Broncos officially franchise Matt Prater

As expected, the Broncos placed the franchise tag on kicker Matt Prater on Monday. The deadline is 4 p.m. ET Monday.

The Broncos were discussing a long-term deal with Prater, but they couldn’t come to an agreement. Thus, instead of risking the chance of losing Prater in free agency, which begins March 13, the Broncos all but guaranteed Prater will be in Denver in 2012 by placing the tag on him. He will make $2.6 million this year if he doesn’t sign a long-term deal by July 15.

Three other kickers in the NFL were tagged. One of the reasons why Prater and Denver couldn’t finish a deal was likely because neither side was interested in setting the kicker market for the three other kickers this year. Still, the Broncos made it clear they want to secure Prater for the long term.

“Placing the franchise tag on Matt Prater ensures that he will be a Bronco in 2012,” Denver executive vice president of football operations John Elway said in a statement released by the team. “He is a very talented kicker and an important part of our team. This gives us the ability to continue working on a long-term agreement with Matt.”

Prater is one of the most consistent and strong-legged kickers in the NFL. Prater had four game-winning field goals and led the NFL in touchback percentage in 2011.

With Prater being franchised, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley will be the Broncos’ highest profile unrestricted free agent if he doesn’t sign an extension in the next eight days.