productive backs in the NFL – as his three 1,500-yard rushing seasons (and one near-miss) attest. But lately he’d become a money pit for the Redskins, and his $8.3 million salary for next season was out of the question, cap or no cap. Unless he was willing to work for entry-level wages, he had to go. To the surprise of no one, he wasn’t.
I’d never presume to know what Clinton – or any of his multiple personalities – is thinking, but perhaps he envisions having a Second Act like the one LaDainian Tomlinson is enjoying with the Jets. To do that, though, he’s going to have to stay on the field, something that’s been an increasing challenge for him.
And as he showed last season in his limited playing time, he’s far from the back who broke a 64-yard run on his first carry as a Redskin. He’s lost his fastball, that acceleration that used to separate him from other runners. Since 2006 – this is hard to believe – he’s had only one rush longer than 38 yards.
But then, the yards always came harder for him in Washington. Much harder. The two years he was in Denver, he averaged 5.5 a carry; as a Redskin he averaged 4.1, almost a yard-and-a-half less. Some of it, no doubt, was the difference in systems, but it’s still startling. After all, most of his years here were prime years.
Toward the end, he came to symbolize the wishful thinking that has plagued this franchise in the Dan Snyder Era. How could Mike Shanahan have thought Portis – at his age (29) and in his condition – still had some quality football in him? Shanny made the same miscalculation last season with Larry Johnson (who lasted all of two games) and Willie Parker (who didn’t even survive camp). I mean, if you’re going to go that route, why not just exhume Cliff Battles?
I’ve already weighed in Portis’ Hall of Fame prospects. A link to that blog is here. To summarize: If you rush for less than 10,000 yards nowadays – Clinton’s sitting at 9,923 – you’ve got no shot at Canton unless you’ve had some spectacular (preferably record-breaking) individual seasons, scored a ton of touchdowns and won multiple Super Bowl rings. He hasn’t. He was certainly good enough, at his best, to make the Hall, but he wasn’t so good that he didn’t need to have a full career. Three stints on the injured-reserve list have prevented that.
And now he’s gone. Because we’ve had a while to get used to the idea, though, it’s not so much of a shock. The real stunner was that it didn’t happen sooner.