Broncos cut Willis McGahee, likely making rookie Ball the No. 1 back

The biggest news in the NFL on Thursday has been the releasing veteran running back Willis McGahee, which seemingly opens the door for Wisconsin rookie Montee Ball to be the team’s starter come Week 1.

McGahee, nearly 32, is coming off a significant knee injury that sidelined him for the final two months last season and was set to make $2.5 million in 2013. McGahee said earlier this week that he’s 100 percent now and has no restrictions running. The 11th-year running back skipped each of the Broncos’ 10 “voluntary” practices over the past month but showed up for the start of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday.

McGahee was informed of the decision Thursday morning as the team gathered for its final day of minicamp. McGahee was given very little work with the offensive regulars in this week’s minicamp practices and seemed resigned to Thursday’s decision by the Broncos when he said, “If it happens, it happens.”

McGahee tore a ligament in his right knee in a game against San Diego in November — when he was tackled low by Quentin Jammer, who signed with Denver this offseason — and missed the rest of the season. Still, he led the team with 731 yards rushing. McGahee rushed for 1,930 yards with eight touchdowns in 25 games with the Broncos. He has 33 100-yard games, the most of any active NFL running back. Since McGahee made his NFL debut with the Bills in 2004, only three active running backs have rushed for more yards.

“There are a lot of places I wouldn’t mind playing,” he said. “You got Miami, Dallas, Green Bay, San Diego, Oakland. That’s not necessarily my order of preference, though.”

The Broncos will take a $1 million dead money hit against their 2013 salary cap with McGahee’s release. The move puts Ronnie Hillman, a third-round pick by the Broncos in the 2012 draft and Ball, a second-round pick this past April, at the top of the team’s depth chart. e Hillman is a change-of-pace option and there’s no guarantee Knowshon Moreno (knee surgery) will even make the final roster. A downhill runner with a one-cut style that fits the scheme, Ball seems the likely choice to get the bulk of the carries. 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.

Denver, the AFC favorite on, opens the season Sept. 5 against defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore.


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