ENGLEWOOD — Mike Shanahan won’t often confess he messed up.
But the Denver Broncos coach admitted Monday he made an error drafting running back Maurice Clarett with a third-round pick.
“Anytime you cut somebody (from) the third
round, you feel like you’ve made a mistake,” Shanahan said. “The bottom line is you’ve got to do what’s best for your football team.”
Clarett wasn’t the only player sent packing Monday. The Broncos also severed ties with running back Kris Briggs, quarterbacks Chad Friehauf and Danny Kanell, cornerback Rod Babers, linebacker Markus Steele, offensive linemen Tim Stuber and Cameron Spikes, tight end Patrick Hape, receivers Romar Crenshaw and B.J. Johnson and defensive linemen Luther Elliss and Raylee Johnson.
The Broncos need to trim the roster down to 53 players from 65 by Saturday.
Shanahan claimed the decision to waive Clarett wasn’t for what he failed to do as much as what the other running backs did do.
“He wasn’t going to be one of our top four running backs,” Shanahan said.
Not that he had much of an opportunity to show what he could do. Clarett was hampered by a groin injury throughout most of camp. That impeded the evaluation process. Speculation was that Denver might wait until after seeing Clarett perform in Friday’s preseason finale against Arizona before determining his fate. That idea was nixed.
“I wasn’t going to give him playing time and take away from our other running backs,” Shanahan said.
According to Shanahan, Clarett didn’t take the news particularly well. The 21-year-old, who played only his freshman season at Ohio State, was caught by surprise.
“I think, like anybody, you’d be disappointed,” Shanahan said. “He told me he was hoping to get on with another team quickly and show that team he can play in the NFL.”
But can he play in the NFL? Does he have what it takes to be a running back in this league?
“He has some skills,” Denver safety Nick Ferguson said. “I think he probably had what it takes.”
“Probably” doesn’t get you a roster spot, not with running backs like Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Quentin Griffin and Ron Dayne in front of you.
“Maurice has got a lot of talent,” Shanahan said. “A lot of talent. But we have a lot of talent on this football team. I still feel very strongly Maurice has a chance to contribute to another team.”
Shanahan was asked about the thought process behind cutting Clarett, but he refused to elaborate.
“We don’t get into a lot of details why,” Shanahan said. “That’s our business.”
Clarett’s teammates were sympathetic to his plight. This could be just the learning experience that Clarett needs.
“He was on a steep incline,” fullback Kyle Johnson said. “He was getting acclimated to the NFL lifestyle. Was it smooth? Not necessarily, it seldom is. He was working through the process.
“Hopefully he’ll get an opportunity do that somewhere else.”
Clarett had a reputation as a player who kept to himself. He didn’t talk to teammates or anyone else. That was fine with some, and bothered others.
“He was a rather cool guy,” Ferguson said. “Me and him were actually all right. I talked to him every once in a while just to try to give him a little encouragement because at times he was down. Everybody took their chances, tried to talk to him and keep his spirits up.”
In the end, though, Clarett will be deemed a failed experiment. A pick that Shanahan himself chalked up to as a mistake.