It has been just over a week since Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway decided to part ways with running back C.J. Anderson. Since then, no real answer has surfaced as to why he was cut. After eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing for the first time last season, most Broncos fans thought that Anderson was a lock for the 2018 team.
Some theories chalk up Anderson’s exit to save money while others claim the move opens up a spot for backup running back Devontae Booker to take over. More arguments suggest that Anderson has peaked as a player and is now on the decline. Do these theories match up to the facts?
It’s All About The Money, Baby
Most Broncos fans point to Elway was trying to save cap space, as exampled by the Aqib Talib trade. However, the release of Anderson is a little bit different. While trading Talib saved about $11 million, cutting Anderson kept just $4.5 million. While Talib’s trade helped finance the deal that brought in quarterback Case Keenum, Anderson’s release only affords a remarkably less important piece.
On April 18, just two days after cutting Anderson, Elway added $3 million in incentives to cornerback Chris Harris Jr.’s contract. Over two-thirds of the extra cap space went to Harris Jr. It becomes difficult to explain why a starting running back would be cut to save money when most of the saved money is allocated in incentives on another player’s contract.
Judging A “Booker” By Its Cover?
If it was not to save money, then why was Anderson cut? Does Elway think that Booker is the future? It is hard to not jump to this conclusion. Booker created one of the only exciting offensive plays of the 2017 season when he leaped over a defender en route to the end zone in a game against the Colts. The touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty but the memory has endured. Booker’s promise could very well be the reason that Anderson was let go but there still are other interesting explanations to delve into.
What Was Elway Thinking?
A simple explanation that comes to mind is that Elway simply thinks that Anderson is a below average running back. The most obvious counter to this argument is to look at the running back’s track record. He’s made the Pro Bowl and helped win a Super Bowl. He’s fresh off of his first 1,000-yard season and the Broncos won every game in 2017 in which Anderson carried the ball 20 or more times. The idea that Elway thinks that Anderson is not good enough to keep because of his talent level alone simply does not compute.
Another possibility could be that Elway is looking to draft the next Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, or Todd Gurley in this draft. If the team could get rushing production on a level like that, it could instantly become a Super Bowl contender. Could Elway try to make a big splash in the Draft at running back? It’s possible but still unlikely.
Most analysts would agree that there are not many first round-graded running back prospects. Some of the top players include Saquon Barkley (who is expected to go very early), Derrius Guice (who is expected to go mid-to-late in the first round), and Sony Michel (who is expected to go near the end of the first or in the second).
The consensus seems to think Barkley will be off the board before Denver picks at number 5. That would leave Guice and Michel, two backs that are valued a dozen or more picks later.
Remember that Elway taking a quarterback in the first round is in the realm of possibilities as well. If Elway does not get Barkley with the fifth pick overall, a quarterback might just be enticing enough. Elway would still need to grab a running back at some point to fill the roster but he would probably be second on the depth chart behind Booker.
To add intrigue, Elway said he’s open to trading back in the draft for the right offer. This could be a way the Broncos get a running back in the first round and add another pick or two as well.
In the end, Booker will be the man going forward unless the Broncos land Barkley or trade back in the first round to get another top running back prospect.
Bringing it full circle, why was Anderson cut? Two main theories have emerged. He was either cut to make way for Booker or he was cut to make way for a first-round replacement. The draft should shed some light on the reasoning behind Anderson’s but until Thursday, one can only guess.