Beanie Wells had an inkling the Cardinals were preparing to release him.
“I hadn’t even met the new coach,” Wells said Monday. “When that happens, you have a pretty good idea.”
Wells was right. The Cardinals cut the former Ohio State running back on Monday after four seasons, a move that will save the team about $1.5 million in salary-cap space. Speaking by phone, Wells said he expected to find a new team “definitely in the next couple of days.” The phone conversation was interrupted twice by calls from his agent.
“It’s all good,” Wells said. “I’ve still got a chance to do what I love to do, and I’ve still got a lot left to give.”
The 24-year-old Wells played in just eight games last season, starting seven, while dealing with knee and severe turf-toe issues. He finished with just 234 yards on 88 carries. He was also benched after a fumble in the Cardinals’ loss to the Bears in their home finale. That came after a career year in 2011, when Wells ran for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns on 245 carries while playing through a knee injury.
The Cardinals used the new injured reserve/designated to return exception on Wells so that his toe and foot could heal – he later said the knee was the greater issue – but Wells said after the season that he didn’t need to go on IR. He felt it was a form of punishment from coach Ken Whisenhunt, with whom he maintained a fractured relationship after having a torn meniscus repaired and some loose cartilage removed in an operation in September 2010.
The Cardinals originally reported the injury as a knee bruise, but Whisenhunt later confessed that Wells had the surgery after a reporter saw two small incisions below Wells’ knee and asked Whisenhunt about them.
“I don’t want to say what happened this season stemmed from that, but who knows?” Wells said seven weeks ago. “It was just weird having that kind of relationship with my coach.”
“We definitely had our fair share of disagreements. I’ve never been in a situation like that before. I respect coach Whiz a ton and I wish him all the best, but we didn’t see eye to eye on some things, and I don’t know what sparked it.”
In his four years with the Cardinals, Wells played in 51 games, totaling 2,471 yards and 24 touchdowns. But he missed multiple games in all but his rookie year, when he missed part of training camp due to an ankle injury but still finished with 793 yards while splitting time with Tim Hightower.
The injuries only fueled “injury-prone” and “soft” labels that Wells carried from Ohio State. On the flip side, Wells earned praise from Whisenhunt for playing through a painful knee injury in 2011 to record career bests in yards, carries and touchdowns.
“Injuries are something I had no control over,” Wells said. “I couldn’t wave a magic wand and make it all better.
“Some guys have injuries their first few years and then stay healthy the rest of their career. I’m hoping that’s the way it goes for me.”
Wells’ release has increased speculation that the Cardinals may be pursuing running back Reggie Bush. USA Today reported over the weekend that the Cardinals have expressed interest in the 28-year-old free agent, who averaged 1,036 yards and six touchdowns in his two years with the Dolphins and is also considered a strong receiver out of the backfield.
Without Wells, the Cards have few viable options at running back. They remain hopeful about 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams, who has played just five games in his first two seasons due to a torn patellar ending suffered in his rookie year and a left shoulder injury last season. LaRod Stephens-Howling is set to become a free agent on Tuesday. The Cardinals also have William Powell and Alfonso Smith.
As for Wells, Monday’s move closes the book on what once looked like a promising addition to a team coming off a Super Bowl berth. Wells had hoped that the hiring of coach Bruce Arians might signal a fresh start for him in Arizona. He’ll get that fresh start, but it will come with another team.
“I have to thank the organization for letting me live out a dream,” Wells said. “I’ve been wanting to play in the NFL since I was 4 or 5 years old.”