DENVER -- The Broncos released a Good Player, a Good Teammate, a Good Leader, and, especially, a Good Man.
Cortrelle Javon Anderson – C.J. to you and me – has become a casualty to salary cap space and the Broncos’ youth movement.
C.J. cut short our last practice-day conversation after 30 minutes with: “Sorry to run, but I’m going to pick up my mom at the airport. She’s helping me with my clothing drive event.”
What did that one quote say about C.J.? He was polite enough to do an interview, apologetic that he had to leave, concerned about his mother’s arrival and excited about a charity to help the homeless he had started.
He also could run. Anderson rushed for a thousand yards last season.
Most everyone remembers that Terrell Davis was the greatest running back in Broncos’ history, and Floyd Little was next, and both are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But not everyone recalls how C.J. Anderson was critical to the Broncos in regular-season and playoff games, and the Super Bowl victory.
He is eighth on the list of all-time rushing yardage by a Broncos’ running back – and No. 1 as an undrafted free agent.
Anderson was a hard-scrabble hard worker who served the Broncos well for five regular seasons and five post-season games.
And he made the Pro Bowl in 2014.
Anderson’s last post-season rush was for just two yards, but it produced the touchdown that gave the Broncos an insurmountable 22-10 lead (with a two-point play to follow) in Super Bowl 50 with 3:08 to go. He had rushed for 90 yards (and added four receptions) in one of the top Super Bowl efforts ever by a running back who was left out of the draft. He was almost as important to Peyton Manning in that game as Davis had been to Elway in Super Bowls.
Elway was the one who called C.J. Monday to tell him the inevitable – that he no longer will be a member of the Broncos. The club wanted to free his $4.5 million salary cap number, and go with two younger running backs – DaVontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson.
And they’ll draft another running back.
In a column for gazette.com Sunday, I urged Elway and the Broncos to select Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the fifth overall pick. Will the player considered by many NFL authorities and scouts the best overall pick in the draft still be available at No. 5? Possibly. If the first four teams choosing decide on quarterbacks, the Broncos must take Barkley. The Browns will take a quarterback with one of their two picks (1 and 4), unless they trade the second, and the Jets have moved up to No. 3 to get a quarterback. The Giants are expected to take a quarterback, too, and at least a couple of teams are considering trading ahead of the Broncos to choose a quarterback. Barkley could be the odd man out in the top four.
Or the Broncos, who make draft-day deals every year with Elway at the helm, might try to make their own trade up or down.
Their choices could be a quarterback who likely won’t play regularly until at least his third season in the NFL, or a running back who could be rookie of the year, a Pro Bowler and a 1,000-plus yarder to replace and improve upon Anderson.
But can he match Anderson’s 234 post-season rushing yardage of the 2015 season?
The Broncos might not have reached the Super Bowl without a play C.J. made in the regular season.
In the Sunday night game on Nov. 29, at Mile High Stadium, between the Broncos and the Patriots, Anderson ran for 15 yards to present the Broncos with a 21-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
But that’s not the play.
The teams would go into overtime tied at 24, and Brock Osweiler was battling Tom Brady. The Patriots would seem to have the edge.
But two and a half minutes into the extra period, Anderson escaped left and outraced the Patriots 48 yards for the winning touchdown.
That triumph would be significant because the Broncos would lose two of their remaining regular-season games, but still manage to finish 12-4 and own the home field advantage for the postseason. With Manning back on the field after returning from a foot injury, the Broncos would defeat the Patriots in the AFC Championship. Without that 48-yard run by Anderson, the Broncos might have been forced to play the conference title game in New England.
When C.J. was ruled academically ineligible to attend the University of California, he went to small Laney College in Oakland. Each morning at dawn, his grandmother would drive him to the first train into the city from suburban Vallejo, Calif. He contemplated giving up the game, but instead drove himself in the classroom and on the field. He got a second chance at Berkeley. Then he got a chance on May 13, 2013 with the Broncos.
C.J. will find another NFL job, probably by Tuesday.