Arnie Stapletone / The Associated Press
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Willis McGahee knew when he showed up at minicamp this week that he faced long odds of keeping his starting job since the Denver Broncos had used a high draft pick to select a running back for the second straight season.
Forty-eight hours after his arrival, that reality hit home for McGahee when the Broncos released the 31-year-old running back who led them in rushing last season despite missing the final two months with a right knee injury.
"It's never easy to part ways with a veteran player who made so many positive contributions to our team and community," Broncos Executive Vice President John Elway said in a statement Thursday. "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 second-rounder Montee Ball, who scored an NCAA record 83 touchdowns at Wisconsin, joining second-year speedster Ronnie Hillman in the Broncos' backfield, McGahee shunned the team's three weeks of voluntary workouts this spring.
Upon his return for the Broncos' mandatory minicamp Tuesday, McGahee said he skipped the OTAs for family reasons, insisted he would still be the starter come September and suggested that missing those 10 workouts didn't put him at a decided disadvantage by giving the youngsters a head start.
"I probably would have been behind the 8-ball either way," he said Tuesday. "Younger group. Just being real, right?"
Now he'll be looking to carry the ball for someone else.
The 11-year veteran who was set to make $2.5 million in 2013, should draw interest across the league. Although he's pushing 32, he's doesn't have the wear and tear that would be expected of a running back who has been in the league a decade because he spent much of his career sharing snaps.
He played in Buffalo from 2003-06 and Baltimore from 2007-10 before joining the Broncos for an eventful two seasons in which he was an integral part of the Tim Tebow experiment and then the Peyton Manning comeback tour.
McGahee, who became one of the NFL's most dependable runners despite tearing all the ligaments in his left knee during his last game for the University of Miami, tore a ligament in his right knee in a game against San Diego last November and missed the rest of the year. Still, he led the team with 731 yards rushing.
He didn't need surgery, and although he still had a limp, he would have been eligible to return to the field for the AFC championship had the Broncos not lost to Baltimore in the playoffs.
McGahee said Tuesday that he's 100 percent and felt he had plenty of football left in him, especially with the way the rules severely limit padded practices now.
He also said he wasn't bothered by the Broncos selecting another running back high in the draft, suggesting, "I'm a different breed. I can block, I can run, I can get the tough yards. Everybody can't do that."