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 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."
Gore inspired by critics
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Frank Gore doesn't see turning 30 as a bad thing, even if it's the age when most NFL running backs start to decline.
If anything, the San Francisco 49ers' career rushing leader has embraced the milestone and sees it as another means of motivation.
Not that Gore has ever needed extra incentive.
Whether it was being bypassed in the 2005 draft when he was the sixth running back selected or the string of injuries he's endured and overcome since then, Gore has always felt the need to prove people wrong. Even his spot on a recently released list of the top 100 players in the NFL didn't sit well with the ninth-year veteran. Gore was 32nd.
The 49ers clearly know Gore's value and have limited his participation in the offseason workouts, including this week's three-day minicamp.
Fitzgerald learns new offense
TEMPE, Ariz. -- In his record-breaking decade in the NFL, Larry Fitzgerald has grown comfortable in one position.
Now new Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has Fitzgerald on the move, learning to play all three wide receiver spots.
Fitzgerald says after having some success it's hard to shake his familiar role, but he's working to do just what Arians wants.
Arians says it's a simple concept. Moving his star receiver around will make it much harder for defenses to zero in on him with double coverage.
Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cardinals practiced for just a half-hour in their final day of minicamp on Thursday as Arians let them go early as a reward for all the offseason work they had done.
Ravens begin quest to repeat
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Coach John Harbaugh was "very pleased" with Baltimore's minicamp and the Super Bowl champion won't unite as a team again until late July.
The Ravens finished their three-day mandatory offseason session on Thursday. Afterward, Harbaugh said, "I was very pleased with the effort, very pleased with what we accomplished. I think we're in a good place as a football team."
Baltimore lost nine significant contributors from last season's team, most notably Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk. They've been replaced by a host of newcomers -- including Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Michael Huff.
For that reason, it seems as if the Ravens are starting over.
Tackle Bryant McKinnie says, "The chemistry kind of has to grow with all the new people and everything."
Bush returns to old role
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush says his role will be similar to the one he had in New Orleans and not much like his job description was with the Miami Dolphins.
The Lions plan to put Bush in the backfield and out wide at receiver, trying to take advantage of his speed. Detroit hope Bush becomes the big-play running back it hasn't had since concussions took Jahvid Best off the field.
Bush signed a $16 million, four-year contract with the Lions in March. Bush says he could've re-signed in Miami or played for Arizona, Seattle or Atlanta.
He has run for 4,162 yards and 29 touchdowns and caught 372 passes for 2,730 yards and 15 scores in two seasons in Miami and five years with the Saints.
Eagles and Barkley agree to deal
PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback Matt Barkley and the Philadelphia Eagles have agreed on a four-year contract.
Barkley was selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft after a standout career at Southern California. The move announced Thursday leaves only one draft pick unsigned.
Barkley rewrote the conference record book during a USC-record 47 starts over four seasons, becoming the Pac-12's leader in touchdown passes, yards passing, completions and total offense.
He's competing with Michael Vick and Nick Foles for the starting job.
BC-FBN--NFL Security, 2nd Ld-Writethru,480 NFL to limit bags brought into stadiums AP Photo NY176
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) -- Bring yourself to the game. Leave the cooler and backpack at home.
The NFL is tightening stadium security starting this preseason, limiting the size and type of bags fans can bring to the game.
The restrictions are designed to enhance security while speeding up entry into stadiums.
With the exception of medically necessary items, only clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches will be allowed. One-gallon clear plastic freezer bags also will be OK, as will small clear plastic bags approximately the size of someone's hand, with or without a handle or strap.
One of those clear bags and a small clutch bag will be allowed per person.
Binoculars, cameras, and smartphones also will be permitted.
Banned items will include purses larger than a clutch bag; coolers; briefcases; backpacks; fanny packs; cinch bags; seat cushions; luggage; computer bags; and camera bags or any bag larger than the permissible size.
The league is encouraging fans not to bring any bags to games.
"Our fans deserve to be in a safe and secure environment," Jeffrey Miller, the NFL's chief security officer, said Thursday. "Public safety is our top priority. This will make the job of checking items much more efficient and effective. We will be able to deliver a better and quicker experience at the gates and also provide a safer environment. We appreciate our fans' cooperation."
An NFL committee on stadium security recommended these measures in May and the owners have approved them.
A secondary buffer area well outside the stadium will be established where security personnel will check for prohibited items or bags being carried toward the ballpark. Fans with prohibited bags will be turned away until they dispose of those bags. Stadium personnel are being encouraged to have approved bags on hand to give to fans, or to have a place outside the restricted areas to check items, so that fans can reclaim after games.
Recently, the NFL has done pat downs and bag checks and also used metal detectors to upgrade security. The new policy announced Thursday has worked well at colleges such as Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, which do not permit any bags in their stadiums. Boston's TD Garden allows only clutch bags.
The NFL ramped up security at the draft in late April, its one major event since the Boston Marathon bombings. In a statement Thursday, the league said:
"We had been discussing a new approach to bag restrictions before the Boston Marathon incident. We have come up with a way to do it that will actually make access more convenient for fans than it has been. We think the fans will embrace and appreciate it."
Stadium workers and media will continue to enter NFL stadiums through designated gates where they will be subject to screening and bag inspections.
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